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Build School Connectedness and Positive Climate: Quick-Start Tips

School connectedness is the belief by students that adults in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals. So states the Wingspread Declaration, a set of  school climate-related best practices compiled by experts from schools, universities and government. school connectedness

The Declaration's authors identified three key conditions that must exist in order for students to feel connected to school: (1) interpersonal connectedness with staff and peers, (2) an engaging environment that is physically and emotionally safe; and (3) academic engagement (support to reach their personal best with flexible, relevant instruction).

Expanding upon this foundation, the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute guide Best Practices for Effective Schools identifies numerous practical, everyday strategies that can immediately begin building students' feelings of connection to school.

A sampling of these strategies follows. The good news is that aside from a little time and staff motivation, none of these ideas will cost a thing.

Student-Teacher Connectedness

  • Arrange a regular time each day or week to share thoughts and concerns. (In the upper grades, schools often call these "advisory" groups or sessions.) These discussions can be completely informal or more structured--for example, covering various self-care, health-promotion or risk-prevention topics.
  • Elicit and act on students' recommendations for activities and lessons.
  • Set a goal to highlight positive student contributions daily so that young people know you appreciate and value them as individuals.

School-Student Connectedness

  • Have an adult personally greet students each day at the entrances to the building, and during class passing times, have teachers stand in the hallways to help maintain a positive presence and environment.
  • Ensure that every student has a relationship with at least one caring adult (either inside the building or from the community) who initiates personal contact at least a few times a week.
  • Break up large schools into smaller learning communities.

Physical and Emotional Safety

  • Offer regular opportunities for students to talk with adults about their feelings of physical and emotional safety.
  • Ensure that all staff demonstrate respect toward students and each other.
  • Design a discipline system that is flexible and compassionate, with an emphasis on encouraging positive behavior rather than simply punishing negative behavior.
  • Cultivate peaceful spaces and times (e.g., a garden, 10-minute yoga breaks, etc.).

Academic Engagement and Flexible Teaching Methods

  • Teach students the value of learning from their mistakes (encourage revisions to assignments and tests; meet with students to help them reflect upon their performance, etc.).
  • Encourage teachers to address varied learning styles through instruction and assessment.
  • Make space in teachers' schedules for them to observe, share and practice innovative instructional strategies.
  • Relate instruction to students' lives.
  • Use project- and problem-based instruction to give students control over their own learning.

Related resources

Is Your School Doing Real Youth Mentoring?
Understanding Adult Bullying
Beyond Icebreakers: Building Student Connectedness
School Adopts Yoga for Wellness, Behavior Management
Offering Choices to Students
Positive Consequences: A New Spin on Discipline
Multiple Intelligences: Practical Classroom Ideas
Teachers Teaching Teachers: PD That Works
Essential Elements of Project-Based Learning


Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
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