Academic Views - Connectedness starts with a simple 'hello'
12 May 2010
Dr Chris Sarra, executive director of the Stronger Smarter Institute at the Queensland University of Technology, identifies connectedness with school as the effective route to raising attendance.
Spreading the word ... Dr Chris Sarra with students from Western Cape College.
The Stronger Smarter Institute at QUT is determined to help create high expectation school environments that children are drawn to. There is a great deal of competing dialogue about the question of school attendance.
This is an area which is of great concern to those of us who have a stake in Indigenous capacity-building. Anecdotal evidence from various jurisdictions signals that Indigenous attendance continues to lag behind that of non-Indigenous students and that the gap may be widening.
The attendance "problem" can be viewed within two different paradigms - the truancy paradigm and the school connectedness paradigm. If you choose the truancy paradigm then you seek ways to punish the child and the family. That inevitably sets the child on the path of crime.
In the United Kingdom and the United States the truancy paradigm has led to parents being fined and in cases jailed. There is no evidence these policies are successful. Indeed they would appear to belong to the toxic pipeline:
SUSPENSION --> DROPOUT --> PRISON
An alternative is to view non-attendance as an indication the child is not connected to the school. School connectedness is vitally important to the academic success of the student and to their mental and social wellbeing. The child who is connected to the school is the resilient child who will survive the most adversarial of circumstances.
If you stress connectedness then you want to create the kind of school where the child, the community and the school have a clear sense they are mutually dependent on one another. This in turn helps to set up the virtuous pipeline:
CHILD --> SCHOOL --> JOB
How do you create the connected school? For a start you have to be committed to the notion of getting the student to school. The child and the community must know that you want their children to come.
That requires endless talking to parents about how much we want their child to come to school, endless preaching to the students about the importance of education, and endless rewarding of those who come.
Where to start? The most obvious place is with the teacher smiling at students as they come through the school gate in the morning, and saying, 'Hey! I am so glad that you are here today.' A simple gesture that costs nothing, but is worth so much.
Read Dr Sarra's Changing the Tide blog online.