Decades ago, the Beach Boys sang “Be True to Your School.” The song encouraged students to stay loyal to their high school, more so even than “their girl or their guy.” Quite a statement!
There is nostalgia to the song, but in the end, we hope that the students who pass through our halls will have the same loyalty the Beach Boys encouraged. The one word that encapsulates this is connectedness. We hope all of our kids are connected to their school, their teachers, and one another.
Connect for Success
Connecting with students is critical to their success in our classrooms. We have research studies, effect size of data, and common sense to tell us that this is the case. Students who feel their teachers and school care about them do better. And even though most teachers would agree with this statement, we know that there are still students who are disconnected for whatever reason.
So, we should ask ourselves why. Why aren’t kids connected at school? What is standing in the way of this? And what can be done to improve upon it?
For starters, we need to consider all the different “connections” that our students have. We tend to think first about the student-teacher relationship. That needs to be a strong connection, but there are others that are important—almost critical—especially depending on the age of the student.
- Students are connected to the institution: It sounds very cold, but “institution” just means the school building or system that they are learning in. Students connect with a school or district in a number of ways: through legacy with their parents, connections with their community, traditions of their school, and through their “school spirit.” A lot of these are “culture” factors that we know are important in school.
- Students are connected to the adults in the school: The adults in the school are not just the teachers they have in their classrooms. Students see adults at lunch, on the playground, in the office, and in the hallways. We know students will have a connection with the people they are required to see each day, but what about the adults they just run into in the hallway? Those adults matter, too.
- Students are connected to other students in the school: For all of our work to make sure we know our kids and connect with them, as students get older, the importance of this goes down. Their connection with their peers, or lack thereof, plays a significant role in the lives of our high school students (middle school as well, to some extent).
- Students know where to find help and are connected with those people: One of the most resonating quotations that I have heard in the last five years came from a wonderful presenter named Manny Scott—if you have a chance to see him, don’t miss it. Mr. Scott said, “Poverty isn’t just the absences of money or things...poverty is the absences of having access to people who can help you.” The more I reflect on this, the more accurate and profound I find it. Students are growing up the in the manner they are largely due to their parents' ability to function in the world. With a lack of parenting, or a lack of a parent’s ability to function, students will struggle. Students need to know where to find help and what help is available. This is why having adequate social workers and counselors in schools is vital to helping all kids succeed. For some students, these connections are nothing short of life-changing.
The question now is how can we improve on this? How can we help more students (well, all students) to feel connected with these things? Not just with their classroom teacher, but with the school, the adults, and the other students?
Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Adult helpers need to be visible to students: Students need to know who they are, what they do, and how they can help them. Social workers, counselors, and principals can introduce themselves and connect with the students they work with. In some larger schools, students are broken into smaller groups so these connections are easier.
- Don’t skimp on traditions: Traditions can be a headache for teachers and principals, but they help to build memories and make connections. These are one of the key ways that students connect with the school, district, or institution. Make sure they are not limited to athletic events—all students should be involved in the traditions, and some aren’t interested in sports.
- Make students’ connections more systematic: Schools can make sure that every student in the school system has an adult to support them. This can be done in a variety of manners. Some schools use a “house” or “community” system to have all students be part of a group. Other schools have adults assigned to students (or groups of students) year over year to build strong, long-lasting relationships.
These are just a few considerations to help students to be connected at school. By improving these connections with all students, student success and achievement will improve, which is our primary objective in the end.
How do you encourage connections in your school? Let us know in the comments below! For more helpful teaching tips, and to stay up to date with the latest trends in education, be sure to subscribe to the Educator blog.