Rationale for the Personal Learning Program
Relationships need to be at the forefront of teaching junior and middle school students. Therefore a strong pastoral care program whereby each student has at least one advocate is an essential part of the curriculum at Mentone Girls’ Secondary College. High schooling research states that for a school to meet the needs of junior and middle high school students, a key element of the structure needs to provide the opportunity for every student to have an adult advocate (Forte & Schurr, 2003) and programs and policies that foster health, safety, and wellness (Hutchins 2006).
A Sense of Connectedness and Belonging
Adolescents possess a strong need to belong to a group – the Personal Learning Program can provide all students with the opportunity to feel as though they belong. For adolescents, friendship groups provide a sense of belonging during the day, however not all students experience success in friendship groups or their friendship group may be different to those students within the teaching and learning group. Therefore, it is essential for Personal Learning Teachers to foster a sense of belonging within their teaching and learning groups.
To create a sense of belonging a teacher must create situations where each child is given the opportunity to share and offer a ‘talent’ to the whole group. Without this a student can become isolated and unhappy and this can lead to adverse issues for the child and the community climate. Common traits or behaviours that can be observed when a sense of belonging does not exist include: apathy, boredom, lack of participation, lowered attendance, shyness or acting out behaviours. The majority of students who are demonstrating such behaviours are longing to feel included and exhibit these behaviours as a way to be included.
By developing a sense of connection with the group a child is working towards the development of resilience. But this sense of belonging will not occur without careful orchestration by a significant teacher. Specific strategies need to be applied and students need to be given opportunities to work with and along-side every other child within their teaching and learning group. Without careful strategy students will form sub-groups within their teaching and learning group that can often lead to the exclusion of others, thus defeating the purpose of our Personal Learning program.