What is School Connectedness
School connectedness is about creating a school community where everyone feels safe, seen, heard, supported, significant and cared for (BC School Based Mental Health Coalition, 2013). The focus in school connectedness is on building strong, positive relationships: among students, between students and school staff; between school staff, families and the larger community. The presence of caring relationships in schools — the heart of school connectedness — is increasingly recognized as a vital component of successful schools. The research is strong and consistent; students who feel connected to school do better academically and are healthier.
Is School Connectedness the Same as Positive Mental Health? School connectedness is one of a number of keys concepts that describes the perspectives and practices for promoting of positive mental health among children and youth.
Positive mental health is “the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual wellbeing that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity” (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2006).
School connectedness, like social-emotional learning, mental fitness, and strength-based perspectives, is an approach used to support and promote positive mental health in children and youth. While each of these approaches is slightly different; they have much in common and overlap with one another. They work side-by-side, each strengthening the impact of the others and all contributing to the wellbeing of children and youth. To learn more about these different approaches, see Schools as a Setting for Positive Mental Health: Better Practices and Perspectives. To learn how to take action on positive mental health at your school, see the JCSH Positive Mental Health Toolkit.
Why Do We Care About School Connectedness?
Research consistently shows that high levels of school connectedness are associated with better learning outcomes and better health outcomes for children and youth.
While the positive impacts of school connectedness are greatest on the students involved, here is a spill-over effect on our communities and society. When school connectedness is increased, graduation rates do too, which means we all benefit.
Societal Benefits of School Connectedness
- Tax revenue & GDP
- Life expectancy
- Social assistance costs
- Healthcare costs
- Substance use
- Crime and incarceration rates
For a more detailed look at the evidence on school connectedness, see School Connectedness: What Does the Evidence Say.
Six Strategies for Fostering School Connectedness In Practice
In June 2014 four schools and two school districts were awarded School Connectedness grants in recognition of the work they are doing to support school connectedness. The selected schools and school districts reflected on their school connectedness practice and developed a video to help share their experience with other school communities. See the videos below in the “Success Stories” section.
Hear the School Connectedness grantees discuss how they use the Six Strategies for Fostering School Connectedness in their schools and districts (video, 48 minutes, 2015)
Effective Strategies for Fostering School Connectedness
The following six strategies had proven effective in increasing the extent to which students feel connected to school. These strategies are not prescriptive; they simply provide the guideposts for schools and districts as they take action on school connectedness.1
1. Adapted from: CDC’s Fostering School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors for Youth; Learning Leadership OECD
- Provide professional learning and support for teachers and other school staff to enable them to meet the diverse cognitive, emotional, and social needs of children and adolescents.
- School Leadership at all levels (principal, teacher, district) establishes structures and decision-making processes that facilitate student, family, and community engagement, academic achievement, and staff empowerment.
- Create trusting and caring relationships that promote open communication among administrators, teachers, staff, students, families, and communities.
- Provide education and opportunities to enable families to be actively involved in their children’s academic and school life.
- Use effective teaching and learning methods & classroom management techniques to foster a positive learning environment.
- Learning is social: Provide students with emotional and social skills necessary to be actively engaged in school.
- JCSH Positive Mental Health Toolkit (interactive eBook with videos and downloadable materials, 2013). The toolkit is meant build knowledge, to facilitate a shift in practice, and to set in motion a process for engaging school and community strengths in fostering the positive growth and development of children and youth..
- Healthy Schools BC School Connectedness Action Guide (document, 2014).
- US Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) school connectedness webpages;provide fact sheets and a staff development program (documents, 2011)with customizable powerpoint slides, and participant and facilitator guides.
- Orienting Educators to Social-Emotional Learning Through Video. Edutopia Five excellent videos that help educators see what SEL looks like. (blog post, 2015).
- Self-assessment rubric for social-emotional development. Edutopia This rubric can be used with students to help support self-assessment of social and emotional learning (website document, 2014).
- Social and Emotional Learning core strategy. Edutopia. (website, 2015)
- Roots of Empathy program at Alwin Holland Elementary School in Peace River North SD (video, 6.5 minutes, 2014).
Dr. Jack Miller
Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl
- Social Emotional Fitness (video, 18 minutes, 2015) TEDxLangleyED
- Social and Emotional Learning and Mindfulness-Based Programs in Schools (video, 58 minutes, 2014) Neuroplasticity and Education: Strengthening the Connection conference.
- Social and Emotional Fitness for Children and Youth Part 1 (video, 27 minutes, 2012) and Part 2 (video, 88 minutes, 2012) Dalai Lama Center’s Speaker Series.
Dr. Stuart Shanker
- Blog by Dr. Stuart Shanker.
- On CBC Radio’s Ideas (podcast, 53 minutes, 2014) and another radio documentary on CBC’s Sunday Edition (podcast, 57 minutes, 2013).
- Self-Regulation: What is it and why is it important for learning? Ministry of Education featuring Stuart Shanker (video, 100 minutes, 2013).
Dr. Daniel Siegel
- The Teenage Brain and how compassion and empathy can be cultivated during the teenage years (video, 14 minutes, 2014).
Dr. Gordon Neufeld
Family and Community Involvement
Dr. Mark Greenberg
- Social Emotional Learning: Teacher Wellbeing & Student Success Webinar
- Family-School Relationships area on the ASCD website
Teaching and Learning and Classroom Management Practices
- Healthy Schools BC Resource Guide for Teaching and Learning, 2013 (document).
- Through A Different Lens: A blog documenting some of the work of Okanagan-Skaha SD educators as a part of their Through A Different Lens project. The focus is on innovative teaching and assessment practices and the impact these have on their students at risk of not completing school. (website)
- TeachBC: BCTF’s go-to site for BC teaching resources (website)
- Student mentoring resources from ASCD (website).
- Networks of Inquiry and Innovation, and Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network : Promote an inquiry approach designed to improve the quality and equity of education in BC through inquiry, teamwork across roles, schools and districts, and a focus on assisting learners to take greater ownership of their learning. (website)
- Educational Technology and Mobile Learning: A resource of educational web tools and mobile apps for teachers and educators, operated by a group of Canadian teachers (website).
- Edudemic: Dedicated to connecting education and technology in an accessible way (website).
- Mind/Shift: Exploring learning in all its dimensions (website).
- Edutopia’s Core Strategies for Innovation and Reform in Learning(website).
- Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child, (document, 2014), ASCD. Presents an ecological approach directed at the whole school, with the school in turn drawing its resources and influences from the whole community and serving to address the needs of the whole child.
- Youth Engagement Toolkit, (e-book, 2014), Joint Consortium for School Health.
Supporting Research Summaries
- Schools as a Setting for Promoting Positive Mental Health: Better Practices and Perspectives. 2nd Ed. (document, 2013).
- School Connectedness: What Does the Evidence Say. DASHBC (document, 2014).