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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: Building Connectedness: One Strategy to Improve Academic, Social and Emotional Learning

Our Teacher Research: Past & Present

Helping all students achieve higher standards

Teacher preparation and new teacher induction   Ongoing teacher professional growth   Teacher networks
Teacher leadership in school change   Helping all students achieve higher standards      

Building Connectedness: One Strategy to Improve Academic, Social and Emotional Learning

by Kate Lewis KathrynLewis@sd54.k12.il.us

Research Question 

What effect does a small group experience designed to build connectedness between the girls and between the teacher and the girls have on academic and social learning?


"Mom, the teachers are clueless about what is going on in the minds of the kids!" This comment from my seventeen-year old son combined with previous school experiences spanning my career led me to explore the effect of providing an opportunity for students to "gain a voice" for expressing their individual thoughts related to their learning and personal experiences in both their in-school and out-of-school life.

Significant writers in the field of education and psychology have supported schools providing this type of school experience. Most noteworthy is the work of Abraham Maslow on the hierarchy of human needs, Carl Rogers on "valuing" students, William Glasser's work on class meetings and school structures that support authentic adult-student problem-solving, Carol Gilligan's work on the development of female knowledge and "voice", and David and Roger Johnson's work on cooperative groupings that promote the development of social and emotional competence.

Summary: The intervention consisted of a group of nine 5th to 7th grade girls in a structured project-based experience of eight sessions for three weeks in December and then eleven loosely structured lunch meetings spaced throughout the school year. 


  • Report card letter and effort grades for the basic four academic subjects for all three trimesters
  • Report card checklists for work/study skills and personal social skills
  • Personal notes on each session that included topics and conversation content, person initiating, contributors, and attendance
  • Teacher written and verbal feedback
  • Sociogram
  • Student survey
  • Student journal entries
  • Parent written and verbal feedback

Data & Analysis

The data on the content of the sessions indicated important personal growth for six of the nine girls. A dramatic change occurred for one girl whose behavior changed from extreme quietness to verbalizing details and reflections about her out-of-school life. Five other girls did important experimenting with the power of their "voice" to communicate vulnerable feelings and become more socially competent.

Eight of the nine girls experienced "connectedness" to the other girls and to the adult leader/mentor as evidenced by the trust in the group and the support they offered each other to deal with school expectations and deaths in their families.

Report card data demonstrated that the three students who most utilized the group to share their thinking showed improvement in academic grades and in behavior patterns, particularly from the second to the third trimester. 

My Understandings

  • Schools need to provide opportunities for all students, boys and girls, to share important thinking and feelings from their entire life experience, particularly around relationships with peers and adults in their lives.
  • Connecting with an important adult in a mentoring relationship is important for all students.
  • Teachers need to know students more fully to be able to better shape the learning experience to meet their needs.
  • Parents appreciate this support and the additional learning it provides for them about their children.
  • Academic grades are influenced by many factors, but social/emotional support within consistent long-term school relationships can improve performance.
  • Limitations for implementing these understandings include school structure and beliefs, teacher skill and comfort level, time and schedule issues.

Policy Implications for Quality Teaching

  1. Teachers should work to establish a classroom environment that encourages respect for the individual student voice.
  2. Teachers should work to establish relationships with students that encourage open communication of issues and personal concerns of individuals.
  3. Staff Development should both provide and encourage teacher growth in the development of positive teacher-student relationships.

Policy Implications for School Structure
  1. The organization of the school day should value the building of relationships by allowing time for this work.
  2. The utilization of staff members should support those with skill and comfort with this work to support those with less skill and comfort. A variety of co-teaching options provide models for this work.


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