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Children’s success in life depends on more than just academic knowledge and test scores. Educators understand that a child’s mindsets, skills, and habits are incredibly important for school success. Outside the classroom, employers are looking for hard-working team players who effectively manage projects, interact with demanding clients, solve problems creatively, and exhibit leadership.

In recent years, policymakers and researchers alike have begun to place increasing importance on the development of a child’s “nonacademic skills.” These are often called soft skills, noncognitive skills, essential workplace skills, social and emotional development, or mindsets. The focus on these skills has transcended into a discussion on how social and emotional learning helps create a sense of belonging for young people.

Belonging is feeling connected to others and perceiving oneself as an accepted and valued group member. Although it may seem basic, fostering a sense of belonging is incredibly important to the school environment. Research shows that students who do not feel as if they belong—feeling rejected or excluded—are more likely to be aggressive, withdrawn, disinterested in school, and even drop out — students who feel a strong sense of belonging show more motivation and are more likely to be well-adjusted to everyday stressors.

A sense of belonging can be enhanced by adults, intentionally building community, connecting individuals, and sharing their belief in the students. Youth leaders can also make it clear that diverse perspectives are valued and welcomed, emphasizing cooperative learning, sharing decision-making, and providing everyone with opportunities to have valued roles. A sense of belonging can also be developed by stressing that everyone worries about fitting in, and it’s normal to feel out of place from time to time.

The dedicated staff at IINII can lead your school or organization through a comprehensive Design Thinking process designed to create a deep sense of belonging that honors the social and emotional learning needs of children and adults. For more information about how IINII can grow your school or organization, contact us at

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