News and Updates
May 27, 2015

It can be challenging to get the professional learning that will enable you to strengthen school connectedness and confidently meet the diverse cognitive, emotional, and social needs of your students. Budgets, time, and conflicting priorities can all stand in the way.  And when you have finally taken that long-awaited workshop, how many times have the course materials sat in your reading basket unopened for months? We’ve all been there.

Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at how to make the most of learning opportunities to build your school connectedness practice. Professional learning doesn’t only happen in workshops, lectures and symposiums. It can be as simple as finding a learning buddy or two, and embarking on a learning journey together.

This year, the six BC schools and districts who were awarded school connectedness grants have been reflecting on their school connectedness practice, and creating videos so other BC school communities can learn from their experiences. Although each of the grantee schools/districts is working independently, they have intentionally formed a learning community to explore their shared work together. They’ve had two in-person meetings and half a dozen conference calls so far. Through these meetings, they’ve seen how good it feels to connect – even over the phone – with kindred spirits who share a passion for school connectedness, and who are also striving to expand their practice. As they’ve gotten to know each other better, they’re able to bring new perspectives and ideas to each other’s work. Seeing how others are approaching their practice — the resources they use, and what has and hasn’t worked for them — has sparked their learning. They’ve encouraged and supported each other when the challenges seemed insurmountable, they’ve applauded each other’s successes, and they’ve learned so much. Each member now has colleagues that he/she can call on when advice, or a boost up, is needed.

 What the School Connectedness Group Has Learned

Participating in this learning community has been a rich and rewarding experience for each member. Here are some of the things they’ve learned:

  • Get off on the right foot

Deciding up-front what kind of community you want simplifies things. The group wanted a supportive, safe space for learning about school connectedness where members were encouraged to try new things. That made the focus clear –the discussions would be structured in a way that invited participation and discouraged judgment. 

  • Relationships matter

To foster an environment where members truly invest themselves in learning together, you need trusting relationships. Include activities at your first meeting that foster positive relationships. Thoughtful questions like, “On a personal level, what draws you to this work?” or “What role did school connectedness play in your school experience?” can open the door to deeper discussions and establish trust.

  • Technology is great but…

Using conference calls or web-based collaborative platforms can allow people in different schools/cities to participate in the same learning community. Nevertheless, while the geographically-dispersed school connectedness group has been able to maintain relationships through conference calls, it wouldn’t have formed such warm, trusting relationships without face-to-face meetings. Getting to know each other as individuals has been critical to building relationships where members can be more open and feel supported.

  • A little preparation goes a long way

The learning community most often met for one hour after school by phone. After a busy day, it can be difficult to transition to thoughtful discussion. Sharing a discussion topic and a reflective question or two before the meeting helped the group quickly dive into the conversation. Exploring an inquiry question for over a series of meetings would be another good approach.

  • A work in progress

In a successful learning community, members feel they get more out of the experience than they contribute. A quick check-in from time to time can ensure that everyone’s needs are met.

Being part of this learning community has been a rewarding experience for the grant recipients. It has fuelled their passion, while also expanding both their knowledge and their confidence in their ability to make a difference. The group’s diverse perspectives, knowledge, and life experience have helped each individual member see their own challenges in a different light, and identify strategies that they might not have seen on their own. Their work together on the school connectedness grants is coming to an end, but they’re looking to the future and how they might continue the journey.

What’s Next for You?

What does this mean for you? Your self-styled professional learning journey can start today.

  • Look around – Find others in your school, your district or your community who are interested in school connectedness or other positive mental health concepts. Talk about what you might do or learn together. 
  • Build on what you already know – Use your knowledge of student buddy programs, inquiry and other strong approaches to build your own learning community.
  • Pick a focus – Attend this year’s Promoting Mental Wellness in BC School Communities Summer Institute or another workshop with your “learning buddies” to get ideas. Hint: watch past Summer Institutes here.
  • Get support – Look for things that can support your learning, like an experienced school connectedness practitioner or funding to support collaboration time. HintBCTF’s Teacher Inquiry program provides grants that would be a good match for a school connectedness learning community.

Enjoy your school connectedness learning journey. Bon voyage!