The Crux of Connection

Dave Smith – Divisional Principal of Technology – Connecting. What does it mean to connect? Synonyms of the word connection are: link, relationship, relation, interconnection, and interdependence. Do any of those words stand out to you?

According to the Statistics Canada presentation, "The Portrait of YouthFebruary 2018", 96 per cent of youth are connected via their mobile device or other internet applications. "Connection" is a misnomer in our culture today. We assume that if we are connected to a social media application, we are in a relationship with others. Think about your own life. When do you truly feel cared for, listened to, and understood? Where do you go when you need advice? Who do you seek out when you have a problem or need to talk to someone about an issue which is bothering you?

Do you post it on Facebook or LinkedIn to see if anyone comments or inquires as to what’s wrong?

Do you reach out via Instagram, WhatsApp, Pinterest, YouTube and hope you will receive a “like?”

Have you noticed how you feel when you receive a response through social media? Connection to others occurs in new and innovated ways. Consistently, you will see app innovation revolving around methods of communication. Twenty-First century communication is indeed revolutionary. However, might I suggest a reminder of the human side of communication, that it is a personal contact from one live human being to another. Speaking personally, I need a person, a live, in the flesh, individual to not only hear me but to respond with more than a one-liner. This is a basic human need. (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)

It can be a struggle for today’s youth to find their identity, especially when connected through social media and a screen is their main method. They do receive approval, gratification and direction when they put themselves "out there" digitally, looking for the quick one-off replies, the thumbs up, anything to be recognized. 

When students are known or feel known, they develop attachments and sense of self in the context of their surroundings. Over time, this method of deriving affirmation is not only informing their identity but their life's direction. (Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to your Kids, 2013)

When we talk about connection and mental wellness in schools, our hope is to assist youth in making connections to individuals who will build them up. We encourage them to look for a positive influence who will come alongside them during difficult times and provide a level of support to move forward. How can a school system help students make these connections?

In RVS, we encourage students to talk to a trusted adult who can direct them to the right resources for help and support. Having someone in every child's life who will listen, support and help them through times of difficulty builds their resiliency. My youth experience was in the 1980's and 90's. I was conditioned differently. My brain used pathways that were formed by my surroundings. Youth today also are operating on the pathways which inform them of communication, conflict and relationships. Can youth connect with others in a meaningful way through technology? Absolutely, but with caution. Do they still require the human touch and verbal communication which is not only meaningful but life-giving? Yes. How does RVS do this in meaningful ways? Let me name a few.

School Culture – Every school has a narrative, a way of being. Schools develop a culture to enable students to connect personally with teachers, peers and community. They help students with conflict mediation, understanding their emotions and brains, relationship building, navigating maturity, mental health and mental illness. Each school strives to bring supports based upon their school’s needs. 

Sharing – All schools either have or are working towards a method of sharing student successes. I am not just talking about PowerSchool or reporting methods, I am referring to portfolios, visual representation, interviews, in-class showcases, online showcases, publishing and more. The ability for students to show their learning to the outside world increases their ability build connects with those stakeholders.

School Supports – Many schools have mental health workers available to support students in making connections to the emotions and thoughts. Many schools have trained their staff in positive school mental health such as Go To Educator (Middle and High School), MindUP, positive culture-based programming (such as 7 Habits and the Leader in Me by Flanklin Covey Co.) and school-based professional learning. Each school has support mechanisms in place to help a student make connections to their school. For specific school information, I would encourage parents to ask the school staff to explain how they go about building school culture.

Rocky View Schools Vision – As a division, our 4-Year Plan reflects our cultures desire to connect in various ways, connection to: learning, designing, curriculum, innovation, technology, peer groups, community, the world, one’s self and, simply put, relationships.

I could go on and on with this discussion. But the crux of it is this, real, life-changing connection comes from people working with people. Our hope is that the connections we make will help our students have life-giving-experiences.