News and Updates
January 26, 2015

Relationships are the first things that come to mind for many of us when we think about school connectedness. We think about our favourite teacher, or the students who have a special place in our heart. While forging these strong, positive relationships between students and educators is essential for school connectedness, they are not the only relationships that we need to cultivate.

School connectedness is stronger when there are trusting and caring relationships that promote open communication among everyone in the school community, including administrators, teachers, staff, students, families, and the surrounding community.

Essential and Well-Studied: the Teacher Student Relationship
There has been a great deal of research around the way students interact with their teachers and how that relationship fosters resilience and school connectedness. Resilience-promoting teachers have been shown in studies to:

  • make themselves available and accessible to students;
  • engage students by actively listening to their concerns and worries;
  • take responsibility for actively teaching their students the basic reading, writing and numeracy skills needed for independent learning, even if the students have struggled before to master these skills;
  • have empathy with, and understanding of, their students’ difficult family circumstances, yet provide them with positive strategies to deal with adversity;
  • advocate for their students by mobilizing existing support provisions that are available for “at risk” students;
  • use their power as adults and professionals actively to identify and oppose bullying and harassment at school; and, finally,
  • remember the ‘human touches’ that promote pro-social bonding between teachers and students. (Johnson, 2008).

These are not particularly remarkable or unusual practices. In fact, good teachers have been doing these and other positive things for generations. The research confirms what we intuitively know – that the everyday interactions have a significant impact on students’ wellbeing; however, we need to go beyond that relationship to the broader community.

Beyond the One-on-One
Caring relationships are not just the responsibility of the classroom teachers, we all have a role to play. These are some suggestions for fostering caring relationships in your school community:

  • Use a variety of strategies to communicate expectations, values, and norms that support positive health and academic behaviours. Communications can be addressed to students, school staff, families, and members of the community through a variety of channels such as emails, school assemblies, newsletters, or a school website.

®     Cariboo-Chilcotin School District’s focus on developing a sense of belonging forms the foundation for everything they do with students, and involves teachers, as well as support staff, bus drivers, maintenance workers and parents.

  • Provide opportunities for students of all achievement levels to interact with one another and develop friendships, promote teamwork, and lessen hierarchical divisions between older and younger students.

®     In addition to the peer-tutoring programs, some BC schools are trying innovative cross-grade mentoring approaches, including “text buddies” to ease the transition to secondary school.

  • Support student clubs and activities that promote a positive school climate, such as gay-straight alliances and multicultural clubs.

®     Maple Creek Middle School’s Real Act of Caring Club focuses on caring and kind acts without expecting anything in return. The club has blossomed from 40 members in 2011 to more than 100 students this year. To see their 2014 presentation to Port Coquitlam’s City Council, click here and choose clip 4, at 5:19.

  • Apply reasonable and consistent disciplinary policies that are collectively agreed upon by students and staff and are fairly enforced.

®     In Cariboo-Chilcotin, SD27, they have developed the Making Connections Alternative to Suspensions program for Grades 2 – 8. Take a fresh look at your school’s discipline policies using The Centre for Addictions Research of BC’s (CARBC) policy resources.

  • Hold school-wide activities that give students opportunities to learn about different cultures, people with differing abilities, and topics such as arts or sports. This will increase students’ respect for diversity, and form connections among students. Increasing understanding of similarities and differences can engender respect.

®     Centennial Secondary in Coquitlam has implemented strategies to better integrate English Language Learners into their school, including providing leadership opportunities, peer mentoring programs, and improved orientation.

  • Create opportunities for students to work in partnership with adults in helping roles. For example, service learning opportunities enable students to connect with adults in the community (e.g., field trips, community volunteer events, and internships). In the school, involve students in activities that traditionally involved only adults (e.g., parent–teacher conferences, curriculum selection committees, or school health teams).

®     School gardens, like the one at Trafalgar Elementary in Vancouver, provide many opportunities for students to partner with adults. Learn about their “pocket market” here.

  • Commit to and model respectful behaviour toward principals, other teachers, and school staff.

®     The caring relationships we form and maintain with other adults involved in the school are a model for our students, and help us feel more connected to and supported by our colleagues.

  • Challenge all school staff to greet each student by name.
  • Encourage teachers, counsellors, health service professionals, coaches, and other school staff to build stronger relationships with students who are experiencing academic or personal issues.

®     As we work on strengthening relationships with those students, Bev Ogilvie, Burnaby district counsellor and author, encourages us to: 

    • use a strength-based approach, focusing on the student’s “sparks”
    • consider where the student is at developmentally;
    • think about what they need – whether a friend, an adult mentor, or something else;
    • provide the student with choice, so they have a say; and
    • evaluate, to see how it’s going.
  • Check in with a school counsellor, psychologist, or other expert for consultations or student referrals when needed.  (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009)

TMI! (Too Much Information!)
Feeling overwhelmed by so much information?  Start with something simple, and remember: 

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”

Carl Jung