Social connectedness is the degree to which a person has and perceives a sufficient number of positive, reciprocal relationships including emotional support, a sense of belonging, and fostering growth. Some people may think that schools’ primary goal is solely to teach content and skills, however, I believe school communities should consider social connectedness a top priority. Not only that, educators should focus on exploring multiple ways to leverage social connectedness as an element of the learning process.
In most private schools this happens intentionally and is as much a part of the environment as the air students and educators breathe. The power of social connectedness in people is statistically associated with individuals overcoming trauma and PTSD, treating depression, increasing cancer and heart attack survival rates, and lowering homicide and suicide rates. Public schools offer students many groups and opportunities to create social connectedness; when they do not, students can feel overlooked, forgotten, irrelevant, or marginalized. Social media is often a space where the disconnected try to reach out, and it is also where the feedback loops should be tighter to detect those spiraling out of control. Ultimately, the emotional health and well-being of our students starts with social connectedness. Attention to this can potentially mitigate or eliminate some of the tragic outcomes we are sadly seeing in the United States with greater frequency.
Since 2000 the United States has witnessed the terror caused by more than 40 active shooter episodes in schools. In response to these horrific events, citizens, school officials and legislators are focusing on gun control, mental health, 2nd Amendment rights, and the FBI’s follow-through. While these are important discussion topics related to eliminating gun violence in schools, many people are missing an essential element behind these tragedies… the absence of social connectedness.
In Jewish day schools, I submit that intentional social connectedness creates an opportunity to leverage the wisdom of our tradition in support of foundational human needs. Judaism, by design, seamlessly pays mind to the critical nature of human interaction and belonging. From a minyan in tefillah settings to hevruta/partner study as a teaching approach to welcoming the stranger to seder tables to inviting guests into our sukkah, we are a people who recognize the value of human relationships. I encourage stakeholders to appreciate why administrators and teachers make decisions that encourage and facilitate students’ social connectedness. Jewish Day Schools should prioritize activities that build social capital, cohesion, and support for students and safeguard against programmatic decisions that can erode the fabric of personal interactions and community.