District-Level Strategies to Improve Students’ Sense of Belonging in School

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that when students’ social and emotional well-being are poor, their engagement in instruction is profoundly affected. That revelation and the national mobilization for social justice sparked in 2020 have heightened public awareness is heightened that inequitable structures and policies—in school and out—have been harming the well-being of many of our nation’s students even before the pandemic. Now more than ever, educators and families understand that in order to fully engage students, schools need to be healing places where all students feel valued and a part of the community.

This brief is about supportive and inclusive strategies that school systems are using to increase all students’ social and emotional well-being, particularly their sense of school belonging and connectedness: giving students more voice and choice, improving school climate through support services for all, providing students with targeted forms of support when needed, replacing exclusionary practices with “restorative” ones, and nurturing trust between students and the adults in schools. In each area, the brief examines the research supporting these practices, then provides concrete examples of practices being implemented in one of three districts that are taking a district-wide approach to improve educational equity.

Supportive and inclusive school structures

  • Providing students with more voice and choice
    • Student representatives on school boards
    • Youth-led advocacy and resources using media and virtual platforms
  • Multitiered systems of support
    • Universal support services
    • Targeted forms of support
  • Restorative approaches
    • Restorative centers
  • Professional development in strengths-based, healing-centered approaches
    • District-wide training
    • Targeted staff training

Document Details

Publication Type
May 2022
Grossman, Jean and Ximena Portilla. 2022. “District-Level Strategies to Improve Students’ Sense of Belonging in School.” New York: MDRC.