Missing Your People: Why Belonging Is So Important And How To Create It

The pandemic has played havoc with our mental health, and a significant factor in our malaise is that we’re missing our people—terribly. We long for friends, family and colleagues. We are hardwired for connection, and with the need for social distancing and the reality of being away from the workplace—and everything else—for such a long period of time, we are struggling.

It’s all about our need for belonging—but belonging is more than what you might have thought. Understanding it can help contribute to our emotional wellbeing and it can pave the way toward a more fulfilling year ahead. Here’s what to know and how to create it.


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How civic intelligence can teach what it means to be a citizen

This political season, citizens will be determining who will represent them in the government. This, of course, includes deciding who will be the next president, but also who will serve in thousands of less prominent positions.

But is voting the only job of a citizen? And if there are others, what are they? Who decides who will do the other jobs – and how they should be done?

The concept of “civic intelligence” tries to address such questions.


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A citizen-led approach to Health and care

Public services can get better results by ‘working with’ rather than ‘doing to’, drawing on the strengths and assets of individuals and communities to improve outcomes. This is known as an ‘asset-based’ approach and would require fundamental changes to the way services are delivered.

Since 2012, Wigan Council has transformed its approach to delivering local services, underpinned by the idea of a new relationship with the public that has become known as the ‘Wigan Deal’. This has included working closely with communities, the NHS and other partners to develop a radical new approach to improving the health and wellbeing of local citizens.

Working with service users and communities in an asset-based way involves a significant cultural change, and bringing this about requires bold leadership and constancy of purpose. Making this kind of transformation also needs to be a long-term commitment – leaders in Wigan have taken a consistent strategic path over several years, bringing the workforce together around a shared vision and ethos.


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Age of COVID: Social Structures of Care in Response to Losses of Control and Social Isolation

Even before the current pandemic, persons with severe depression were largely dismissed and neglected by social institutions, such as universities, which operate under neoliberal ideologies positing variations of an individualist social ontology; an ontology that holds that humans are nothing but individual, self-interested, wealth-maximizers. Considered as “mentally ill” with some sort of “chemical imbalance” that is fully treatable by buying and taking a pill, the onus of blame and responsibility for a person’s psychological vulnerability is squarely placed on the individual as opposed to dysfunctional socio-political structures. Within this context, the impact of the pandemic has had particularly pernicious effects on persons who are already susceptible to psychological self-abuse, anxiety, catastrophizing, and social-isolation.


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Coordination without a leader, as an emergent property of a distributed system

Flocking models serve to illustrate that cohesive, coordinated group behavior can occur in the absence of a leader. We’ve made some small additions here to a version of such a model created by Uri Wilensky. The additions consist of four buttons to the lower left of the control panel that make it possible to use the model to experimentally test the more common presumption that organization depends on a leader, and to begin exploring other explanations of the observed group behavior. To run the model, first click on “setup” to create a randomly distributed population of birds each heading in a different randomly chosen direction. Then click on “start/stop.” Notice that over time the birds become organized into more or less cohesive flocks with all the birds in the flock moving in the same direction. Typically one bird in each flock is in front and so might be thought to be the leader of the flock.


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Collective Behaviour: Leadership and Learning in Flocks

A new study has decoded which birds become leaders in homing pigeon flocks, finding an unexpected benefit of leadership: faster birds emerge as leaders, and these leaders learn more about their environment than their followers.

Flocks of homing pigeons circling overhead display remarkable feats of coordination (Figure 1). These movements are the product of leader–follower dynamics, with some individuals influencing the group’s movements more than others [1]. But the explanation to which individuals emerge as leaders within these flocks has remained elusive. New work reported in this issue of Current Biology by Pettit et al. [2] reveals a simple mechanism showing how some individuals rise to the top of the flock. Using an elegant experimental protocol and high-resolution spatial and temporal tracking data, the researchers also find a surprising benefit of becoming a leader.


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Developing the skills of seven‐ and eight‐year‐old researchers

This article describes a research project undertaken as part of a Master’s degree drawing on the author’s recent professional experience as a primary teacher and headteacher. It explores the possibilities and benefits of supporting the development of social research skills with a class of seven‐and eight‐year‐old (Year 3) children in one English primary school over a period of seven afternoons. Conceptually the work is located within literature on pupil voice while the methodology draws on social constructivist, transformatory and action research approaches. Pupils were introduced to a social research process and supported in undertaking their own group research projects. Data were drawn from lesson evaluations, pupils’ reports and responses about their experience through interviews and questionnaires. The article concludes that it is possible and beneficial for Year 3 pupils to engage in social research and considers some wider ethical and practical issues surrounding such work.


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Staff–student collaboration: student learning from working together to enhance educational practice in higher education

The association of research and teaching, and the roles and responsibilities of students and academic staff and the nature of their interrelationship are important issues in higher education. This article presents six undergraduate student researchers’ reports of their learning from collaborating with academic staff to design, undertake and evaluate enquiries into aspects of learning and teaching at a UK University. The students’ reflections suggest that they identified learning in relation to employability skills and graduate attributes and more importantly in relation to their perceptions of themselves as learners and their role in their own learning and that of others. This article draws attention to the potential of staff–student collaborative, collective settings for developing pedagogic practice and the opportunities they can provide for individual student’s learning on their journey through higher education.


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Student researcher reflection on the action research process

The focus of this article is the exploration of and an explanation of student researchers’ affect and activity in an action research project. Using a hermeneutical theoretical framework we argue that the researcher group as a whole constructs a wave process and at the same time each individual researcher in the group creates a wave process that may be similar or different to that of the group. These processes shape each other, through phases of engagement and disengagement in the researcher cycle, and make the research experience richer. The article examines five separate researcher narratives, extracting excerpts, to show how these examples showcase this wave phenomenon. Two themes, activity and affect, are identified in the narrative excerpts provided; sub-categories such as roles on a team and context of research are explored in these themes. The importance of explicit discussion of researcher engagement and disengagement in wave cycles is discussed.


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Being a student as producer — reflections on students co-researching with academic staff

This reflective practice paper sets out to explore the application of the student as producer ethos. In particular, it engages with the student voice by considering students’ experiences of working as equal members of a research team with academic staff. Drawing on the example of a research project funded by the Higher Education Academy, which set out to explore how student volunteering activity might influence employability, the paper highlights three themes emerging from students’ reflections of their experience: responsibilities and tasks of the student researcher; the benefits of being a student researcher; and working with students and staff from other disciplines.


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