This Week In The Brilliant Report: Why A Sense Of Belonging Is Essential To Learning
From the latest issue of my newsletter, The Brilliant Report:
“This week I blogged about a new study that suggests one reason why there are so few women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math): they are vulnerable to feeling that they have to put in more effort than others to achieve the same results, and that therefore they must not “belong” in that sphere. There’s a lesson here about the importance of a ‘growth mindset’—researcher Carol Dweck’s term for the belief that success is all about effort, and that ‘even geniuses work hard’—but what I want to focus on today is this notion of belonging, and how crucial it is for effective learning.
Learning is inherently social. The level of comfort we feel in another person’s presence can powerfully influence how intelligent we feel, and in some sense, how intelligent we actually are, at least in that moment. Now multiply that one-on-one interaction by tens or hundreds, and you start to get a sense of how important a sense of belonging to a learning community can be.
Early on in school, some children get the sense that, academically speaking, they don’t belong—that they’re not one of the ‘smart kids.’ The same thing can happen when young people start middle school, or high school, or college: they take a look around and think, ‘I don’t belong here.’ In our work lives, too, we may form an assumption that we’re not quick or sharp enough, not sufficiently creative or innovative, to belong at the top of our fields.
Social psychologists have documented how corrosive this self-doubt can be: sapping our motivation, lowering our expectations, even using up mental resources that we could otherwise apply to absorbing knowledge or solving problems. The feeling of not belonging becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By contrast, a solid sense that we’re among our peers, that we’re where we ought to be, can elevate our aspirations and buoy us in the face of setbacks.
So: how do we bolster a sense of intellectual belonging—in ourselves, our children, our students and employees? Here are three ideas.”
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