E ala! E alu! E kuilima!

Up!  Together!  Join hands!

Teachers are at the heart of my fondest memories of my primary and secondary education.  Ms. Neet, Ms. Kala, and Mr. Akana were my fourth, fifth, and sixth grade teachers, respectively; Mrs. Harbottle taught music in grades four through eight; Mrs. Melahn taught me seventh and tenth grade math; Mrs. Huch for ninth grade English; and Mrs. Powers for eleventh grade English.  These classes also happen to be the classes I learned the most in and whose content I can readily recall.  Papert, in his blog post, Gears of My Childhood, highlights the relationship between affect and learning, and what these teachers provided for me were memorable classroom experiences leading to well-learned content.

As I embarked on this new adventure of opening my own high school, I took to heart the relationships I developed and nurtured with my primary and secondary teachers.  I aimed to create learning environments that supported knowledge acquisition and retention, which meant implementing practices beneficial to creating memorable classroom experiences.  I recalled memories of how these teachers and their classrooms made me feel and asked colleagues and friends and family to do the same in an attempt to find commonalities and central themes of teachers who positively impacted learning and the learning environments they created.  These trips down memory lane confirmed the importance of the affective domain in learning; specifically a “sense of belonging – when one feels a part of a particular group” (Trujillo & Tanner, 2014, p. 13).

A signature pedagogy of Nā Hunaahi is “learners engaged in the construction of an artifact or shareable product” (Hay & Barab, 2001, p. 283) in order for the learner to build his/her knowledge.  However, attention must also be given to the development of practices that imitate the positivity, joy, and happiness felt by students with memorable classroom experiences in which knowledge was acquired and retained.  In Gears of My Learning, Papert suggests the need for “a positive affective tone that can be traced back to … experiences” (Papert, n.d., para. 5) that connect with joyful and optimistic memories and prior experiences.  I might further his suggestion by also inspiring teachers to create positive affective tones through relationship building.  Baumeister and Leary (1995) define “a need to belong, that is, a need to form and maintain at least a minimum quantity of interpersonal relationships” (p. 499), and teachers, as persons with significant time spent with students, can create a sense of belonging by purposefully and intentionally choosing to form quality interpersonal relationships.  Additionally, numerous studies connect a student’s academic success with his/her sense of belonging (Brooms, 2019; Korpershoek, Canrinus, Fokkens-Bruinsma, & de Boer, 2020; Master, Cheryan, & Meltzoff, 2016; Museus, Yi, & Saelua, 2017; van Caudenberg, Clycq, & Timmerman, 2020; van Herpen, Meeuwisse, Hofman, & Severiens, 2020), and that sense of belonging can be developed by an individual and/or the school.  Regardless of who or what supports the development of a sense of belonging in students, doing so helps create memorable relationships that foster learning and achievement and creates an anchor students can set and navigate back to throughout their lifetimes.

In Hawaiʻi, we like to say, “It’s a kākou thing,” meaning it is the responsibility of all.  Kākou is the first-person inclusive plural pronoun used to denote three or more persons including the speaker.  The beauty of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, the Native Hawaiian language, as with many Polynesian languages, is its “distinctions in its pronouns between inclusive and exclusive forms and between dual (2) and plural (3 or more) referants” (Saft, 2017, p. 95) allowing the speaker to clearly orient “the number of people being referred to and whether their interlocutors are going to be included or excluded in the content of the speech.  An inclusive form, then, can serve as an immediate signal that all of those involved are (or are not) part of one inclusive group or community” (p. 96).  Beyond its use in speaking and writing, kākou also evokes images of togetherness and unity and supports the development of a sense of belonging.  In addition to the use of language, ʻōlelo noʻeau, or Native Hawaiian poetical sayings, are used to remind students of their connection with each other, their teacher, the school, and the community.  “Pūpūkāhi i holomua, unite in order to progress” (Pukui, 1983, p. 302), is referenced often by teachers, coaches, community leaders, and government officials to remind us of our connectedness, and that progress comes through our combined efforts.  At Nā Hunaahi, we use ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and cultural practices and quality time to build strong adult-youth relationships.  These relationships also demonstrate our commitment and dedication to the student as a person, to his/her family, and to his/her learning and achievement.  It also contributes to developing a sense of belonging for the student.

When looking to support student learning and achievement, in addition to allowing students to build knowledge through construction of learning artifacts, we must also address the affective domain of sense of belonging.  By creating a sense of belonging, we help students develop a context around their content of learning.


Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

Brooms, D. R. (2019). “I was just trying to make it”: Examining urban black males’ sense of belonging, schooling experiences, and academic success. Urban Education, 54(6), 804-830.

Hay, K. E., & Barab, S. A. (2001). Constructivism in practice: A comparison and contrast of apprenticeship and constructionist learning environments. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(3), 281-322.

Korpershoek, H., Canrinus, E. T., Fokkens-Bruinsma, M., & de Boer, H. (2020). The relationships between school belonging and students’ motivational, social-emotional, behavioural, and academic outcomes in secondary education: A meta-analytic review. Research Papers in Education, 35(6), 641-680.

Master, A., Cheryan, S., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2016). Computing whether she belongs: Stereotypes undermine girls’ interest and sense of belonging in computer science. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 424-437.

Museus, S. D., Yi, V., & Saelua, N. (2017). The impact of culturally engaging campus environments on sense of belonging. The Review of Higher Education, 40(2), 187-215.

Papert, S. (n.d.). The gears of my childhood. From The Daily Papert: http://dailypapert.com/the-gears-of-my-childhood/

Pukui, M. K. (1983). ʻŌlelo noʻeau: Hawaiian proverbs & poetical sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.

Saft, S. (2017). Documenting an endangered language: The inclusive first-person plural pronoun kākou as a resource for claiming ownership in Hawaiian. Jourrnal of Linguistic Anthropology, 27(1), 91-113.

Trujillo, G., & Tanner, K. D. (2014). Considering the role of affect in learning: Monitoring students’ self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and science identity. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 13, 6-15.

van Caudenberg, R., Clycq, N., & Timmerman, C. (2020). Feeling at home in school: Migrant youths’ narratives on school belonging in Flemish secondary education. European Educational Research Journal, 428-444.

van Herpen, S. G., Meeuwisse, M., Hofman, W. A., & Severiens, S. E. (2020). A head start in higher education: The effect of a transition intervention on interaction, sense of belonging, and academic performance. Studies in Higher Education, 45(4), 862-877.