After over a decade in the school setting, I have a healthy collection of thank-you notes from students, colleagues, and mentors. These notes are reminders of my relationship with the individuals who took the time to write them. Often on hard days, I revisit these notes for encouragement and to remember my connection to those individuals.
School connectedness impacts success at all stages of a student’s academic career. When students feel like they belong, are wanted, and have a place in a classroom or school, they are more engaged and more likely to be successful.
Trisha Senne, of Community Consolidated School District 59, shared on our podcast, Schoolin’ Around, about the intentional steps a school took to help students feel a strong sense of belonging.
In the episode, she talks about how early intervention for younger children can save students' lives. Research shows students who begin to feel disconnected early in their school career further struggle with their mental health, academics, and even graduating.
Students are not alone in the impact of connectedness; this also applies to adults. “The social ties that accompany a sense of belonging are a protective factor helping manage stress and other behavioral issues. When we feel we have support and are not alone, we are more resilient, often coping more effectively with difficult times in our lives.” (Theisen, 2021)
The Multi-Tiered System of Supports framework provides insight and guidance into improving a school’s climate and culture. It is necessary to think about ways to help all individuals involved feel connected to each other and have a common mission. Strong relationships also build trust, which allows an MTSS practice to improve continuously. As Dr. Alan Coulter says, “MTSS moves at the speed of trust.”
One way to foster connection is to intentionally take personal notice of students and adults in your school. A small step this month could be to write a Valentine’s Day note of encouragement.
Print off this simple template to create Valentines or Shout Outs for your colleagues!
From experience, I know a handwritten note can provide a boost for a student or fellow staff member. As an instructional coach, I implemented a system for students and staff to recognize school staff with a “Teacher Shout-Out.” Each week, teachers had the opportunity to submit a message of recognition for fellow staff members to be shared at the end of the week. Usually, it recognized small things they did for each other, but this little piece of recognition was a highlight of their Friday afternoon. It was common to go into a teacher’s classroom and find these notes posted by their desk in a place they would see it frequently.
In ways large and small, positive recognition, acknowledgment, and appreciation can help create a sense of connectedness that makes a school a great place to teach and learn.
➡️ Before you go, check out these helpful resources:
Larissa Napolitan is the Digital Content Creator for Branching Minds and the host of Branching Minds' podcast "Schoolin' Around." As a former middle school English teacher and instructional coach, she has over 13 years of experience building systems for improvement, training and coaching teachers in new technology and instructional methods, and leading efforts to build curriculum and literacy initiatives. She holds Masters's degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Education Administration from Emporia State University. Not only is she passionate about using her experience and academic knowledge, but loves to use her writing and voice to make a broader impact on education, teachers, and students.