Do you have children in primary school?
If your answer is yes, then like me, you’d probably jump at any chance to help your kids feel successful, happy, accepted and respected at school.
But what if a key to your child’s feeling of belonging–and ultimately their academic success and mental health–is your involvement at school? I recently wrote this article for ScienceNetwork WA, and its findings surprised me…
Before you shirk canteen duty (again), consider your kids.
Research by Curtin University’s Dr Sharmila Vaz suggests involvement in your child’s primary school environment improves their perception of belonging at secondary school.
“To belong in school is to feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported,” Sharmila says.
“Students who report greater belonging in school are more likely to succeed academically, less likely to engage in health-compromising behaviours such as alcohol or drug use, and are more likely to have better mental health.”
Sharmila’s research suggests children who feel they belong in their final year of primary school more likely to feel they belong in secondary school.
Her data comes from 266 students transitioning from 52 primary schools to 152 secondary schools.
So how can we give our children a strong sense of belonging?
“Student attributes such as resilience and coping skills matter the most,” she says.
“Promoting students’ sense of competence and self-worth is very important, ensuring they cope well and use productive coping strategies like problem solving rather than worrying and escapism,” she says.
“A second factor is the way classroom goals are structured, so teachers can empower students by affording direction and initiative on how to pursue academic goals, and providing a landscape where everyone feels empowered.”
But what about your family’s socioeconomic status?
Despite 40 per cent of the primary school cohort moving from the government education system into the Catholic or non-government system for their secondary schooling, Sharmila says the type of school didn’t impact student belonging.
“Being at a government school, or having a lower socioeconomic status, or having a disability didn’t influence belonging,” she says.
“What matters is student empowerment and resilience.
“This is really an empowering message, to say anyone can take the initiative to ensure that kids belong.”
To include, or not to include?
Sharmila says classrooms where everyone is equally valued help promote belonging.
“If the school promotes the fact that everyone is empowered and accepted and included, regardless of whether they have a medical condition, then students have a better sense of belonging,” she says.
Already dealing with teenagers?
If you’re already dealing with teenagers, then you may be reaping what you’ve sowed.
Sharmila’s research indicated that parental expectations for high academic achievement enhanced belonging when children were in primary school, but not secondary school.
She also found that children in secondary school who focused more on effort-based goals rather than socially geared goals were more likely to feel a strong sense of belonging.
This article originally appeared in ScienceNetwork WA. Images from REDCOM and Toshihiro Gamo.