MindMatters in Minutes. Relationships and belonging.

The heart of Mindmatters is connectedness.

We are social creatures. To be healthy, we need at least a couple of close relationships - and a community where we feel like we belong.

People with this sense of connectedness are more likely to feel cared for, loved, esteemed and valued, and have a support network in times of trouble.

This is essential to mental health, and is the essence of how you build a positive school community.

So here’s how you can approach it..

One: Relationships, relationships, relationships. Form relationships. Think about it. How often do you smile at your students? Or have a chat? Do you know all their names? Do you know their backgrounds and interests — Even the ones who aren’t quote “good at school”?

Good relationships are built through curiosity, positive regard, warmth and empathy—for everyone.

Two: Help students feel like they belong. At school there are so many ways for students to feel left out or different: socially, culturally, academically. How would you feel in a place where you were constantly criticised—even if it was deserved?

You might be angry, you might be miserable—you probably wouldn’t be happy or productive.

In a positive school community, staff identify the strengths of each student and find ways that those strengths can be valued, so that every student feels like they belong.

Three: Make sure everyone is included. There’s no point in you building a relationship and belonging with one student and then they turn around and exclude someone else. It’s a two-way street. You need to create a culture of tolerance, respect and even enthusiasm for individual differences, which often means teaching or modelling inclusion for specific groups, whether they are based on race, culture, sexuality, appearance or whatever other ways we find to distinguish ourselves from each other.

And finally, four: Allow everyone the opportunity for real, meaningful and ongoing participation. This means working towards goals that are relevant and rewarding, but also being held accountable to community standards. With students who enjoy academic pursuits, this is often easy, but for disengaged students enabling this participation might require more dialogue, courage and out-of-the-box thinking on the part of school staff.

The take-home message is this: if you want to make a big impact on mental health, relationships and belonging are essential. They are not optional. They are not something that applies to some students and not to others. They are the foundation for positive school community and academic success.

But— this is an area where even small efforts can have big impacts. Once you start improving relationships and belonging, the effects tend to be viral, like a cat video, starting a positive feedback cycle that benefits everyone, including staff, students, and parents.

So take a moment to think about your school. How would you describe the sense of connectedness? What do you do to build relationships with students, even the ones that aren’t your favourites? Do you think all your students feel like they belong? Does your school have a strategic approach to developing a positive community? What does it look like?"