Health topic: Mental Health Health Promotion

Support healthy relationships

What's it about?

Positive relationships involve caring connections and interactions between people in a school community. They facilitate a sense of belonging, so that all members feel accepted, included, and valued. 

This strategy is about taking meaningful action to grow and maintain two key types of relationships:

  • Supportive adult-student relationships 
  • Respectful peer relationships 

What's involved?

This strategy involves practical, purposeful action to make sure that all students are well-connected to adults at school, and sets the stage for positive peer interactions. Whether school is in-person or virtual, try these proven actions:

  

Make sure all students have an adult ally

It's essential that all students have at least one well-established trusting and supportive relationship with an adult at school—someone who can be their 'secure base.' All staff have the potential to take on the role of ally, but meaningful relationships can take intention, time, and effort to establish. 

Try these strategies to help ensure that both in-person and digital learners have access to an adult ally:

  • Set up advisory time, where small groups of students have designated time to connect with a school staff member who checks in with them daily (if possible) and acts as their advisor and champion throughout the school experience. Advisories can happen in-person or in virtual spaces.

Advisory time is a critical strategy for students who may not have an adult at home they can talk to when they have questions or need advice, guidance, or emotional support. 

Advisors also encourage and role model healthy social interactions. 

  • Welcome students at the classroom (or virtual door), and greet them by their chosen name. This may seem like a simple action, but it matters.
  • Work across your school staff team to get to know students—their interests, stories, passions, and goals. This may happen naturally when you:
    • Talk to students about their non-school related goals, now and for the future
    • Are available to engage with students before or after school, or during breaks
    • Acknowledge students’ acts of kindness, strengths, and successes
    • Respond with warmth and optimism when students reach out

 

Nurture strong, respectful peer relationships 

Here are some proven ways that school staff can foster strong and respectful relationships between students—they're foundational in school health, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Amplify student voice in decision-making at school.
  • Work with students to co-develop agreements about school norms. These are statements generated by students and agreed on by the school community to describe 'the way things are around here.’ Norms have been shown to influence the ways that students act toward each other at school, like how they transition through the hallways, greet each other, approach challenges, solve problems, and communicate.
  • Create opportunities for students to organize in ways that are meaningful and productive to them, and that help to build a sense of identity. For example, they can connect through peer support networks, clubs based on common interests, or intramural, sport, or recreation activities. 

Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) are peer support networks run by students and supported by school staff.

They’re associated with a range of benefits for students who are sexual and gender minority, from better self-esteem to lower reports of depression.

  • Incorporate skills for healthy relationships across the curriculum. At the elementary level, focus on classroom activities related to kindness, empathy, and compassion. Try adapting these classroom practices from School Mental Health Ontario for your students and school community: Healthy relationship skills. Starting in grade 4, go to TeachingSexualHealth.ca, an Alberta Education authorized resource, for quality instructional resources on topics like:
    • Body image and social influences
    • Consent
    • Relationships, dating, and safer sex
    • Responsibilities and choices
    • Values and decision-making
  • Prioritize recess. Even older students can benefit from recess (or unstructured time built into the school day) to relax and socialize.

 

How it connects

Positive relationships are a key aspect of the social environment at school (sometimes referred to as school climate or culture), and a core part of the comprehensive school health framework. 

They’ve been shown to contribute to students' sense of belonging and school connectedness, and may buffer against risks like poor mental health, substance use, and thoughts of suicide.

You might also like these related topics:

  

Resources

Kindness in the classroom
Alberta Health Services

Mentoring resources for schools
Alberta Mentoring Partnership

Relationship mapping strategy
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Relationships matter: How relational-based supports can make a positive difference in Alberta schools
Government of Alberta

Student mentoring
Government of Alberta

 

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