Social connection describes the perception of closeness that we feel with others and the sense of belonging and of being accepted and appreciated that this closeness engenders.
Social connection is essential to our physical and mental health and wellbeing. A feeling of closeness to others has been found to increase longevity and strengthen the immune system, while a lack of social connection has been found to be more harmful to our health than high blood pressure, smoking, or obesity. Social connection is also essential to learning, as a student’s sense of social connection strongly impacts the command centre of the brain, known as executive function. Executive function affects a student’s ability to plan and manage their time, to pay attention and to transfer their learning to new contexts.
While social connection was once thought to be incidental to learning, there is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate the profound relationship between emotion and cognition in the brain. It is increasingly evident from neuroscientific research that a sense of belonging has a profound effect on the knowledge and skills that students can learn, remember and apply.
There are a number of ways that schools and teachers can prioritise and support the social connectedness of students. At the school level, leadership can ensure that policies to protect against discrimination and bullying are in place, while providing positive opportunities such as mentorship and service learning programmes to help create and build social connections. In the classroom, teachers can prioritise strong, trusting relationships with and among students, explicitly teach conflict management and perspective-taking, and advocate for their students.
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