Purpose - A comprehensive whole-school approach has emerged as a promising model for building connectedness in the school setting. The health-promoting school model, through its whole-school orientation and attention to the school organizatiol environment, identifies structures and processes that influence school connectedness. This paper aims to investigate this model. Design/methodology/approach - This study examines the key mechanisms of health-promoting school structures and processes, as well as the pathways of their influence on school connectedness, by using a qualitative case study methodology in three school communities in southeast Queensland, Australia. In-depth interviews, focus groups, observations and documentary evidence provided the data. Findings - Key elements of the health-promoting school model that facilitated interactions between school community members were events that were characterised as positive, social, celebratory, and with no fincial cost, as well as informal gatherings that involved food or events with commul eating. Through these interactions, mutual reciprocal relationships were developed. School community members began to learn about and understand one another's positive qualities, which in turn promoted additiol aspects of school connectedness. The key elements and pathways of the health-promoting school approach were supported by factors such as informal teaching, reinforcement, adequate time for relationships to develop, and being embedded within the whole-school orientation. The results of this study are used to formulate a theoretical model of how the health-promoting school approach builds school connectedness. Origility/value - These findings are important because they provide insight into the central role of food in the school culture and how it links other key elements and factors that can be implemented in the school setting to build connectedness.