Icebreakers and getting-to-know-you activities are wonderful for the first days of school. They help teachers get to know new students, and help students get to know new classmates. These positive activities work their magic at the individual, person-to-person level.
But what happens when students leave the classroom? Students need to form bonds with not only their classmates, but with the school at large. Educators who follow the research literature know that the concept of student connectedness has important implications for student achievement and graduation. They also know that to result in maximum effectiveness, connectedness-building efforts must happen at the school-wide or systemic level.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) fact sheet on Fostering Student Connectedness, “School connectedness is the belief held by students that the adults and peers in their school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals.” Students who feel connected to school tend to attend regularly and earn better grades and scores. They are also more likely to graduate and less likely to engage in risk behaviors such as substance use and violence. For more information, see School Connectedness: Improving Students’ Lives.
The major research organization Search Institute concludes much the same thing, emphasizing that a caring school climate, a young person’s sense of bonding or attachment to school, and his/her positive relationships with non-parent adults are all essential "developmental assets" for future success in relationships and in life. School connectedness is particularly important for students who are “different” from the social norm. These kids may feel isolated or even unsafe, so schools need to work especially hard to make sure they feel supported and included.
How can educators help create these optimal conditions? Following are some practical ideas for building student connectedness throughout the school year.