Connection and the Effect of Explicit Intervention Practices and Strategies Designed to Help Chronically Disconnected Students Connect Within Their School Environment

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Fairley-Hillton, Lynn
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As we navigate through the twenty first century, there is increasing evidence supporting claims that when students feel a part of a school community, and cared for by the members of their school - connected - they are less likely to use substances, engage in violence or initiate sexual activity at an early age (McNeely, 2002). Blum (2005) defines school connectedness as the "Academic environment in which students believe that adults in the school care about their learning and about them as individuals." (p. 16). Klem and Connell (2004) declare that, "By high school, as many as 40 to 60 percent of all students – urban, suburban and rural – are chronically disengaged from school" (p. 262). Research surrounding connectivity is generally directed toward the effects of connectivity, and indicates that connected students tend to be more independent, perform better in school, have successful social relationships and experience less depression and anxiety (Cherry, 2006). Research surrounding children who do not form secure attachments indicates that failure to develop a secure attachment relationship may have a strong negative impact on behaviour later in life, as initial attachment relationships act as prototypes for all future social relationships. This disruption or disconnect, therefore, may have severe consequences. Accordingly, the importance of a connected school environment not only increases the likelihood of academic success, but will also reduce the likelihood of engagement of health-compromising behaviours. This has been found to be especially crucial during adolescent years. Several researchers have investigated specific strategies to increase students' connectedness that are generalized to environmental and classroom practices. Research suggests that improved school connectedness decreases health-risk behaviours (McNeey, 2002). On the basis of such research, the school I work within, on approval, developed the "Kindness Krew or K2". The Kindness Krew is an intentionally designed intervention program intended to offer disconnected students explicit activities and strategies that develop their connectivity, relational and social skills. As part of the ongoing research into this initiative, I worked through a reflective, autoethnographic examination of my own experiences as a teacher who is involved with this program and these students. The importance of, and guidelines for the reflective practice have been defined by scholars such as, Brookfield (1995), Palmer (2007), Schon (1987), and I use these guidelines in developing my autoethnographic design.