Staying Connected While Physically Distanced

November 2, 2020
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

Most of us have recollections of our days at school; some good and some not so good.

The chances are the good memories are from when we felt cared for and valued, not only by our peers but also by the adults who helped us learn. In current times, these positive, respectful and valued relationships with adults and our wider communities continue to be crucial in helping our learners feel greater connection to their school despite the socially distanced restrictions imposed upon us.

School connection is an important protective factor for many of our learners. Research has shown that when young people feel attached to their school, they are less likely to exhibit disruptive behaviour or emotional distress.

When I am visiting schools I wholeheartedly believe the vast majority of adults working in education have the most honourable of intentions, and understand both the importance and value of building relationships with their learners. Speaking with young people, they talk about their ‘best’ teachers as being kind and fair. Their ‘best’ teachers are the adults who not only show mutual respect, who value them and make them feel important, but they are the ones who go that extra mile to make themselves available for both academic and social support. 

Half term has given us the opportunity to breathe and take a minute to reflect on our first term post Lockdown #1. For nearly all, the return to school was a welcome one. A return to structure and routine that so many of us, both adults and young people, didn’t realise how much we relied upon. The school and classroom environments, however, look very different to before.

Further apart

In every classroom I visit children and young people sit in physically distanced positions. In some cases there are marked out spaces preventing them from engaging one-on-one with their teacher. These measures are of course necessary to help protect both the young people and adults, but we must consider the impact it may have on our young people and on their feeling of connectedness.  

Some of our learners have returned to school already feeling even more disconnected and alienated from their school community. They have brought back a feeling of mistrust in the adults who they have perceived to have disappeared from their lives or have let them down in some way over Lockdown. This feeling of disconnection may have resulted in a display of challenging behaviour, disengagement or high levels of absenteeism.  

On the surface, learners and their families may feel this physical distancing is pushing us further apart. Therefore, now more than ever, we need to be more explicit and deliberate in prioritising relationships and getting the message across to our learners and their families that we value them and can meet their needs. 

Connection is not just about how close we are to friends or how often we interact with others, it’s more of a sense of trust and belonging in the classroom and school.  

Flip the culture

A young person feels connected when they feel accepted and appreciated rather than ignored or just tolerated. We can flip the culture in our classrooms to one of recognition that is not only fair, but equitable, allowing every learner to feel proud and valued. We can continue to show our learners that we care not only about their learning, but also about them as individuals. We must continue to have high expectations, differentiate our behaviour support, be fair and consistent in our approach, and continue to build or rebuild trusting relationships.

Most importantly, we need to consistently make clear to our learners that they are unconditionally accepted and valued.

Investing our time to build healthy relationships and connections with our learners and families should continue to be our priority as we begin our Christmas term. Only when our young people feel like a valued part of their classroom and school they will they begin to accept and take on the culture and values of the school. 

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