[ARTICLE] How Social Connection Plays a Vital Role in Today's Schools

article connection elementary secondary

In today's fast-paced and increasingly digital world, the importance of social connection in schools cannot be overstated. Based on the latest advisory of the U.S. Surgeon General (2023), time spent alone has significantly increased from 2003 to 2020 with social isolation increasing 24 hours per month, household family social engagement decreasing 5 hours per month, and social engagement with friends decreasing 20 hours per month. The research also reported that the lack of social connection is more dangerous than smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.

With this pressing concern, it's important to understand how impactful social connection is, and moreso how vital it is in today's education system. Beyond academic achievement, fostering meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging among students and staff is essential for creating a supportive and inclusive learning environment. Research has consistently shown the profound impact of social connection on students' academic performance, mental health, and overall well-being.

Understanding the Link Between Connection and Student Outcomes:

Improved Attendance:

  • Studies have found a strong correlation between feelings of connection to school and regular attendance. When students feel a sense of belonging and connection, they are more motivated to show up for class each day.

  • Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that students who feel connected to school are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as skipping school or dropping out.

Higher Academic Achievement:

  • Numerous studies have demonstrated a positive relationship between student engagement and academic performance. When students feel connected to their school community, they are more likely to participate actively in class, seek out help when needed, and take ownership of their learning.
  • A meta-analysis published in the Review of Educational Research found that students who report feeling connected to school have higher grades, standardized test scores, and graduation rates compared to their less connected peers.

Positive Social and Emotional Well-Being:

  • Connection to school goes beyond academic outcomes—it also plays a crucial role in students’ social and emotional development. When students feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, they are more likely to experience lower levels of anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues.
  • Research from the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets framework identifies “positive identity” and “social competencies” as key factors contributing to student success, both of which are closely linked to feelings of connection to school.

The Academic Advantage of Social Connection:

  • Numerous studies have highlighted the correlation between social connection and academic success. A meta-analysis published in the Review of Educational Research in 2019 found that students who feel a sense of belonging at school are more likely to be engaged in their learning and achieve higher academic outcomes. When students feel connected to their peers and teachers, they are more motivated to attend classes, participate actively, and seek academic support when needed.
  • Furthermore, social connection promotes collaborative learning and critical thinking skills. A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2020 revealed that students who engage in peer collaboration often demonstrate greater academic growth compared to those who learn in isolation. By working together and sharing ideas, students develop a deeper understanding of the material and are better equipped to succeed in an interconnected world.

The Impact on Mental Health and Well-being:

  • In addition to academic benefits, social connection plays a crucial role in promoting mental health and well-being among students. Adolescence is a time of significant social and emotional development, and supportive relationships can serve as a protective factor against stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2018 demonstrated that adolescents who report higher levels of social support from peers and adults are less likely to experience mental health issues. Schools that prioritize staff training and successful implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL) initiatives, such as daily connection activities, peer mentoring programs, counseling services, and create environments where students feel valued, respected, and emotionally secure.

Building a Culture of Inclusion and Belonging:

Creating a culture of social connection requires intentional efforts from educators, administrators, and community members. Schools can implement a variety of strategies to foster a sense of belonging and inclusion for all students:

  • Promote Diversity and Equity: Celebrate diversity and create opportunities for students to learn about different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. Encourage dialogue and mutual respect in classrooms and extracurricular activities.
  • Build Positive Relationships: Invest in building strong relationships between students and staff. Generation Wellness' Foundational Training teaches many strategies on building connection for both students and staff from pre-K through 12.
  • Create Safe and Supportive Spaces: Ensure that school environments are physically and emotionally safe for all students by prioritizing staff training on how the brain and body respond to stress and techniques for regulating their own nervous system–helping students regulate themselves. Also, address instances of bullying or harassment promptly and provide resources for conflict resolution and peer mediation.
  • Encourage Collaboration and Teamwork: Design collaborative learning experiences that require students to work together towards common goals. Group projects, peer tutoring, and cooperative learning activities promote social skills and empathy while fostering a sense of community.
  • Implement Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs:
    Integrate SEL practices into the classroom to support students’ social and emotional development. Teach skills such as self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship-building, and responsible decision-making.

The evidence is clear: when students feel connected to their school community, they are more likely to attend classes regularly, engage actively in learning, and achieve academic success. In today's modern schools, social connection is not just a nicety but a necessity. By prioritizing relationships, fostering inclusivity, and promoting a culture of belonging, schools can empower students to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. As educators and stakeholders, let us commit to creating environments where every student feels seen, heard, and valued—a place where social connection lays the foundation for lifelong success and well-being.


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