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Belonging, mattering and becoming: empowering education through connection

23 Oct 2023 | Juliette Gaunt and Mark O’Hara Advance HE’s Juliette Gaunt and Mark O’Hara explore how the concepts of belonging, mattering and becoming are instrumental in fostering self-actualisation and self-efficacy in learners and shed light upon the transformative power of this trio of ideas.

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, a profound shift is taking place. Beyond the traditional focus of knowledge acquisition, educators are increasingly recognising the importance of nurturing not only intellectual development but also emotional and personal growth. This holistic approach is built upon three essential concepts: belonging, mattering and becoming.  

Belonging: the cornerstone of self-actualisation 

Belonging is more than just fitting in; it's the cornerstone upon which self-actualisation is built. When students feel a deep sense of belonging within an educational community, they are more likely to embrace the journey of self-discovery and growth. Carol Dweck's research on growth mindset highlights the importance of fostering a belief in the potential for growth and development. When students know they belong, they are more open to embracing a growth mindset, believing that their abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort and perseverance. 

Mattering: fuelling self-efficacy 

Mattering is the fuel that drives self-efficacy—the belief in one's ability to accomplish tasks and achieve goals. Brené Brown's work on imposter syndrome sheds light on the emotional challenges students may face when they doubt their own abilities. However, when students feel that they matter within their educational context, they are more likely to overcome imposter syndrome and embrace their self-efficacy. They understand that their contributions are valued and that they are not alone in their journey. 

Becoming: nurturing grit and resilience 

Education is not just about acquiring knowledge; it's about becoming the best version of oneself. Angela Duckworth's research on grit underscores the importance of perseverance and passion in achieving long-term goals. Belonging and mattering serve as the scaffolding upon which grit and resilience are built. When students feel they belong, they are more resilient in the face of challenges, and when they know they matter, they are more passionate about their pursuits. 'Becoming' represents the ongoing process of self-actualisation, where students evolve, adapt and grow. 

The role of educators: cultivating belonging, mattering and becoming 

Educators are not just conveyors of knowledge; they are architects of transformative learning environments. By prioritising belonging, mattering and becoming, educators create spaces where students can thrive emotionally, intellectually and personally. Incorporating Dweck's growth mindset principles into teaching and learning strategies can help foster belonging. Encouraging students to embrace challenges, view failures as opportunities for growth, and celebrate their efforts - creating culture where all ideas are valued, and students feel safe to express themselves. 

Brené Brown's insights on imposter syndrome remind us that students may doubt their abilities. Educators can counteract this by offering regular recognition and constructive feedback. Acknowledging unique contributions, no matter how small, reinforces a sense of mattering within educational communities.  

Angela Duckworth's research on grit emphasises the importance of perseverance. Educators can guide students on their journeys of becoming by setting high expectations, providing support when needed and fostering a growth-oriented mindset. Encouraging students to explore their passions and interests empowers them to take ownership of their learning. 

Belonging, mattering, and becoming in education 

Education is not just about imparting knowledge; it's about nurturing the holistic growth of students. Belonging, mattering and becoming form the foundation upon which self-actualisation and self-efficacy are built. By incorporating principles from the work of Dweck, Brown and Duckworth, educators can create transformative learning environments where students not only acquire knowledge but also develop the resilience, passion and belief in their own potential to become their best selves. In embracing these concepts consistently, students are empowered to navigate their educational journeys with confidence, purpose and a sense of belonging.  

These concepts are not just buzzwords; they are the keys to unlocking the true potential of education. It is time to put these ideas into action. As we navigate the ever-changing world of education, let us remember that belonging, mattering and becoming are our secret weapons for fostering holistic student growth and empowering individuals to be their best selves. 


Juliette Gaunt is a National Teaching Fellow and winner of the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence. With a clinical background in Allied Health, as a registered Speech and Language Therapist, she now has over 15 years of experience in higher education occupying a range of roles including Senior Lecturer/Clinical Placement Coordinator, Associate Professor (Education), Associate Dean and Dean (Student Experience, Teaching and Learning). Juliette’s current role is Senior Consultant (Student Success) with Advance HE. Her interests include student success, mental health and wellbeing, student enablement and leadership in higher education. 

Professor Mark O’Hara is a National Teaching Fellow and winner of the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence. He has over 30 years’ experience in higher education in a wide variety of roles including programme leader, Head of Student Experience, Associate Dean and Associate PVC. His current role is as a Senior Consultant (Education) with Advance HE. Mark’s interests include student enablement, staff leadership development and inclusion in higher education.

EnvisionED: where 'becoming' is at the heart of education

This is one of our global projects for 2023 - 24 which will support educators to reflect on how they can guide students through their own academic and personal/professional journeys, emphasising growth and self-empowerment. Find out more on the project page


Join the next #LTHEchat on X to discuss empowering education through connection on Wednesday 29 November at 8:00pm with @AdvanceHE_chat and @LTHEchat using the hashtag #LTHEchat. 


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