Mental Health and Well-Being Snapshot: September 2022
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The Power of Connection
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As the school year begins, students, staff, and parents are no doubt all establishing new connections within the school community. Developing relationships, whether those are in the form of new friendships, supportive roles, or professional contacts, is important for effective functioning within the school context, and research is showing may even be important for our health. In the spirit of starting the school year off on the right footing, with healthy and supportive relationships at school and home, this snapshot is focused on the many ways we connect within our schools and communities, as well as ways to re-connect with resources and supports that you may have forgotten about!

Why the focus on connection?

There is evidence that connection with other human beings is a crucial part of positive mental health, not to mention the correlations to improved physical health. There are many benefits it seems, but a few that have stood out to researchers are the power of social connection to protect against anxiety and depression, increase self-esteem, reduce blood pressure, and decrease stress hormones such as cortisol. And school connection in particular seems especially important for children and youth.

There has been a ton of research around the positive impact of school connectedness on student health and well-being (not to mention the impact on their learning!). Students who feel connected to school are less at risk of emotional distress, less inclined to get involved in substance use, and report more positive mental health. What's more, those positive impacts have been demonstrated to last beyond the school years into adulthood.

How does connection help learning at school?

So, the research tells us that connection matters. But that often doesn't explain the mechanism that's at work when it does benefit us. One theory that gets at why connection is so important is Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

More than 70 years ago, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow developed a theory that there was a hierarchy of human needs. The theory proposes that basic human needs must be met before people can be easily motivated to pursue higher order needs (or be ready to learn). Importantly, the need for belonging or connection with others is third on the hierarchy - after basic physiological needs like eating, sleeping, and any immediate concerns about safety, but before the needs of esteem and self-actualization. When looked at through a school and learning lens, we see that feeling connected is a vital step before students will meaningfully engage in a classroom or be available to learn.
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It all starts with trust

Maslow's theory tells us that relationships matter and that other needs like learning are harder to address without those connections or sense of belonging. But we still haven't touched on the way that connections are formed. One key component of any kind of relationship is trust.

Without trust, there is no groundwork on which to build shared experiences or tackle common goals. Most people understand this, if even just intuitively. What is less clear sometimes is how that trust is built, or what to do when it is damaged. 
As with anything interpersonal, the people involved will determine how much or little each of these factors matter, but in general, for trust to develop there must be a few core elements:

Communication and transparency - By being open about what’s working for us, or what’s not, we convey to the other person that we respect them enough to be honest, and by doing so we imply trust in their ability to take on our feedback without being irrational.

Vulnerability - Sharing hard moments from our experience, acknowledging and owning missteps, or taking risks and letting others know you’re out of your comfort zone - these are all examples of vulnerability being displayed. These moments tell others “I feel safe with you and I trust you to see the real me.” This in turn helps others see the same safety in us, as well as letting them into our authentic or real selves

Reciprocal effort - Balanced “give and take” is another way of saying this. When people work together, whether collaborating on an educational project, developing a friendship, or communicating in the workplace, feeling like all parties are invested and engaged with the shared work is essential to develop trust. 

On the face of it, these may seem like simple boxes to tick in our relationships and interactions with others. However, as with anything worth building, it can take time and persistent energy to really put these elements into practice.
Connecting at home

The power of attachment

Healthy attachment is a vital piece of a supportive parent-child relationship, and an important part of child and youth well-being. Children with healthy attachments feel better about themselves and are better equipped to deal with any setbacks experienced in normal development. Many things parents do naturally in their interactions with their child foster attachment, but sometimes parents may need to explicitly focus on one or two strategies to strengthen that bond. Strategies such as open and non-judgmental communication, or providing children with opportunities to lead can support healthy attachment.

Heart Mind Online is an organization focused on social-emotional learning, and has a wealth of learning articles and videos, many related to connection and attachment. Click the link below to access one of those articles focused on attachment as a starting point.


The home-school connection

Schools are a place of learning, yes, but they can also be a resource or a starting point to help with other concerns that may come up in the lives of students. Parents, we want to hear from you! If a student has had trouble with sleeping for the past month, or is going through a difficult time coping with stress, these are excellent reasons to reach out to the school to inform them and ask for help if you need it. It helps the school to understand when there are particular stresses in a student’s life that may impact learning at school, and schools may also be able to help a student create a plan to manage the concern or access appropriate support.

And beyond the immediate benefit this kind of communication can have for your child, it is also backed up with research that the stronger the parent connection with the school, the stronger the child's sense of connectedness to the school community. 

Connecting at school

SEL to facilitate connection

Creating a classroom environment of social emotional learning is one way to strengthen connection with students at school. Helping students build self and social awareness, practice relationship skills, and engage in responsible decision-making are all steps that can strengthen teacher relationships with students and help students build meaningful connections with peers.

The following video and article from Edutopia both provide some starting points for educators looking to create an SEL-oriented classroom climate.

Video:  Five Keys to Successful Social and Emotional Learning
Article: The ‘How’ of Building Deeper Relationships with Students 

Books to build connection and classroom community

If you've read previous snapshots, you knew we were going to find a book tie-in again sooner or later this year! There are many ways that books can support well-being, and their power to facilitate connection is no different. Reading with or to a group of young people is an automatic shared experience, and affords students an opportunity to draw collective parallels to their own lives, honour and value the differences in perspectives about the story, and impart valuable lessons in indirect and meaningful ways.

The NSMS Learning Commons teachers put together a collection of books to help build classroom community. Many are appropriate for the elementary and middle levels and some could be used with high school students as well. Click here for the interactive slide linking to detailed info about each book.
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Connection to Indigenous culture and community
Building and strengthening connections to Indigenous culture and communities is essential work within our school communities all year long. It is especially significant as we head into the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation/Orange Shirt Day this week.

Saanich School District Indigenous Education Resources Site

This incredible resource developed by Saanich School District's Indigenous Education Coordinator compiles resources for learning, curriculum resources for the classroom, and regular learning opportunities for educators. Whether you are an educator in the district looking for ideas to support infusion of Indigenous worldviews in your classroom, or a parent hoping to start discussions with your child at home, take a look at the wealth of content available on this website for some starting points.

Truth and Reconciliation Week

Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 is a national program open to all schools across Canada. This year, the theme is “Remembering the Children”. This year includes an expanded program with age-appropriate material for students in grades 1 through 12.

Days 1 to 3 feature pre-recorded videos and a live Q & A session. On September 30, students will be able to view a live televised broadcast for Orange Shirt Day from their homes. 

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day

Looking for an opportunity to recognize Orange Shirt Day in-person with others? On Friday September 30th there will be a live event in downtown Victoria's Centennial Square.

Wear Orange and come out to connect with others on this important day!

Community supports that foster connection
We've highlighted many community supports in past snapshots, but we'd like to review some options that can help strengthen connections at home or create new connections to helpful supports.

Kelty Mental Health

Kelty Mental Health is a provincial resource site produced in collaboration with BC Children's Hospital. It provides clear, trusted information about child and youth mental health and well-being in the form of articles (like this one about connecting with our children and back to school resilience!), videos, podcasts, and webinars. It is truly comprehensive, and includes sections on healthy living (sleep, technology, eating well), various mental health disorders, substance use, medication, and much more. There are informational sections geared towards parents and caregivers, school professionals, and youth. As counsellors and support staff in schools, we turn to this resource regularly to answer student or parent questions, and have heard consistently positive feedback from parents and students who use it too. 


FamilySmart is an organization that has a goal of supporting child and youth mental health through help and information for the families and caregivers of those young people. One incredible way they do this is by offering free "In the Know" events for parents and caregivers every month. These bring participants together for learning focused on a specific topic, with opportunities for sharing and questions following the presentation.

They have multiple learning sessions planned for the rest of September through December already:

September 27th and 29th: Parenting when anxiety shows up as anger
October 3rd, 11th, 19th, 25th, 27th: Building Connection with our kids when it feels impossible
November 3rd 7th, 15th, 23rd, 29th: It's never too late: Healing parent-child relational stress using Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT)
December 5th, 14th, 15th, 20th: ADHD - The real deal


Parent Programs to Build Connection

Another organization that can help support healthy child-parent connections is the Boys and Girls Club. Their Parenting Without Power Struggles, Parents in the Know, and Parents Together programs provide online parenting groups addressing a range of ages and dynamics. As the groups bring together parents with shared experiences, there are opportunities to build out your own supportive networks as well.
Re-connecting with Saanich resources


Saanich School District has been producing Mental Health and Well-Being Snapshots for the past two school years. This school year we will address some new themes and touch on some we've already presented. While we wait for the next snapshot, feel free to browse previous snapshots. We've produced snapshots focused on substance use, technology, and kindness (as well as many more!). Check them out via the links below:
Snapshots for School Staff
Snapshots for Parents and Students

Mental Wellness Hub

Saanich School District's Mental Wellness Hub is another place where resources are collected. We try to update the site regularly, so please check back often!