With the arrival of snow at Radnor this week, we were able to seamlessly move to online learning. But will there ever be a time when the need for physical schools will be replaced by remote worldwide classrooms, or even holograms? Dr Emma Margrett, Head of Radnor Prep, argues that a genuine connection between your child and their school is more important now than ever before.
THE NEED FOR SCHOOL TO PROVIDE A GENIUNE CONNECTION
A conversation point amongst teachers for decades has been whether there will come a time when the need for physical schools will be replaced by the possibility of children logging in remotely to a worldwide classroom on the internet, or perhaps receiving lessons from a hologram in their own front room. It can be argued that remote learning during Covid took many of us closer to that reality than could possibly have been imagined before the start of March 2020. However, as we continue to ‘pick up the pieces’ following lockdown and address the learning gaps and the social insecurities of a Covid generation that many have termed ‘lost’, I would argue that a genuine connection between your child and their school is more important now than ever before.
HOW CONNECTIONS IMPROVE OUTCOMES
Genuine connection between human beings is a wonderful and life affirming experience. We know that time spent in the company of good friends and valued colleagues can make us feel more positive about life and confident in our own abilities. However, how important are these connections within a work or school environment? Whilst many of us were perhaps initially pleasantly surprised about how much work can be completed without the external distractions which can be found in an office space or classroom when lockdown first started, it quickly became apparent that the seemingly insignificant exchanges about your weekend or the photocopier not working or simply the chance to observe the nuances in another person’s body language at close quarters are absolutely integral to not only our wellbeing, but also our productivity within the school or workplace. Whilst many of us have been conscious about this phenomenon on a personal level and discussed our thoughts anecdotally with friends and colleagues, it is interesting to delve a little deeper to explore why our pupils feeling connected to their school environment can actually make a substantial difference to their overall educational outcomes and indeed to the course of our lives.
SAFEGUARDING MENTAL WELLBEING
One study which has explored the impact of Covid on adolescents, has been the “Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey” conducted in the United States. This study found that a sense of being well-supported and cared for at school, coupled with the sense of belonging that those feelings provide termed “school-connectedness” in the study, is able to demonstrably safeguard young people’s mental wellbeing. The study reported that “Youth who felt connected to adults and peers at school were significantly less likely than those who did not to report:
persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness (35% vs. 53%);
that they seriously considered attempting suicide (14% vs. 26%);
or attempted suicide (6% vs. 12%).”
These findings are significant for school leaders and for parents. It is clear from the statistics above that a sense of school-connectedness can potentially save lives as well as positively impact academic outcomes. Whilst a strong relationship between a child’s class and subject teachers provides backbone to this sense of “school-connectedness”, I would argue that it is incumbent on school leaders to explore as many creative ways as possible to ensure that a child feels known as an individual if we want to help them to develop a genuine connection to their school environment.
At Radnor House Prep, this has been achieved in a myriad of different ways. Whether through taking the time to stand on the school gate every morning and night to welcome each child into or out of our school by shaking them by the hand and calling them by their name, or writing a handwritten card to every single pupil during lockdown to let them know that they were not forgotten, these gestures can be large or small, but each one matters. We celebrate individual achievements either inside or outside school through our weekly celebration assemblies, and work hard to find opportunities for every child to shine through the recognition of their own unique talents. From chess tournaments to getting code onto the International Space Station, from building and racing a go-kart or representing the school in competitive fixtures, from performing in a production or working as a prefect supporting children in the younger year groups, from playing in an orchestra or fronting a rock band, the ‘extras’ provided by a comprehensive co-curricular programme are arguably the most important aspects of school provision as they help a child to perform the unique bonds which make them feel a genuine sense of school-connectedness in the first place.
At a time when many state-run schools are having to cut back on the extra clubs and opportunities which offer ways for pupils to engage with school which go beyond the demands of the National Curriculum due to ever more squeezed budgets, this is arguably an area of provision which sets independent schools apart. I am immensely proud of the broad and varied opportunities which my pupils have to choose from and take great pleasure in seeing them achieve their aspirations across a wide range of fields.
However, it is surely time for the education sector as a whole to acknowledge how important individual opportunities to feel a genuine sense of school-connectedness are for all children. The evidence from research has shown that achieving this can impact not only a child’s school career, but potentially their whole life.