"Only Connect": exploring student and staff understandings of connectedness to school and factors associated with this process
AuthorGowing, Ann Maree
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr Ann Maree Gowing
Young people’s relationship with school is a significant element in their relational set. With school a compulsory feature of most young people’s lives, the nature of their relationship with this institution can be highly influential in terms of the quality of their overall school experience. Young people experiencing fragile or alienating relationships with school are more likely to withdraw and experience the precarious outcomes that often follow. School connectedness is one of a number of terms used to describe young people’s relationship to school and has attracted increasing research interest over the past two decades. The consistent findings from the research are optimistic, situating school connectedness as protective in young people’s lives against a range of health compromising behaviours. Despite this bourgeoning research profile, school connectedness has yet to achieve conceptual clarity which threatens to undermine its utility as a construct. To address this conceptual ambiguity, this thesis used a qualitatively driven mixed methods approach to explore the meanings of connectedness to school. The study was conducted at a co-educational secondary college in outer metropolitan Melbourne. Data collection involved a 109-item researcher developed questionnaire including open and closed-ended questions administered to a sample of 206 students. In addition, data were drawn from 12 student focus groups and 11 staff focus groups and 12 student diaries. A literature audit was conducted on a selected set of articles and materials to determine core components of definitions and measures within school connectedness research. Five hypotheses regarding factors associated with school connectedness were also tested. The study has been framed by the following research questions: 1. What are the meanings of being connected to school? a) How is school connectedness understood in the literature? b) How do students understand their connectedness to school? c) How do teachers and other school staff understand students’ connectedness to school? 2. What factors are associated with students’ connectedness to school? School connectedness emerges from this study as a multi-dimensional, socio-ecological concept, placing the individual in relationship with others within the school and beyond. Three hypothesised associations between SC were supported: collaborative decision making with parents about selection of school, prior knowledge of school and proximity of residence to the school. The practice implications that arise from this study pivot around the relational climate of schools. According to this study’s findings school connectedness flourishes in schools with opportunity rich environments with relationally inclusive, respectful and supportive climates. Further research is needed to arrive at deeper understandings of SC and consolidate its place as a unique concept among the multiple terms used to describe a young person’s relationship to school. A priority in this future research is including student and school staff perspectives as a key pathway to understanding this important concept.
Keywordsschool connectedness; school climate; mixed methods research; secondary schools; qualitative research
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