Connection is the nexus to positive development and success in learning and life. Connection is that which allows us to truly flourish. Connection provides us with social grounding, the strength to take healthy risks, explore who we are and who we can be, the safety to fail, the encouragement to succeed. Developing relationships and taking time to connect with our students is essential for student success.
Connection enables our brains to learn. When we feel safe and connected, our nervous system is optimally functional. Our limbic system is calmed, and our pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is available for critical thinking. We are more likely to remember what we are learning, and integrate our emerging skills and content knowledge into our long term memory as our learning activities are associated with positive emotions.
Connection supports classroom management. Ultimately, we all “behave” or follow the rules because we want to. We choose to because we have buy-in with whatever system we are operating in. We stay silent and keep our cell phones off in a movie theater because we want to see the movie. Getting kicked out would disrupt that goal. We accept the laws and regulations in society not just to avoid consequences like fines, jail time, or loss of materials goods and freedom, but also because it is worth it to us to preserve our society and nation. We don’t revolt against our government because the benefit of belonging to this society, and the structure of it, far outweighs the challenges and detractions of the same.
Students, barring a neurological or severe mental health or behavioral issue, will usually choose to comply for a teacher or staff member with whom they have a connection or relationship. They do not want to damage the relationship or disappoint that person with whom they share a mutual caring and positive regard.
Some students may test this relationship and element of positive regard by acting out to see what they response is. This positive regard is reinforced when adults affirm their positive regard for the student, express disappointment with the behavior choice, restate expectations, and brainstorm with students as to how they can better meet expectations next time. Restorative practices allow a student to atone for poor or hurtful behavior choices, and communicates to them a belief that they are a capable and valued member of the community.
How do we create community? Each student or member of the community must be acknowledged as a valuable component and member of the community. Build student agency and self-efficacy by involving students, harnessing their interest and talents in the service of co-creating and maintaining the classroom or school environment, processes, procedures, plans and activities. Invite student voice and choice. Acknowledge who they are; their strengths and the important role they play. Communicate frequently how vital they are to the classroom, school community and world.