News and Updates
April 30, 2015

Changes are being made in classrooms across BC to better support learning, and these changes are also helping build stronger connections to school. As brain research provides us with a deeper understanding of how children learn, it’s becoming clear that approaches that offer the best learning outcomes also support high levels of school connectedness—this is the best kind of two-for-one deal! You can deepen your students’ engagement in their learning while strengthening their connection to school by incorporating learner-centered approaches that:

  • acknowledge individual and group differences;
  • promote inclusive and collaborative learning;
  • harness students’ passions and interests; and
  • deliver tailored feedback and coaching.

This year in the Okanagan Skaha School District (SD 67), some educators have been exploring this. As part of their School Connectedness Grant and the Through a Different Lens project, educators have been using active lessons and assignments to help make students excited about coming to school every day. The educators are working in inquiry groups, doing collaborative unit planning, and using innovative assessment and instructional strategies to develop the lessons. In many cases, they are researching best practices as well as interviewing students to identify their strengths and talents. The result has been a myriad of dynamic, creative lessons that use dance, scavenger hunts, music, geocaching, and many different creative activities to engage students at all grade levels.

Providing opportunities for less connected students to link their strengths and talents to the curriculum has been an important learning experience for the SD 67 team. In a case study, they focused on a less connected student who was sometimes bullied. His teachers identified his interest in YouTube/videos and looked for opportunities for him to use his technical and creative skills. Making a promotional video for a school trip allowed him to showcase his skills, and bond with another teacher. His excellent video has improved his self-esteem, and has started to change other students’ perceptions of him. His teachers see a real change: they find him more focused, confident and engaged in school. His parents also see a difference, and the student himself has reported that he feels more connected to school than he did before. When asked how he felt when his video was shown to his whole class, he replied “I felt like doing backflips!” Evidently, what helped this student cultivate a stronger sense of school connectedness was both the positive relationship he formed with his teacher, and the opportunity he was given to pursue his learning interests. Learn more about Through a Different Lens here.

The following are some tips for strengthening connections to school through effective teaching and learning practices. Congratulate yourself on how many you are already using!

  1. Communicate clear, developmentally appropriate expectations for learning and behaviour that apply to all students.
  2. Use interactive and experiential activities, such as group discussions, problem solving, and role playing, to engage students in learning and help them personalize the information.
  3. Clearly describe lesson goals and how the information relates to students and the real world.
  4. Use a variety of teaching methods such as discussion questions, extra readings, and group projects to foster critical and reflective thinking, problem-solving skills, and the capacity to work effectively with others.
  5. Engage students in leadership positions and provide avenues for their voices and opinions to be heard. For example, include students in the decision-making process for setting classroom rules and consequences for breaking the rules.
  6. Encourage the intrinsic rewards of learning by displaying student work and accomplishments to peers, parents, teachers, and members of the community.
  7. Provide diverse opportunities for students to be meaningfully involved, learn, and be recognized (through service learning, extracurricular activities, or creative projects, for example).
  8. Encourage open, respectful communication about differing viewpoints. Creating opportunities for students to challenge and debate can teach respect for diverse opinions and perspectives.

Adapted from School Connectedness: Strategies for Increasing Protective Factors among Youth

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009)

Get some fresh ideas for innovative approaches and/or lesson plans at:

  • TeachBC: BCTF’s go-to site for BC teaching resources  
  • 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  
  • Edudemic: Dedicated to connecting education and technology in an accessible way   
  • Mind/Shift: Exploring learning in all its dimensions  

This article is part of our series on
the six strategies for fostering school connectedness. Click here to learn more about the six strategies!