School Connectedness:
Improving Students’ Lives
Robert Blum, MD, MPH, PhD
Dept. of Population and Family Health Sciences, Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Baltimore, MD, 2005
http://cecp.air.org/download/MCMonographFINAL.pdf
http://allaboutkids.umn.edu/presskit/monograph.pdf
School Connectedness is
“…the belief by students that adults in the
school care about their learning and about
them as individuals.
Students are more likely to succeed when they
feel connected to school.”
Prior research
from The National Longitudinal
Study of Adolescent Health
has shown a strong association
between school connectedness
and every risk behavior
studied.
Methods
The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent
Health:

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A stratified random sample of 80 high schools
with primary feeder schools
N=134 schools (127 participated in school
survey)
N=71,515 students in 7th through 12th grade
N=127 school administrator surveys
Substance Use
Students who feel connected to school
are less likely to use substances
Level of Substance Use
(SD Units)
1.5
1
Frequency
of Use:
Alcohol
Cigarettes
Marijuana
0.5
0
-0.5
Not at All
Very Little
Somewhat
Quite a Bit
Levels of connectedness
Very
Emotional Distress
Students who feel connected to school
experience less emotional distress
Level of Emotional Distress
(SD Units)
1.5
1
Emotional
Distress
Suicide
0.5
0
-0.5
Not at All
Very Little
Somewhat
Quite a Bit
Levels of connectedness
Very
Violence or Deviant Behavior
Students who feel connected to school
engage In less violent or deviant behavior
Level of Violence or Deviant Behavior
(SD Units)
1
0.5
Deviant
Behavior
Violence
0
-0.5
Not at All
Very Little
Somewhat
Quite a Bit
Levels of connectedness
Very
Pregnancy
Students who feel connected to school
are less likely to become pregnant
Percent ever Pregnant
24
22
20
18
16
14
12
Not at All
Very Little
Somewhat
Levels of connectedness
Quite a Bit
Very
Results
Factors Associated with School Connectedness
THE SCHOOL
• School size mattered (optimal: under 600)
• Classroom size did not
• School type is not associated with connectedness
• public, private, or parochial
• Location is not associated with connectedness
• urban, suburban, rural
Results
Factors Associated with School Connectedness
SCHOOL POLICIES
• No single school policy was associated
with connectedness….
• A climate of harsh discipline is associated
with lower school connectedness
• The directionality of the relationship cannot
be deduced from the present study
Results
Factors Associated with School Connectedness
TEACHERS
Teacher experience was not associated
with connectedness.
 Having a master’s degree was not
associated with connectedness.

Critical requirements for feeling connected
include:
high academic rigor and expectations,
coupled with:
 support for learning,
 positive adult-student relationships,
and
 physical and emotional safety.

Relationship to academic performance:
“Strong scientific evidence demonstrates that
increased student connection to school….
 Decreases:

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

Absenteeism
Fighting
Bullying
Vandalism
While promoting:

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Educational motivation
Classroom engagement
Academic performance
School attendance
Completion rates”
Qualities that influence students’ positive
attachment to school:
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Having a sense of belonging and being a part of a school
(see “Students As Allies in Improving Their
Schools”-October 2004)
Liking school
Perceiving that teachers are supportive and caring
Having good friends within the school
Being engaged in their own current and future academic
progress
Believing that discipline is fair and effective
Participating in extracurricular activities
Shouldn’t we just focus on content
instruction?
“There are those who believe that schools
should focus only on the acquisition of
knowledge or that we expect too much from
schools.
However, current research across disciplines
shows that non-academic aspects of school
are also significant contributors to both
school and student success”
Research-based strategies for increasing
student connectedness:



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Implement high standards and expectations, and provide
academic support to all students
Apply fair and consistent disciplinary policies that are
collectively agreed upon and fairly enforced
(authoritative, not authoritarian)
Create trusting relationships among students, teachers,
staff, administrators and families
Hire and support capable teachers who are skilled in
content, teaching techniques and classroom
management to meet each learner’s needs
Foster high parent/family expectations for school
performance and school completion
Ensure that every student feels close to at least one
supportive adult at school
Influences on school connectedness:

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Individuals: students and school staff
Environment: school climate and school
bonding
Culture: social needs and school learning
priorities
Individuals:
“Students who perceive their teachers
and school administrators as
creating a caring, well-structured
learning environment in which
expectations are high, clear and fair
are more likely to be connected to
school.”
The importance of teachers



Teacher support is essential in guiding
students toward positive, productive
behaviors.
Effective teachers use proactive
management strategies
Effective teachers use interactive and
experiential teaching methods that are
oriented to explicit learning objectives
Evidence-based strategies for individuals:

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Student participation in cross-age and peer-led tutoring
Peer counseling/support
Cooperative/collaborative learning that pairs stronger
and weaker students
Participate in new-student orientation programs, buddy
programs and welcome programs (e.g., Link Crew, WEB)
Parent and community members:
 Mentors
 Community service
 Parent training opportunities
 Develop ongoing relationships with corporations and
universities
 Provide opportunities for service learning
Environment/Climate
“Schools have a responsibility to provide
students with a safe environment in
which to develop academically,
emotionally and behaviorally, while at
the same time developing relationships
with others.”
What makes a school engaging?


Provide students with choices and
opportunities to engage around their
interests.
National Academy of Sciences--Four
Principles of Engaging Schools:




High standards
Personalization
Relevance
Flexibility
Administrators can:

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Be committed to authoritative rather than
authoritarian leadership.
Adopt school rules and policies that are fair and
equitably applied.
Provide a clear academic mission.
Create an orderly school environment.
Use a school social climate assessment tool.
Promote high academic standards and expectations.
Develop school-wide community service projects.
Ensure that every student in the school has an adult
assigned to know and “watch out” for that student.
Create small learning environments
Ensure that parents are well informed.
Foster team teaching.
Teachers can:

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Establish high academic expectations.
Provide consistent classroom management
Strengthen parent-teacher relationships.
Encourage cooperative learning
Use behavioral and cognitive-behavioral
educational techniques.
Rely on peer-assisted teaching.
Create democratic classrooms.
Develop identified jobs for all students
Share positive reports of student behavior and
achievement with parents.
Develop routines and rituals for the class.
Best Practices: improving parent-school
relations

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Create a supportive home environment.
Improve communication.
Recruit volunteers.
Promote home learning.
Include parents in school decisionmaking.
Collaborate with the community.
School Culture
An individual school’s culture represents a balance of
priorities between social needs and learning. While
learning might be the priority of teachers, students
have many other reasons to come to school. For
some, socializing, sports and extracurricular
activities are at least as important as learning.
Likewise, being athletic, funny, friendly, outgoing,
attractive and popular are more important
achievements for some students than being “smart”
or getting good grades.
Educating the Whole Child
The prevailing question before us is not about
what children need to succeed. The research is
clear. They need supportive environments that
nurture their social, emotional, physical, moral,
civic, and cognitive development. Instead, the
question becomes, who bears responsibility for
creating this environment?
Educating the whole child requires the whole
community.
ASCD Education Update, “Message from the Director: Supporting the Whole Child”,
Gene R. Carter- December 2006 | Volume 48 | Number 12
Be a rock…
After a nasty fight with her mother, a 15 year old girl
slammed the door to her bedroom, cried herself into
exhaustion, and didn’t come out of her room for the rest
of the night.
The next morning, when she opened the bedroom door,
she found a little box on the floor just outside her room.
She picked it up, plopped herself on the bed, and
opened the small package. Inside she found a rock
wrapped in a piece of paper on which were written 20
words.
It took less than a minute to read the message, but she’ll
have a lifetime to bask in its meaning. She practically
flew to her mom and wrapped her in a bear hug.
The words on the note: “This rock is 30 million years old.
That’s how long it will be before I ever give up on
you.”
Do you know someone who could use a rock?
The work of many researchers has
shown over the past two decades that
resilient youth have at least one adult
who cares deeply for them.
Psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner said
that all children need someone in their
lives who is simply “crazy” about them.
References:
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Blum, R.W., McNeely, C.A., Rinehart, P.M., (2002) Improving
the Odds: The untapped power of schools to improve the
health of teens. Center for Adolescent Health and
Development, University of Minnesota, 200 Oak St. SE, Suite
260, Minneapolis, MN.
Blum, Robert, (2005) School Connectedness: Improving
the Lives of Students. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Public Health, Baltimore, MD
From What Kids Can Do, Inc. and MetLife Foundation. (2004)
Students As Allies in Improving Their Schools: A report
on work in progress. Available at:
http://www.whatkidscando.org/specialcollections/student_as_
allies/pdfs/saa_finalreport.pdf
Link Crew and WEB are year long mentoring programs for
high school and middle school respectively. More information
about these two programs is available from The Boomerang
Project at http://www.boomerangproject.com
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