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Building school connectedness : evidence from the health promoting school approach

Rowe, Fiona (2006) Building school connectedness : evidence from the health promoting school approach. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

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Abstract

School connectedness, defined as the cohesiveness between diverse groups in the school community, including students, families, school staff and the wider community, is a well-documented protective factor for child and adolescent health. However, strategies for promoting school connectedness are less well known. The Western Gateway Health Promoting Schools Grant Scheme is a program that aims to increase school connectedness by using the health promoting school approach in disadvantaged communities in South-East Queensland, Australia. The scheme provides an opportunity for schools to apply for funding to implement strategies that increase students' sense of school connectedness, using a Health Promoting School approach. Evaluation of the Western Gateway Health Promoting School Grant Scheme provided an opportunity to investigate the influence of the health promoting school approach on school connectedness. The influence of the health promoting school approach on school connectedness was evaluated using a qualitative case study methodology. Three school communities were investigated as single, related case studies to examine the impact of the health promoting school approach on school connectedness. A conceptual framework, based on the theoretical understanding of how the health promoting school approach influences school connectedness, was developed and used as a guide to investigate the relationships within the case study schools. The health promoting school model, which is a 'settings' approach to health promotion, has the potential to promote school connectedness as it is based on the inclusive, participatory, and democratic principles shown to be necessary for the development of social connectedness at the broader community level. The model illustrates this potential through two mechanisms 1) processes that are characterised by the inclusion of a diverse range of members that make up a community; the active participation of community members and equal 'power' relationships, or equal partnerships among community members; and 2) structures such as school policies, school organisation and the school physical environment, that reflect the values of participation, democracy and inclusion andor that promote processes based on these values. These processes and structures, which are located both in the classroom and within the broader school environment, collectively hold the potential to promote connectedness in the school setting. Data on these relationships were collected using in-depth interviews with representatives of groups within the school community such as school staff, parents, students, health service and community agency workers. Additionally, student focus groups and documentary evidence, such as school program reports and observations of health promoting school activities were used in the collection of data. Data sources were triangulated to gain a complete understanding of the impact of the health promoting school approach on school connectedness. Data analysis was conducted by categorising the data into themes and categories based on, but not limited to, the conceptual framework that guided data collection. Data display matrices enabled theoretical relationships between the health promoting school approach and school connectedness to be drawn. The results of the in-depth qualitative evaluation of the program show that the health promoting school approach influences school connectedness through the mechanisms of a 'whole-school approach' that encourage interaction between members of the whole school community. Specific activities that promoted school connectedness were 'whole school' activities that celebrated the school community, for example, the launch of a school cafd and 'whole-class' activities where students and school staff work together towards a shared goal, such as the planning of a school breakfast tuckshop. Activities that encouraged links between classes and school staff in a school community, for example, shared curriculum planning in the co-ordination of a school breakfast tuckshop program also contributed to school connectedness by promoting interaction among school community members. Health promoting school structures and processes help to develop mutual reciprocal relationships characterised by school community members getting to know others better and developing care and support for each other, which in turn develops into other indicators of school connectedness, such as tolerance of diversity, perceptions of being valued, trust, perceptions of safety, and decreased absenteeism. A key element of health promoting school structures and processes that enables the formation of these relationships is the inclusive nature of the approach, which encourages school community members to participate in the school community. This encourages the formation of mutual reciprocal relationships. A number of elements of the health promoting school approach encourage participation in the community. For example, the formation of mutual, reciprocal relationships requires activities that are economically inclusive, and characterised by a social, positive, fun or celebratory element; that are informal and well-managed. Specifically, events characterised by eating food together; real-life activities; activities the school community 'owns' by having a say in them; and activities that involve school community members working together are important for the development of mutual reciprocal relationships. These elements occur at the level of the school and the broader school community interactions, as well as at the level of the class and interactions between classes within the school. In summary, this research provides evidence that the health promoting school approach is an effective model to influence school connectedness, which in effect promotes the health and well-being of children and adolescents.

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ID Code: 16233
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Stewart, Donald, Baig, Natalie, & van der Heide, George
Keywords: school connentedness, Health Promoting School, school community, student, famyly, school staff, child and adlescent health Australia
Department: Faculty of Health
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Fiona Rowe
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 13:59
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2011 05:45

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