While the past 12 months have undoubtedly been challenging, the pandemic has also served as a salient reminder of the importance and power of human connection. Our integral need to connect and share experiences has been keenly felt by many in recent months but it is perhaps our young people who have missed the opportunity to interact with and learn from others most of all. Who could have imagined pre-pandemic, a time when students would desperately beg to attend School, or cry tears of joy at simply being allowed to enter the gates of Selbourne Road? Yet both of these things were a reality recently and both are testament to the sheer power of human relationships to support us, guide us and unite us on our journey through life.
The importance of meaningful relationships is something that educators intrinsically recognise as crucial in ensuring that powerful learning takes place. The modern classroom is a busy dynamic, transactional place where learning occurs in many different forms. Students might collaborate over an essay, assignment or presentation. Roles are negotiated and assigned within projects and individuals liaise with one another on tasks which are part of a larger whole. The ability to relate to others in a respectful and positive manner, whether face-to-face or online, is an absolute necessity in the classroom and beyond. Students learn the ‘soft’ skills of being respectful, listening to others, communicating ideas, negotiating, sharing knowledge and resources and engaging in common or diverse goals. Content becomes the means through which these people skills are honed. This practice contributes to building an individual’s emotional intelligence which is an essential tool in achieving a successful and fulfilling existence throughout adulthood.
It is not only in the classroom or workplace that these relational skills are integral. We all need positive relationships in our personal lives for our wellbeing. A lack of connection with others can lead to isolation and poor mental health. Being part of a team, group or community helps us to connect socially, feel valued and strengthen our support systems. The quality of an individual’s personal relationships has a huge impact on wellbeing.
Professor Dr Anne Coffey from the University of Notre Dame Australia has researched adolescents and their school experiences, with a particular focus on transition from one school environment to another. Her research indicates that students who have a strong relationship with their teachers tend to cope better with change and that pastoral relationships such as those between students, wellbeing leaders and mentors are a vital support system. Dr Coffey says ‘having a go-to person … who the student identifies with’ is incredibly important in easing students into new environments and in supporting them through big changes such as the shift into distance learning and the subsequent return to face-to-face schooling.
Indeed, the Wellbeing Team at Ruyton recognises the myriad advantages of understanding, practising and establishing positive relationships. As a result, we have changed the titles of Senior School Form Group, Form Room and Form Group Teacher to Home Group, Home Room and Mentor. The former titles indicate a more administrative system, but the reality of these roles is quite different. The new titles are far more reflective of the real day-to-day practices, relationships and atmosphere within these groups. In Senior School our Mentors will work with their Home Groups to identify and understand their own character strengths and those of others and the implications this knowledge has for working relationships. Individual values will be explored, and students will set personal and academic goals for themselves stemming from this knowledge of self.
Ruyton Mentors, Wellbeing Leaders and Wellbeing Support Leaders look forward to navigating this new path with our Senior School students assisting them to reach a better awareness of themselves, their interactions with others and having a positive impact on their learning.
Claire Allen and Jacinta Power
Wellbeing Leaders, Year 12 and Year 8
Ruyton Girls' School