Maintaining school connection during Covid-19

Maintaining school connection during Covid-19

Monday, 01 March 2021

School connection is the extent to which a young person feels like they belong at school and feels cared for by that community.

It’s built through relationships, and also perceptions about those relationships within the whole-school community.

Role of the teacher

As we know, the role of a teacher is more than about giving information on their subject. Teaching involves creating a connection with and between students. It is often the intangible bits of teaching that mean the most to both students and teachers.

Now, more than ever, teachers are feeling the need to help students ground themselves in a world that can feel unstable and insecure.

School connection

School connection is an intricate web of the relationships, values, culture and environment experienced by each individual in the school. We know from research carried out by Jigsaw and UCD that students in Ireland generally feel some sense of school connectednes. This research also showed that the feeling was lowest among third, fifth and sixth years.

School connection and mental health

School connection plays a role in the mental health and wellbeing of young people in a myriad of ways. Students who experience a strong sense of school connection tend to perform well academically. Academic performance and mental health and wellbeing are connected. A strong sense of school connection is also linked to higher feelings of self-esteem, increased happiness improved coping skills, reduced feelings of loneliness and lower emotional distress.

Former teacher and Jigsaw Youth Mental Health Promotion Co-ordinator
It's the connecting, uplifting, challenging, caring bits of teaching that mean the most.

School connection from a distance

Even in a global pandemic, relationships matter. The need for school connection has not gone away.

Each school is different, but typical channels of promoting school connectedness are now missing. Being greeted by name by an adult who cares for you, feeling a sense of achievement on the sports field or being able to talk to a teacher at break-time about something that’s bothering you, are for the moment at least, gone.

Keep reaching out

It can be disheartening to keep sending out class work to students and not hear anything back. However, lack of a visible response does not mean a student is not experiencing that connection with you. There may be reasons they cannot respond. But, the fact that you continue to keep the doorway to communication open will be appreciated.

Try different channels

Again, each school will have it’s own policy on this, but try different communication methods. Access to devices, wifi or private space in a home can all be barriers to live interaction for some young people. A student who can’t access a class on Zoom may appreciate an email, text or even a letter or card.

Encourage peer support

Just as you would in the school environment, encourage students to connect in with each other. Are there pre-existing structures such as prefects or students council? Acknowledge when efforts are being made for study groups to include quieter members of the class.

Facilitating sharing of experiences, challenges and coping skills in relation to the current situation can be helpful for students.

Maintain your own connections

Students can take their lead from teachers. If they see you maintaining a connection with the school community in the widest sense, they may follow suit. Show them how you are staying connected to other teachers, the work and the school ethos. Share your own learning when it comes to the challenges of independent work and study. Role model how you would like your students to stay connected.

Webinar on school connectedness 

Jigsaw clinicians facilitated a discussion on school connection and the challenges that schools are facing in a webinar for teachers. Participants shared innovative ideas about how we can still maintain school connection. The following is a recording of this webinar.

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