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Acculturation Impacts School Belonging

Acculturation refers to dealing with psychological stress, acquiring new skills, and developing a sense of identity and belonging during cultural transition or when navigating between different cultural groups (Ward, 2001). Acculturation orientations refer to the orientation toward ethnic (heritage) culture and mainstream (host) culture, including the respective identity components. They form the attitudinal component of the acculturation process and facilitate psychological (“feeling well”) and sociocultural (“doing well”) adjustment. Integration (i.e., an orientation toward both ethnic and mainstream culture) has long been perceived as the most adaptive strategy (Berry, 1997). However, depending on the context and the particular outcome (psychological or sociocultural), a stronger orientation toward the ethnic or mainstream culture can be more adaptive (Motti-Stefanidi et al., 2012; Ward, 2013).

The need to belong has long been recognized as one of the most important psychological needs in humans (Maslow, 1943; Bowlby, 1977; Ainsworth, 1989; Baumeister and Leary, 1995). In self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000), which has been frequently applied in educational settings (Niemiec and Ryan, 2009), relatedness and psychological belonging are linked to motivation and personal growth. School belonging has been defined as “the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment” (Goodenow, 1993, p. 80). It is also sometimes treated as the emotional component of school engagement, which is linked to other, more behavioral forms of engagement as well as achievement (Fredricks et al., 2004).

School belonging was also found to mediate the relationship between perceived school context (e.g., classroom climate, student-teacher relations) and academic outcomes, such as achievement (Wang and Holcombe, 2010), intrinsic motivation (Byrd, 2015), and psychological school adjustment (Schachner et al., unpublished) of culturally diverse students. A study with Latino students in the United States confirmed that students who felt more connected with their teachers and their school were also more motivated to attend school, which was in turn associated with better achievement (Close and Solberg, 2008).

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic learning environment that honors your student community, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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