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Pooja Bharadwaj31/01/2024 11:47:59 AM9 min read

Fostering Connection: Keeping Your School Community Engaged

Imagine a school where teachers are so passionate that they can't wait to get to work each day and where students are so engaged that they lose track of time in class. And where parents feel like they're part of a supportive community that's truly invested in their child's success. This isn't just a dream - it's the reality of schools that prioritise connection. 

From transparent communication channels to embracing technology, from recognising achievements to involving parents in decision-making, these strategies create a school community that is not only academically robust but also emotionally connected—a place where each member feels valued and inspired to contribute to the collective success. 

Join us on this discussion of fostering connection as we uncover the keys to transforming your school community into a vibrant hub of collaboration and shared enthusiasm.   

Tackling Challenges and Fostering Teacher Engagement 

A new term has just commenced, but the challenge stretches far beyond lesson plans and deadlines for teachers. They navigate a complex landscape of juggling curriculum demands, student needs, and a constant influx of new initiatives. This takes a toll; burnout, stress, and mental health concerns are alarmingly prevalent, driving many dedicated educators out of the classroom and fuelling a national teacher shortage that threatens the very foundation of our education system.   

So, what's fuelling this exodus? It's not just about pay, though fair compensation is vital. The culprit is often an overwhelming workload suffocating the joy of teaching. 

The NSW Department of Education released figures showing there are 10,000 classes per day that are not being adequately staffed due to teacher shortages. Crucial subjects such as math, English and science are missing the mark and disability educators are down by 500 in NSW public schools alone. (Source - 9now)   

According to the Educator, in NSW, Australia's largest education jurisdiction, a staggering 87% of public schools are impacted by a shortage of casual teachers each day, while in Victoria, there are more than 2,255 positions advertised on the Education Department's vacancies website.   

These are not mere statistics; they represent the human cost of a system struggling to support its teachers. Studies reveal that over 50% of Australian teachers grapple with anxiety and one-fifth battle depression. 

The cry for help is clear:  

"The sheer weight of administration, coupled with inefficiencies," says Tom Endean, Chief Marketing Officer at Tes Australia, "creates an excess and pressured workload." 

"Teachers described high levels of stress, vicarious trauma, burnout, low levels of motivation and poor career satisfaction... if we really want to support teachers, these issues must be taken seriously," says Dr Anna Dabrowski, a senior research fellow at Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).  

With teachers being a foundational part of the school network, why is Australia currently in the grips of a national teacher shortage?  

What can schools do to make teachers feel valued? And how can they help teachers stay engaged and supported enough to stay in the workforce?  

Positive School Culture  

Cultivating a positive school culture is fundamental to retaining teachers and providing a space where they feel valued and supported. Recognising and rewarding teachers for their contributions, providing professional development opportunities, and ensuring transparent and effective communication build a positive and engaging school culture. These strategies keep educators enthusiastic about their roles and contribute to a vibrant, engaged teaching community. (Source – ClassCover

What makes a school culture great?  

According to a survey conducted by Education Week, relationships, positive school culture, trust, collaboration, and appreciation are some of the key themes that make a school a great place to work for educators. 

Some educators said that building strong and respectful relationships among all school community members—administrators, teachers, students, and their families—can go a long way toward creating an environment where people want to be. 

Providing mentorship and tailored support to teachers 

The future of education rests on the shoulders of our teachers, making their well-being and development paramount. We must prioritise personalised support and robust mentorship to retain talented educators and cultivate a thriving teaching community. 

New teachers, overwhelmed by many unfamiliar duties, are particularly vulnerable. Left unsupported, they may develop counterproductive habits, hindering their potential and affecting student success. By investing in their growth through tailored support and intensive mentorship, we equip them with the tools and confidence to become exceptional educators, as evidenced by the remarkable student achievement gains within just two years. This is not just an investment in our teachers; it's an investment in our children's future. 

Mental health and well-being 

Australian Catholic University offers an evidence-based program catered to teachers' mental health and well-being. The course provides online weekly self-paced activities targeted to assist teachers in understanding triggers and stressors and identifying and expressing their feelings. Understanding stressors and triggers is crucial to help individuals reflect and conjecture for possibilities.  

While self-care is in the hands of the individual, school leaders must take steps to ensure teachers feel safe, respected, and recognised. A supportive work environment allows teachers to recover and feel heard, resulting in job satisfaction and well-being outcomes.  

School Management Software 

Leverage the power of your school management system (SMS) to boost teacher engagement. Systems like TASS can assist with administrative tasks such as markbook and attendance while simplifying communication among teachers, students, and parents, creating a collaborative learning environment. The automation of routine tasks liberates educators to prioritise impactful teaching moments. With real-time access to student data, teachers can pinpoint areas of improvement and tailor their teaching strategies accordingly, making the educational experience more effective and dynamic. 

Professional Development 

Ever feel like your teaching superpowers need a recharge? Think of professional development as the ultimate training ground. It's all about keeping your skills sharp and staying ahead of the curve in the education world. Plus, research shows when teachers level up their knowledge, it unlocks incredible things for their students. 

Imagine you're training for a marathon, but your coach only teaches you how to tie your shoelaces. That's what happens with teacher education: universities equip you with the basics, but the real skills come from running the race. So why do so many excellent teachers drop out within the first few years, feeling overwhelmed and underprepared?   

The answer lies in professional development. Think of it as your ongoing coaching, the fuel that helps you keep up with the changing landscape of education; it's the secret weapon that allows teachers to thrive and guess what? It makes students soar, too. Access to continuous personal development is patchy at its best; we must bridge that gap and give every educator a chance to shine! 

Strategies for Boosting Student Enthusiasm 

Theresa Akey defines student engagement as "…the level of participation and intrinsic interest that a student shows in school. Engagement in schoolwork involves both behaviours (such as persistence, effort, and attention) and attitudes (such as motivation, positive learning values, enthusiasm, interest, and pride in success). Thus, engaged students seek out activities, inside and outside the classroom, that lead to success or learning. They also display curiosity, a desire to know more, and positive emotional responses to learning and school."  

According to "The Glossary of Education Reform", student engagement may also refer to how school leaders, educators and other adults might engage students more fully in the governance and decision-making processes.  

A 2018 Gallup Study titled, 'School Engagement Is More Than Just Talk', found that "Engaged students are 2.5 times more likely to say that they get excellent grades and do well in school, and they are 4.5 times more likely to be hopeful about the future than their actively disengaged peers." 

Studies like these indicate student engagement is crucial to fostering learning and growth in students so they can be better citizens of the world and live productive and meaningful lives. 

So, how can school leaders and teachers foster student engagement?  

Department of Education, Victoria, offers some insightful tips on this subject: 

  • Strong teacher-student relationships – Cultivate positive relationships between students and teachers. A supportive and encouraging environment fosters a sense of belonging and encourages students to participate in class activities actively.  
  • Challenge students – Provide intellectually challenging tasks and projects that stimulate students' curiosity and critical thinking skills. A challenging curriculum keeps students engaged and invested in their learning journey. 

PERMA Framework in Classrooms 

Bringing positive psychology into the classroom empowers students to break out of their shells, forge deeper connections with teachers and peers, and set them on the path to success.   

The PERMA framework serves as an excellent starting point, addressing critical elements of positive psychology as outlined below: 

  • Positive Emotions: Encourage students to focus on things that bring joy, such as recognition for quality work or opportunities to assist classmates. 
  • Engagement: Design challenging yet attainable tasks that pique students' interest and help them explore new ideas engagingly. 
  • Relationships: Encourage teamwork and collaboration through activities and offer constructive feedback to help students thrive!  
  • Meaning: Help students comprehend the purpose and significance of their work, emphasising its relevance to their learning. Link lessons to real-world problems so students can find the "why" behind the "what."  
  • Achievement: Provide encouraging and truthful feedback, fostering a sense of accomplishment and success among students. 

Addressing these aspects, you can shape your classroom into a positive and conducive learning environment.  

Student Information System and Learning Management System  

School management software fosters student engagement by providing an interactive learning environment. Students can access educational content easily through online assignments, interactive forums, and multimedia resources. Personalised learning paths and progress tracking empower students to take ownership of their academic journey, promoting a sense of autonomy and motivation. Accessing resources and information through the software enhances collaborative learning and encourages students to participate actively in discussions and group projects. 

Empowering parents as co-authors in education 

Studies have shown how parent involvement in learning leads to improved student outcomes.  

Parents aren't just spectators but co-authors in their child's educational journey. Fostering their engagement creates a robust support system for students. Here are some ways to cultivate that partnership: 

  • Parent portal – The parent portal on your school management software can enable parents to track progress, schedule meetings and receive instant updates, boosting their involvement in their child's education. Parents gain immediate access to their child's academic progress and school-related activities through real-time grade tracking, attendance updates, and targeted notifications. This transparency fosters a sense of involvement and enables parents to provide timely support and encouragement.  
  • Welcoming Assemblies: Use assemblies to communicate crucial information to parents and celebrate student achievements, fostering a sense of community. 
  • P&C Involvement: Encourage parents to participate in the school's P&C Association, emphasising its role in maximising learning. Promote diverse representation and address various skills and backgrounds. 
  • Participation in School Activities: Encourage parental involvement in sports days, excursions, and more, fostering engagement in both formal and informal aspects. 
  • Clear Communication: Provide regular newsletters with engaging content, including feature articles, school news, and student achievements. Communicate school policies and information in accessible formats. Be open to questions and concerns, and respond honestly and respectfully, fostering a partnership with parents. 
  • Homework Support: Provide resources and assistance for parents to support their children with homework, avoiding jargon and communicating in plain language. 
  • Setting Expectations: Encourage parents to set appropriate expectations for their children, fostering a positive mindset and accountability. 

Supporting parental engagement requires a combination of transparent communication, inclusive practices, and opportunities for involvement, recognising that all parents share the common goal of wanting the best for their child. 

Fostering connection within a school community requires a multifaceted approach that recognises and addresses teachers', students', and parents' unique needs. By implementing these strategies, schools can create an environment where everyone feels connected, valued, and inspired, contributing to the collective success and growth of the entire community.