Building Community: Strengthening Student Connectedness And Sense Of Belonging In Our Schools

Shannan D. Perry Calson, Sacred Heart University

A dissertation in the Isabelle Farrington College of Education and Human Development presented to the faculty of Sacred Heart University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education.


All students want to attend a school they feel a sense of belonging to, one with caring adults and shared experiences for our young learners. Research shows that student connectedness and the quality of student–teacher relationships are associated with students’ engagement in school and academic performance (Bosman et al., 2018) and significantly impact student outcomes (Settanni, 2015). This Improvement Science Dissertation in Practice (ISDiP) investigated the impact intentional professional learning for teachers focused on social and emotional competencies and increased shared experiences for students has on students’ sense of belonging and connectedness in a middle school. With a two-pronged intervention driven by professional learning workshops for adults and a shared experience for students (Wingman), this action research study utilizes the Improvement Science model and a mixed-methods explanatory sequential design. As part of the Improvement Science process, the researcher identified a problem of practice, conducted end-user consultations, reviewed existing data, completed a root cause analysis, reviewed relevant literature, and developed a working theory of improvement. The researcher developed three professional learning workshops that embedded social-emotional learning (SEL) competencies throughout, followed by self-reported feedback slips. Students participated in a shared experience through Wingman; the research team conducted walkthroughs using a walkthrough tool to collect data on the implementation and fidelity of Wingman for students. After a thorough data analysis, findings revealed that teacher professional learning focused on social-emotional learning and providing students with shared experiences significantly improves student sense of belonging and connectedness to a school community.