As parents, we all want our children to succeed academically. There are many factors that can influence this and the biggest has to do with our child’s schooling environment.
During a child’s growing years, time spent away from home can be as much as 6-8 hours which are spent at school. This will only increase during his college and/or university years later on. Naturally, your child will be influenced by his teachers and peers. Thus, a conducive school environment is crucial for healthy child and adolescent development. As parents, are we putting enough effort to connect and work closely with his teachers so that our child will benefit from school connectedness? What exactly is school connectedness?
School connectedness refers to a child’s confidence and/ or trust in his teachers and whether they care about him as an individual. You can say that your child’s school connectedness is high if he is happy or excited to go to school (e.g. because of a particular teacher/class that piques his interest), or that it is low if he is not keen to go.
Why is school connectedness important? Studies have shown that students are more likely to succeed academically when they feel connected to school. In contrast, students less connected to school are more likely to do poorly in studies and engage in high-risk behaviours such as substance abuse, school absenteeism, early sexual initiation, violence and risk of unintentional injury (e.g. when they grow older with drinking and driving, not wearing helmets, etc).
Promoting school connectedness
Parents have a role to play in connectedness, as “life’s lessons” start from home. Here’s what you can do:
- Identify desirable and undesirable behaviours. Be observant of not just your child’s undesirable behaviours, but also your own! A lot of times, children imitate our behaviour, so there’s a high chance that they picked it up from you.
- Brush up your listening skills. During conversations, let your child have his say. Don’t interrupt him; only say your piece when he is done. If he speaks in a disrespectful manner, call him out on that. Remember to keep things respectful at all times, and he will reciprocate.
- Set fair expectations. Communicate clearly what your expectations for learning and behaviour are. Learn where your child’s strengths and weaknesses lie, and set achievable expectations based on this.
- Give appropriate praise. When giving praise, avoid praises that are too generic or ability-focused (e.g. “Good job!”, “You’re so smart!”, etc) as it would actually do more harm than good. Instead, make sure that it is sincere and specific (e.g. “You worked hard on your studies and did well in the exam, good job!”)
The bigger part of school connectedness is dependent on how schools engage with students, starting with encouraging students to communicate openly with teachers. Parents should also take advantage of opportunities to be actively involved in their children’s academic and school life.
Attend or schedule meetings with your child’s teachers to discuss his behaviour, grades and accomplishments. Alternatively, you can join social media groups. These help facilitate an open communication line among parents and teachers.
Remember to keep an open mind and heart when meeting with your child’s teacher. Always be courteous in all your interactions with school staff, teachers and other parents. Lastly, be more considerate and understanding of how demanding a teacher’s job is. Don’t be afraid to give them appropriate praise for their efforts in working with your child, it will certainly go a long way in helping keep teachers motivated!
A True Story
The following real life incident illustrates the importance of school connectedness.
A few years ago I held a forum for secondary school teachers addressing the need to make students inclusive and connected to school.
I threw them a question, “How many of you wish good morning to students?”
The teachers burst into laughter and one replied, “Doctor, students are the one to wish the teachers, not the other way around”
Me: “Do you wish your school principal?”
School disciplinary teacher: “Yes, of course. We should respect the boss.”
But he was getting restless and voiced out, “Dr Thiyagar, what’s the point you are trying to make?”
Me: “Just bear with me for a minute. Can you name a student who irritates you the most?”
Me: “What does he do to upset you?”
Teacher: “He doesn’t wish me and show-face every time he passes by.”
Me: “What do you do?”
Teacher: “I pick him to answer difficult questions in class whenever I get a chance.”
Me: “Try wishing him good morning every time you see him. Trust me he will change.”
The teacher laughed out loud but grudgingly agreed to do so, just to prove me wrong. Two weeks later I bumped into the teacher at Tesco and he was excited to see me.
Teacher: “You were right! The boy is now a changed person. After I started wishing him good morning, within 2 weeks the boy is now respectful towards me and other teachers too! I had a long talk with him last week. He was crying and told me how he was so stressed at home because he came from a broken family with no love shown by his parents. All he wanted was for teachers to notice him and help him as supportive adults at school.”
Fast forward seven months, I met the teacher again. He informed me that the boy is now a student leader with very good attitude and his academic performance has also improved from a very weak student to an average achiever in exams.
What was the reason for this dramatic transformation? He is now CONNECTED to his school environment. It started with a simple “Good morning” and this triggered the change by making a huge difference in this teenager’s life.
Similarly teachers could provide opportunities for students to improve their interpersonal skills, such as problem-solving, conflict resolution, self-control, communication, negotiation, sharing, and good manners. Other essential survival skills such as listening, stress management, and decision making could be inculcated too. These skills will potentially protect them by reducing stressful life events, increase the adolescent’s ability to avoid risks and promote social and emotional competence to thrive in all aspects of life.
Teachers should be more proactive in communicating with students and to do more in helping students plan for their future. Teachers should also encourage students’ leadership skills by involving students in various school activities, e.g. setting classroom rules, organising annual sports carnival, etc.
School events such as a sports carnival and physical education classes, help promote teamwork and sportsmanship. They also help emphasise the values of fair play and non-violence.
My challenge to educators: Greet each student by name and wish them first!
An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.