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    Exploring the relationship between school kindness and students’ sense of belonging

    Recent studies have demonstrated that character strengths, including a group of individual characteristics that have moral value and lead to ‘good virtues,’ play a crucial role in students’ participation in society and achievement of success.

    Kindness, which is a significant aspect of character strength, has been considered essential for school programmes to improve students’ mental health and foster positive well-being.

    As a key social context, schools influence students’ academic, psychological, and social well-being, providing mastery of knowledge and shaping their whole-person development. Numerous studies have highlighted the social aspects of school functions and recognised the effects of schooling on students’ academic and psychological outcomes.

    A study conducted by Dr Huang Jing, Post-doctoral Fellow at the Department of Psychology, The Education University of Hong Kong, used multilevel structural equation modeling to explore the relationships between students’ sense of school belonging, perceptions of school kindness, and character strength of kindness.

    It included 1,973 students (55.2% girls) in 29 local secondary schools, aged from 13 and 17. Since gender differences in students’ character strengths and perceptions of the school climate have been found in previous studies, the secondary purpose of the study was to examine possible differences in the study constructs across gender groups.

    The study tested four sets of hypotheses: (1) Students’ sense of school belonging at the between- and within-school levels are positively correlated with their perceptions of school kindness; (2) students’ sense of school belonging at the between- and within-school levels are positively associated with character strength of kindness; (3) students’ perceptions of school kindness at the between- and within-school levels are positively associated with character strength of kindness; and (4) female students have higher levels of sense of school belonging, perceptions of school kindness, and character strength of kindness than male students.

    The study found that students’ sense of school belonging was positively correlated with their perceptions of kindness at the school and student levels. At the individual level, as students’ sense of school belonging increased, they were more likely to perceive the school as a fair, caring and kind community.

    At the school level, if a school was characterised by a high level of sense of belongingness, it can be predicted that the school tended to be considered as a kind and caring place, where school members helped and cared about each other. The students’ sense of school belonging was positively linked to character strength of kindness at the individual level, but this relationship was found to be non-significant at the school level. At both levels of analysis, the positive relationships between students’ perceptions of school kindness and character strength of kindness were significant. In addition, girls reported higher levels of character strength of kindness than boys.

    The study was co-conducted with Professor John Lee Chi-kin, Chair Professor of Curriculum and Instruction. It provided a better understanding of the relationships between students’ sense of school belonging, perceptions of school kindness, and character strength of kindness.

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