The Importance of Belonging

Susan Karpicke, EdD, Director of Admissions, Sycamore School
At the second annual Gifted Education Summit held at Sycamore School in August 2018, Dr. Lynette Breedlove, Director of the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky, gave a thought-provoking keynote address. During her talk, she spoke about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and a critical ingredient of a person’s growth, development, and self-actualization: belonging.
Anyone who has taken an Intro to Psychology class has learned about Abraham Maslow and his pyramid-shaped Hierarchy of Needs. First introduced in Maslow’s 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” as a way of conceptualizing human development, Maslow theorized that individuals progress through one stage at a time and must satisfy certain basic needs before moving to the next stage. The five original levels proposed by Maslow were:
  • Physiological needs for survival such as food, water, sleep, and shelter
  • Safety needs such as personal safety from harm, emotional safety, financial security, and health
  • Belonging needs such as acceptance by friends and family and inclusion into social groups
  • Esteem needs such as respect from others and self-respect
  • Self-actualization or reaching one’s true potential
As Dr. Breedlove spoke, I was struck by that stage of needing to belong. I was reminded that high quality programs for gifted kids could indeed fulfill a very important need on their path to reaching their full potential by providing an environment in which they feel that they truly belong. Many students have told me that Sycamore was the first school where they really felt they could be themselves. As one girl said, “Sycamore is the one place I fit in a world where everywhere else I always stand out.” At Sycamore, she felt like she belonged.
In a chapter on student wellness in the 2018-2019 Trendbook, published by the National Association of Independent Schools, student belonging is defined as “the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment.” They go on to say that a sense of belonging promotes student engagement that leads to academic success.
Gifted kids need to find a peer group of kids who think and learn like they do. They need teachers who “get” them and who can differentiate instruction so that they are challenged appropriately. They need a school environment where they can be curious and creative with no ceiling on their learning. They need a place to fit in, where they feel like they belong. By providing this sense of belonging, a school, like Sycamore, can literally help gifted kids move toward the realization of their full potential.
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