Often when parents are surveyed as to what they want for their young person they respond with a phrase that relates to good mental health. At Clonard we too strongly wish that all of our young people can have a sustainable sense of good wellbeing as it is a precondition for great learning. Unfortunately, data from around the developed world is showing that our young people have been experiencing rising levels of depression and anxiety, particularly since 2010 when the use of smart phones and social media started to take off, especially amongst the younger generations. What researchers are now finding is that the greater a person’s use of social media the more likely they are to experience depression and anxiety. Concerningly Australian data suggests that the average teenager girl spends 822 minutes on social media a week! Ironically one of the damaging aspects of social media is that our young people, while they are more connected than ever before, are actually spending less time connecting with their friends, peers and family through face-to-face in person communication. This loss of genuine connection, which can be so good for our well-being and the social skill development of young people, is taking it’s toll on our young people’s mental health, learning and social development.

In an effort to enhance the Wellbeing of our young people our teachers have been learning about and setting goals in regards to the implementation of Monash University’s 7 evidence-based High Impact Wellbeing Strategies (HIWS). And in response to the data which suggests that young people are spending less time connecting we have had a specific focus on implementing HIWS 2 – Facilitating Peer Relationships which can be targeted through the below strategies:

  • Creating cooperative rather than competitive classroom environments
  • Using cooperative and collaborative learning strategies
  • Using games and activities to build contact and connection between students with opportunities to explore new friendships
  • Help students develop conflict resolution skills and work through different perspectives

The results from teachers’ efforts to facilitate peer relationships have been very positive. Two year 7 teachers intentionally worked to help students explore new friendships by changing classroom seating arrangements every 2 weeks. This strategy saw positive increases in social connection as seen below:

Another teacher had students participate in regular one on one discussions in a speed dating style using discussion prompts. The data gathered from the participants (see below) shows that simply asking students to share with each other on a regular basis their responses to questions such as ‘Who is someone special in your life, why are they special?’ or ‘ What would your perfect day look like?’ can result in a significant increase in peer connection.

Our teachers will continue to intentionally work on enhancing peer relationships with a focus over the coming weeks being on the implementation of a range of cooperative and collaborative teaching strategies such as: the jigsaw activity, stump your partner, think-pair-share, fishbowl debate, group problem solving activities and speed quizzes so if your young person comes home annoyed that we have ‘made’ them work with someone who is not in their friendship that’s all part of the plan to help them increase their social connections and build on their social skills.