Making Connections Count

Jordan Fenton – Principal – East Lake School – Students who feel connected to the school that they attend have been shown to have higher academic achievement, stronger relationships and better mental health. Making meaningful connections starts with the student-centered focus that every student needs to feel connected to their school in at least one way. They need to have a reason to want to be in their school for more than the simple reason than it is the closest one to where they live or that it is the one that the bus drops them off at.

Making meaningful connections takes commitment, effort and time by school staff to discover as much as they can about their students, in order to engage them in their classrooms and their school’s culture. Finding ways to incorporate student interests into daily lessons separates master teachers from merely good teachers. Our dedicated staff members seek to find ways for students to connect to their school beyond the classroom as well, through extra-curricular activities, fine arts groups and clubs.

I have been so fortunate in my career to see so many dedicated individuals that seek out opportunities to create these connections and noticed some have an uncanny ability to recognize crucial moments when reaching out can have the most impact. One such occasion occurred when we had a new student enrol at Chestermere High from Qatar. She selected music in her schedule thinking it would be a general music appreciation class. Never having played a concert band instrument she approached Mr. Johnston at the end of the first class explaining that she felt that she needed to change classes. Knowing the bonds that his band students created with the school, and after finding out that she had some piano lessons early in her childhood, he convinced her to try it out for the week in the percussion section. The student started creating friends within the class, worked hard at learning the basics and was thriving by the end of the semester. She went on to joining many of the optional ensembles and, in her own words, came out of a shell during her high school years all because of a connection that was created on that first day.

The creation of these connections is not exclusive to teachers, as I have seen numerous support staff members become a difference maker in a child’s life, helping them to bond to their school experience. At my current school, East Lake, you will see this happening daily. For example, we have one staff member who takes groups of elementary students on activity walks during breaks. She looks like a mother duck and her ducklings heading across the school grounds with these students in tow. They not only need the physical activity but the attachment with an adult and excitedly seek Ms. Piche out for this opportunity.

It was found by Adena Klem and James Connell in 2004 that, “by high school, as many as 40 to 60 per cent of all students urban, suburban and rural are chronically disengaged from school.”

Ensuring that students have reasons to feel connected to our schools keeps us from having to ask, how do we reengage students who have disengaged from school? This task may seem trivial to some as they may have been the type of student who naturally enjoyed school, but others know all too well the struggle that some students feel in attending school.

As a school community it is paramount that we work with our staff in supporting our students at the individual level, class level, grade level and whole school level in understanding that there are a multitude of ways to be engaged both inside and outside of the classroom.