Bringing Connection to School

September 3, 2019
Mike Stallard

It’s back-to-school time across the U.S. A new school year brings with it hope and excitement as well as its share of nervousness and concern. A student might wonder if she will fit in with her classmates or if he will be able to keep up with the academic load. A teacher might wonder if he will be able to engage all of his students or if she can handle the demanding workload.

When I first started exploring the topic of group culture for my own understanding, I was focused on the corporate setting. I quickly saw how the principles apply to any group, including a family, a volunteer committee, a school or a community.

Earlier this year I traveled to Utah to facilitate a “Creating a Connection Culture” workshop for 160 principals and counselors of the Alpine School District, Utah’s largest primary and secondary school district with 85,000 students. This opportunity came about because a few principals in the Alpine School District had led their schools to create connection cultures and teachers, school staff and parents saw the positive results it produced. Now 200 parents who are part of the PTA in the district and the neighboring district in Provo are reading our book Connection Culture to support the efforts of their schools. How great is it to see a community really coming together to create a culture that helps their children thrive?!

Why would a school want a connection culture? There are three compelling reasons.

1. Students Thrive with Connection

There is overwhelming evidence that students experience better emotional health and learning outcomes when they feel connected to friends, family and community. Not only do students perform better academically when they feel connected, but they also experience less anxiety and depression. Additionally, according to research from the Centers of Disease Control, creating a culture that promotes connectedness to family, friends and community is the best strategy to reduce the risk of suicide, which has become the second leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds.

2. Teachers and School Staff Thrive with Connection

I have the utmost respect and admiration for teachers, especially those who make a difference in the lives of their students. Teaching is hard work but so important to the future of our kids and society. With budget pressures, many teachers are expected to do more with fewer resources. They need our support and encouragement. This goes for school staff, too.

Teachers and school staff are vulnerable to burnout and the best way to protect them is to boost human connection in the cultures they live and work in. As I explained in Connection Culture, human connection is a superpower that makes us smarter, happier and more productive. It also makes our nervous system more resilient to cope with stress so that we make rational rather than rash decisions.

3. Communities Thrive with Connection

People in communities that have higher levels of connection are healthier, happier and more productive. A healthy community cultivates healthy students and their families as well as the teachers and school staff who live in those communities. I’ve been interested to see that more organizations that work to help economically-depressed communities are viewing poverty as a breakdown of connection and community (see Community Renewal as one example).

The inspiring story of a community losing and rebuilding connection is detailed in the award-winning book Dreamland by Sam Quinones. Dreamland describes how the opioid crisis developed in America. Part of the book tells the story of soaring opioid addiction in Portsmouth, Ohio, as connection, community and the economy declined. Quinones goes on to describe how townspeople came together to save the major employer, clean up the streets and restore community spaces where people could gather. The story includes accounts of artists creating artistic expressions that are helping people heal and churches coming together to march against the pill mills like the Joshua-led march around Jericho that is recounted in the Jewish Scriptures and in the Bible. Portsmouth’s comeback story alone is worth the price of the book!

People thrive when they are in cultures that cultivate connection and community. It’s exciting to see school administrators, teachers, staff and parents in and around Alpine School District in Utah coming together to assure a brighter future for local children. Do you know a teacher or school staff member who would benefit from understanding the “why” and “how” of infusing connection in his or her setting? Point him or her to Connection Culture and/or our website to learn more.

More from Michael Lee Stallard

World's Greatest Leaders Tap Power of Connection

Patriots’ Dynasty Fueled by Connection

3 Ways Pixar Gains Competitive Advantage From Its Culture

Michael Lee Stallard, MBA, JD, is a thought leader, speaker and leading expert on how human connection in workplace cultures affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. In addition to Fired Up or Burned Out, he is the primary author of Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work.

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