School plus connectedness: A key equation in young people's wellbeing

Year: 2017

Author: Gowing, Annie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Young people's relationship with school is a significant element in their relational set. School connectedness is one of a number of terms used to describe this relationship and was first named as a protective factor against a range of health-compromising behaviours by Resnick and colleagues (1997).

This qualitatively driven mixed methods study explores the meanings of being connected to school, how this process is understood by students and staff and shaped by school and individual factors. The study was conducted at a secondary school in outer metropolitan Melbourne. Data collection involved a student questionnaire, student and staff focus groups and student diaries. There were 336 student participants drawn from each year level and 71 staff participants representing the different faculties and administrative and leadership roles in the school.

Findings indicate that age, participation in extracurricular activities, health status, academic engagement and student voice are positively correlated with school connectedness. Additionally the study found that year level, cigarette use and involvement in the choice of school were associated with significant differences in students' connectedness scores. Qualitative data analysis revealed that the school's relational climate is the engine room of school connectedness and that friendships and peer relationships are the lead relational experience for students, taking precedence over student-teacher relationships, although these were also important. Some subjects and activities, including sport and drama, appear to have broader invitational spaces, both relational and physical, in which connections can be made with peers and school staff. School connectedness emerged from this study as a process not a state and with a complex developmental trajectory.

Implications from this study include the need to provide enabling school environments in which relational connections can be facilitated and flourish. Findings from this study strongly suggest that a whole school approach, which prioritises relational opportunities and is responsive to individual and group developmental needs and pathways, can result in enhanced connectedness to school which can in turn impact on both learning and wellbeing outcomes (Blum, 2005; Bond et al., 2007; Roffey, 2011).