TIES Belonging Resources


Welcomed section of the belonging wheel highlighted

Schools should be thoroughly welcoming places. The way students are greeted and treated by others communicates quite a bit about their place within the community. To be welcomed is to be received by others with warmth, friendliness, and an authentic delight. In other words, people find pleasure in your presence. Students tend to feel welcomed when others greet them, strike up a conversation, ask about their day, and join them in shared activities. The extent to which students feel genuinely welcomed in their classrooms or at their school can impact their enthusiasm for learning and their sense of membership. When hospitality abounds, students will be more excited about coming to class each day. When it is absent, they may feel uncomfortable or express more reluctance. Unfortunately, a warm welcome is not always experienced by students with significant cognitive disabilities. Some students are made to feel like a perpetual guest or a part-time member of a class. Others are overlooked by their peers or are rarely noticed by school staff. Finding ways of ensuring that every student feels extravagantly welcomed each day can shape the extent to which they also experience a sense of belonging.

What Does It Look Like?

  • Everyone—including Ms. Yin, his general education teacher—is truly delighted Jayden is a member of their class.  Jayden knows it! The warm reception he receives each day when he arrives reminds Jayden that he really does belong.
  • Mateo’s classmates love spending time with him. In fact, it sometimes seems as if they compete over who gets to be in a small group with him. They all call out, “Hey, Mateo, come sit here by me!” as they make space for his wheelchair.
  • Ginny is never an afterthought. Before she ever arrives to school, Ginny’s third-grade teachers have already planned for how she will be supported in each of the day’s academic and social activities. When she bounds through the door, there is no uncertainty about whether she will participate just like anyone else.
  • The environmental club just wouldn’t be the same without Yasmine. Her peers remind her regularly just how glad they are that she decided to join.

What Can You Do?

  • Model and encourage a culture of friendliness and warmth in your class. Talk with classmates about how they can greet and get to know students who have significant cognitive disabilities.
  • Ask family members, special education staff, and students themselves what would make your club or class the best part of the school day.
  • Ask students to share about their experiences in your class and the things that make them feel welcomed by others. Turn it into a regularly occurring discussion where students with and without disabilities can hear from each other about what makes them feel welcomed and wanted.
  • Have students with and without disabilities collaborate on projects and assignments so that they have abundant opportunities to get to know each other.

Questions for Reflection

  • Think about the various communities you personally belong to. What makes you feel welcomed in each of those spaces? What does not? How does the extent of this welcome impact your sense of belonging?
  • Observe and reflect on the experiences of students with significant cognitive disabilities that you know. Do students feel truly welcomed in your classroom or at your school? What tells you this is or is not the case?
  • What do students at your school say are the things that make them feel welcomed there? If you don’t know, ask them.
  • Are there certain students you are less excited to see each day or struggle to welcome in your classroom? What steps could be taken to change this situation?


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TIES Center is supported through a cooperative agreement between the University of Minnesota (# H326Y170004) and the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education.

See our full attribution statement in 'Creating communities of belonging for students with significant cognitive disabilities'