2024-25 IBSC Action Research Program

Boys and Belonging: Facilitating Inclusivity, Diversity, and Connectedness

Thank you to everyone who applied for the 2024-25 cohort of action researchers. Applications closed November 1. IBSC will contact all individuals who submitted an application with a status update by Thursday, November 30, 2023.


Since 2005, the IBSC Action Research initiatives have provided opportunities for teachers to explore new trends in boys’ education and examine better ways of equipping boys with the skills required to navigate a changing world.


Current educational discourse consistently defines belonging as “the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in the school social environment” (Allen, 2018, p. 2). Some have suggested that our society is experiencing a "crisis of belonging" (Cohen, 2022). As our boys, particularly those with marginalized identities, experience ongoing challenges associated with the need to belong, we have opportunities for intervention worth investigation. By focusing on this topic for action research, IBSC hopes to further the dialogue on the important topic of belonging and build a foundation of resources to benefit all members of our school communities. 

Promoting a sense of belonging is not a revolutionary concept. For decades, the need to belong has been identified as a fundamental human motivation (Baumeister and Leary, 1995; Maslow, 1943). A plethora of literature extols the benefits of school belonging for students. Allen et al. (2022) share studies that find belonging can positively impact mental health, emotional well-being, self-esteem, and associated positive outcomes; decrease feelings of alienation, isolation, and disaffection or low social integration and social exclusion; and enhance performance and self-belief in abilities to succeed academically. Many schools already acknowledge these findings and work hard to incorporate programs and procedures that foster belonging. 

Educators working on a belonging agenda must also recognize that within our schools there exist “forces that fuel division and undermine belonging” (Cohen, 2022, p. xi). Recent literature highlights the need to consider groups within our schools and in the broader society; Allen et al. (2022) point to current social and political tribalism that forms as “some groups of people forge a sense of belonging by othering members of other groups''(p. 1134). This othering, also described as “anti-mattering” (Flett, 2018) in some contexts, can lead to feelings of marginalization, subordination, or insignificance in an institution, community, or broader society (Carey et al., 2022).

Unfortunately, implicit bias and microaggressions continue to affect a sense of belonging in our school communities, particularly in students from marginalized identities including students of color, lower socioeconomic status, and LGBTQ+ populations (Faircloth, 2021). Additionally, our neurodiverse students are more likely to experience bullying and peer rejection (Mirfin-Veitch et al., 2020) while those with physical disabilities face mental health struggles related to social integration within the school community (Lumsdaine and Thurston, 2017). In order to recognize and empower all of these voices, culturally derived and equity-focused perspectives must inform our belonging initiatives.

This action research topic offers multiple entry points for educators to study belonging through a “boy lens.” We know that boys place great value on relationships, including the teacher-student relationship, peer interactions, and overall school culture (Reichert and Hawley, 2014). The loneliness that can stem from unmet relational needs can lead to depressive symptoms and studies have found that school belonging is a strong predictor of adolescent depression (Parr et al., 2020). We also know that boys in marginalized groups experience othering at an alarming, often unrecognized, rate that can create painful and distinct experiences in a school setting. We know that boys face societal and cultural expectations related to masculinity that can shape their behaviors and attitudes, leading to unique experiences in the classroom and perceptions of belonging. Furthermore, we must consider that while online interactions have provided new opportunities for social connection, these virtual realms can breed acceptance and self-esteem issues for our boys. If “concerns with acceptance and belonging exert a pervasive, ongoing effect on human thought, behavior, and emotion” (Leary and Gabriel, 2022, p. 135), then it is critical that we prioritize these investigations into belonging. 

IBSC launches this belonging topic specifically knowing that it can positively benefit the entire school community. We invite educators in boys' schools in a variety of roles, including classroom teachers, diversity practitioners, coaches, counselors, etc., to participate in this cycle of action research. You can access belonging-themed projects through a wide range of diversity topics. Examples include designing spaces to provide equitable access for all, creating clubs, using literature that represents multiple perspectives, launching mentor or social activism programs, and supporting student-led microaggression training programs. Interventions could incorporate high-impact practices (HIPs), culturally competent pedagogy, or projects that explore the correlation between identity and academic self-efficacy, to name a few. We welcome your ideas and look forward to developing research that could potentially lead to a new set of belonging competencies that will better support the boys in our care. 


Contact Amy Ahart, IBSC chief operating officer, at ahart@theibsc.org with any questions about the application process.

Contact Laura Sabo, IBSC action research coordinator, at sabol@stcva.org with questions about the research topic or the IBSC Action Research process.


Allen, K., Kern, M. L., Vella-Brodrick, D., Hattie, J., & Waters, L. (2018). What schools need to know about fostering school belonging: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 30, 1–34.

Allen, K. A., Gray, D. L., Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (2022). The need to belong: A deep dive into the origins, implications, and future of a foundational construct. Educational psychology review, 34(2), 1133–1156.

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.

Baumeister, R., & Robson, D. A. (2021). Belongingness and the modern schoolchild: On loneliness, socioemotional health, self-esteem, evolutionary mismatch, online sociality, and the numbness of rejection. Australian Journal of Psychology, 73(1), 103–111. 

Carey, R. L., Polanco, C., & Blackman, H. (2022). Black adolescent boys’ perceived school mattering: From marginalization and selective love to radically affirming relationships. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 32(1), 151–169. https://doi.org/10.1111/jora.12706

Cohen, G. L. (2022). Belonging: The science of creating connection and bridging divides. WW Norton & Company.

Faircloth, B. S. (2021). The right to belong: A critical stance. In B. S. Faircloth, L. M., & Gonzalez, K. R. (Eds). Resisting barriers to belonging: Conceptual critique and critical applications (pp. 32–81). Lexicon Books.

Flett, G. L. (2018). The psychology of mattering: Understanding the human need to be significant. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.

Leary, M. R., & Gabriel, S. (2022). The relentless pursuit of acceptance and belonging. Advances in motivation science,  (9, pp. 135-178). Elsevier.

Lumsdaine, S., & Thurston, M. (2017). Growing up in a mainstream world: A retrospective enquiry into the childhood experiences of young adults with a physical disability. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 64(2), 182-197.

Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396. 

Mirfin-Veitch, B., Jalota, N., & Schmidt, L. (2020). Responding to neurodiversity in the education context: An integrative literature review. Donald Beasley Institute, 56.

Parr, E. J., Shochet, I. M., Cockshaw, W. D., & Kelly, R. L. (2020). General belonging is a key predictor of adolescent depressive symptoms and partially mediates school belonging. School Mental Health, 12(3), 626–637.

Reichert, M., & Hawley, R. (2014). I can learn from you: Boys as relational learners. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.