Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Importance of Relationships in Enhancing Belonging and Academic Achievement

Much of the time, it seems to me, I am occupied with trying to reach the minds of our law students.  But, perhaps that's putting the proverbial "cart before the horse."  The cart, so to speak, is metacognition, or the process of learning to learn (practices such as spaced repetition and the implement of desirable difficulties throughout the course of one's learning).  But, what might be the horse?

Well, a number of possibilities come to mind.  There's been much research of late on the relationship between growth mindsets in predicting academic achievement.  But, I think that there's another horse at play, a factor that might even serve as a necessary precondition for the development of such mindsets as grit, resiliency, and a growth mindset.  In my opinion, that prerequisite is a well-formed sense of belonging...as empowered members of a vibrant learning community.

I love that word "belonging." It's chocked full of action with its "ing" begging us to be fully embraced (and to embrace others), despite all our blemishes and surprises.  And, it starts with the prefix "be," which resonates and comes only alive within the present ongoing moments of community with others, indicating that this is something that we enjoy in the here and now rather than later.  And, it's all-encompassing of the person, with its incorporation of the word "long," reminding me of arms outstretched, to be overtaken in the presence of others, to be accepted as we are...fully and completely (and to stretch our hearts around others within our midsts).  In other words, the word "belonging" is full of action.

So, that brings up a few questions.

First, is belonging even much of a problem in law schools?  

Second, what sort of spark might lead to the type actions that can then develop into a well-spring of belonging for our law students as members within learning communities?  

Well, with respect to the first question, as Prof. Victor Quintanilla documents according to research at the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE): "[W]orries about belonging are endemic to law school." http://lssse.indiana.edu/tag/belonging/  That's the bad news.  And, in my opinion, that's why many fall to the wayside.  It's not because of LSAT scores or a lack of motivation.  It's just darn difficult to succeed when you don't feel like you are a part of something, that you belong within the community, that you are welcome and embraced as vital law school participants.

But, there's great news to be had.  Indeed, as Prof. Quintanilla further explains, the quality of one's relationships with students, faculty, and administrators significantly predicts one's sense of belonging in law school...and the strength of one's sense of belonging significantly predict's one's academic performance even controlling for traditional academic predicators such as LSAT scores.  Id.  In other words, "law school belonging is a critical predictor of social and academic success among law students." Id. (Quintanilla, et. al, in prep).   And, that's great news because - as educational leaders in academic support - we can serve in the frontline of developing, strengthening, and securing our students in positive relationships with others throughout our law school's learning communities.  

That brings me to our final quandary.  How might we actually empower our students to be in vibrant relationship with others in law school?  

In my own case, it means that I need to listen to my students. That I need to frequently pause to take in and hear and observe what's happening to my students, not as students, but as people.  It means that I need to step up to the plate, so to speak, to proactively engage with my students.  Nevertheless, with so much on our ASP plates, that sure sounds hard to implement.  

So, here's an easy way that we might share with our students in order to help spark relationships that can then lead to a sense of belonging.   It's called the "10/5 rule."  Next time you're at your law school, when you come within 10 feet of another person, break out a brief smile.  It doesn't have to be much, but it does have to be sincere.  Then, when you're within about 5 feet of that other person, briefly recognize them with a short "howdy" or "hi."  That's it.  

You see, according to social science research, such actions of a brief smile lead to a sense of belonging, a feeling of inclusion, even, amazingly, if the other person doesn't even recall seeing your smile.  See The Surprising Benefits of Chit Chat, Eye Contact, and a Hello for Law Students & ASP (and the 10/5 Rule)! 

So, please join me in sharing a smile.  It's a great way to not just brighten your day but brighten the lives of those around you.  Indeed, who knows?  Perhaps that brief smile that you just shared today (or will share in just a bit) will lead another to smile, and then another, and then a whole circles of smiles.  And, isn't a circle of smiles the sort of spark that can create relationships that can lead to belonging and therefore might even help to empower successful learning?    (Scott Johns). 

 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2019/08/on-belonging.html

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