Students' Wellbeing and Sense of Belonging: A Qualitative Study of Relationships and Interactions in a Small School District
MetadataShow full item record
The purpose of this study was to explore factors, including students' relationships and interactions with peers and school staff, which strengthen or inhibit students' wellbeing and sense of belonging at school. The study was conducted as a qualitative, descriptive case study in a small, rural, K-12 school located in the Pacific Northwest. The study addressed two research questions: 1) How do students' relationships and interactions with peers and school staff affect their wellbeing and sense of belonging at school? 2) What factors contribute to (strengthen) or impede (weaken) students' wellbeing and sense of belonging at school? The data for the findings came from 40 open-ended interviews of students, parents/guardians, school staff, and community members; field observations performed by three researchers; and a review of documents (newspaper clippings, newsletters, board minutes, etc.). The findings of the study resulted in four themes and four conclusions. The themes include: 1) "It's like a family;" 2) "Students are loved and cared for;" 3) "Close relationships are fostered;" and 4) "Students feel included." When these factors (themes) were present, it fostered a positive school environment where students were excited about school and didn't want to disappoint school staff, and staffs' personal interest in students and awareness of their needs increased. The four conclusion of this study include: 1) Students' relationships with school staff and their classmates were central to students' wellbeing and sense of belonging at school; 2) Students' relationships at school were strengthened when students were well known and personally acknowledged, recognized, and cared for by the school staff and their classmates; 3) When close relationships at school were fostered, the school was perceived as an extended family for students; and 4) When the school became an extended family, students' expectations for positive interpersonal interactions and support at school were greater. The study concludes with five recommendations consisting of three organizational recommendations and two research recommendations.