Back to All News

Principal Thea Kilian on the importance of belonging

In today’s 24/7 world, a sense of belonging at school is more important than ever, says ACG Tauranga principal and leading educationalist Thea Kilian.

She says young people today are constantly connected and operating at high levels of expectation.

“This adds a different level of stress. Unless students receive support and a sense of community some can find this difficult to cope with. For many, school can provide some calm from the storm."

Schools have a particularly important role to play during the transition years of schooling which can be overwhelming for students if a strong support network is not in place.

"Moving schools or transitioning to primary, intermediate or high school can be one of the biggest changes in anyone's life,” she says. “Social life changes, new academic expectations are in place and without support many kids would slip through the cracks.

"If they are having problems in the classroom or trouble making friends, it is important they have someone to talk to so they don’t feel overwhelmed and isolated. They absolutely must feel safe, connected and engaged if they are to reach their full potential.”

Knowing each student individually, frequent dialogue with families, and strong support systems such as deans and tutor teachers watching out for each student are ways that ACG Tauranga provides the sense of belonging integral to success, she says.

Older students can also take ownership of school culture through interacting with younger students, modelling values and facilitating opportunities for students to connect –through lunch time sport, for example.

Curriculum even plays a role.

Kilian believes the Cambridge International curriculum offered at ACG Tauranga allows students some respite from constant pressure of assessment. Unlike NCEA, which is assessed internally throughout the year, Cambridge assessments are exam based.

"I've worked with NCEA for a long time and under that system students are in assessment mode all the time. The Cambridge curriculum has three assessment high pressure points during the year, but also allows for periods of recovery for students. Everyone is following the same rhythm, working toward something together, and supporting each other."

Senior students have a particular need to know who they are and where they fit into the school culture, she adds.

Part of this is helping them find direction and clarity about their choices after school and ensuring they have the confidence to make those choices.

“They need to be acknowledged as young adults within clear parameters, develop as leaders, and be allowed to explore what they’re interested in.”

Once this is in place, they are on track not just for university but for life beyond.