A recent article published by Melbourne University researchers outlines some important aspects of connectedness. A strong sense of connectedness has been shown to contribute to pro-social behaviour, reduced risk-taking behaviour and emotional wellbeing.
The degree to which young people feel a sense of connection to school is also one of the prime motivators for attendance, hence it has clear links to learning outcomes. Beyond mere attendance however, the researchers have found that the experience of belonging which can arise under the right circumstances contributes to students’ readiness to engage deeply in their learning and immerse themselves in ways that can lead to higher achievement.
Developing connectedness between students, teachers and families ideally comes about as a result of effective policies and practices, realised within an inclusive and supportive school culture. Whilst it could be seen as a by-product of other actions, the significance of connectedness means that it deserves attention in its own right.
Schools can ensure that connectedness is fostered by providing effective adult support, creating a healthy physical and emotional environment, cultivating the belief that learning is important and ensuring that students have a positive peer group.
Connecting Through the ‘Squirm’
“True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable and learn how to be present with people — without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments.”– Brene Brown
Including a whole school cohort in the Peer Leaders’ training usually means that there will be some young people taking part who may feel vulnerable and uncomfortable, not having previously thought of themselves as potential leaders. However feedback from schools tells us that the connections that are created as a result of both the supportive training experience, and then later the group facilitation, are both effective and often enduring.
With the focus on empathy in the Program, the Leaders’ experience of ‘knowingly walking into hard moments’ is certainly recognised. The courage needed is real, and helps shape the true belonging that comes about as part of the group experience.
Our Student Representative Council Leadership Workshop and student training materials also support connections between young people. These resources are designed to create purposeful school structures and skilled leaders that can activate student participation and make a difference. Sometimes this process can cause a bit of ‘squirm’ for teachers, as they enable students to use their voice authentically. The experience of belonging to and making a difference for a community, that such opportunities can create, is well worth the ‘hard moments’.