Research shows feeling like you belong at a school is linked to higher levels of student emotional and physical wellbeing and better academic performance and achievement. It is positively associated with optimism, self-efficacy, self-esteem, self-concept and sociability. It can reduce the likelihood of mental health problems, promote resilience when mental health difficulties arise and reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
Here in the Junior School, we value and prioritise a sense of belonging. Belonging to friendship groups at school and in the community is fundamental to a student’s identity and wellbeing. To belong to a school community is not just feeling accepted, it’s a feeling of attachment, support and pride.
During the ATC Journey we emphasise the following four areas to help students connect and belong:
1. Encouraging positive relationships with staff
The staff across the Junior School play a vital role – particularly in terms of making boys feel connected and safe. ATC boys know staff care about them and want to see them succeed. Boys at ATC are encouraged to have at least one supportive adult within their school environment – someone who they know, like and have a safe, mutually respectful and supportive relationship with. Not just academic support, but emotional support as well. For many boys and parents in the Junior School the Homeroom teacher is their main point of contact for pastoral, academic and emotional support. Students and staff in Years 4-6 have many opportunities to build relationships through our co-curricular program, weekly specialist lessons, in the playground and during the rotational Friday activities program.
2. Creating a positive peer culture of belonging
Peer groups matter. A sense of belonging at school can be contagious. Boys want to come to school for the learning and the extra-curricular activities as well as seeing their mates. Developing friendships and understanding their complexities is sometimes difficult for Junior School students but ultimately, our focus on building a sense of belonging through integrated programs and activities, help in this process.
Peer supports such as the Year 4 & 6 Buddy Lunches, the Year 12 ‘Feel Good Fridays’ and the Clontarf Program for our ATSI students, go a long way towards providing a safe and welcoming community for all students at ATC.
Alongside our supportive programs are our values and expectations such as the College wide theme – Forming Men of Courage, that are communicated regularly at Year level, Junior School and Whole School assemblies. Expectations of behaviour that fosters a sense of belonging and ‘right relationships’ are explicitly taught and promoted through our Formation program along with teaching students social and emotional skills.
3. Value learning
Students with a sense of belonging value their learning, are highly motivated academically and can see the importance and value in what they learn. Our greatest asset at ATC is our teaching staff who continually support and emphasise the importance and purpose of the material they present to students, have reasonable and appropriate academic expectations of students within their care, and have self-efficacy, confidence and passion towards the content they are teaching. Effective teaching practices can foster engagement in the classroom and this in turn, can increase student achievement. Classrooms in which students are given challenging tasks, encouraged to set goals, and effective feedback is provided, are more likely to have interested, motivated and engaged students which may enhance student learning. (www.cese.nsw.gov.au//images/stories/PDF/PS_student_engagement_and_wellbeing_in_NSW_AA.pdf)
4. Tracking and monitoring students mental wealth
Here relationships are key and as these develop between staff and students, they are more equipped to detect minor nuances that could indicate problems may be occurring, such as an absence from school or changes in normal behaviour. As boys commence their journey here, staff are well equipped to track and monitor our youngest students as they transition from local primary schools and they are very active in communicating with parents when issues arise. Proactive and preventative steps can often be put in place by teachers and counselling staff before bigger problems emerge.
Belonging in the 21st century brings unique challenges for our students. Young people spend most of their day in the school environs, in lessons and at extra-curricular activities. They draw on their experiences in the classroom, playground, on the sporting field or playing in a band to look for and identify where they fit in. The social landscape goes well beyond the school gates, influenced by the different ways in which we connect with our communities and neighbourhoods. Sadly with families less engaged with their neighbourhoods, electronic devices consuming private time and most parents working long hours, these shifting social structures further highlight the importance of how schools need to partner with students in building a sense of belonging.
At ATC we recognise the importance of belonging for each boy and support them to grow and to challenge themselves socially and emotionally whilst also contributing to others’ happiness along the way. The broad range of experiences available for boys at ATC set them up to succeed now and as they venture into their adult life.
Head of Junior School – Formation