Nextdoor, the app for neighbourhoods, commissioned a global study on kindness and found that having just six neighbours reduces the likelihood of loneliness.
We think that's excellent news for school parents, who, according to our own survey, trust school parents more than their neighbours!
But the sad truth is that loneliness is increasing due to the rise in working from home and the weakening of work colleague networks. For some, these ties are not just weakened but severed by redundancy. Many people are having to reinvent themselves. This is where the school community comes in.
Strengthening ‘weak ties’
The impact of isolation measures due to Covid means many parents are coping with juggling occasional homeschooling and work, leaving little time or mental energy for socialising. But now's the time to strengthen networks of 'weak ties' as described by Stanford Professor, Mark Granovetter - that is the social group you are aligned with but not yet engaged with, at school.
How Parent Associations can help
Parent associations arrange a calendar of social events including a leaver’s ball and a summer fair - but that's the big ticket stuff. There's simply no substitute for the chat at the school gate - for some a rare opportunity for an adult conversation or moral support in dealing with tricky teens.
Four easy ways to tackle loneliness in your school
1. Build relationships slowly and focus on those members that need you most
Groups that will really appreciate you reaching out:
- 2020 New parents: that had children that started school in the last year - yes they have never been fully integrated.
- 2021 New parents: with children starting in 2021. These times of transition are unsettling, so start offering connection early.
- Parents that signup to volunteer for even the smallest of tasks. They are often motivated because they want to make friends.
- Parents that live in more remote areas. Can you help them connect with other families in their area?
Use the @mention function and private message families that live nearby to e-introduce them to each other.
2. Reframe your goals.
Instead of your regular committee meeting agenda around events and fundraising targets, start the conversation by asking: “What could I do in two hours per week?” Get your committee to brainstorm ideas that help to connect small groups of parents, perhaps a virtual coffee for your class around icebreaker topics.
Here are some fun subjects we’ve enjoyed with the Classlist team so far.
- You are hosting a dinner party and you can invite 3 guests past or present to join you for an evening of fine food and conversation.
- Who do you invite?
- What is the weirdest or most unusual food you've ever eaten?
- What is your dream job? Why?
- What is the best live performance / concert / event you've been to and why?
3. Offer opportunities to undertake small acts of kindness
Volunteers are often motivated by the desire to make friends. So fulfil this need by creating small, containable tasks that parents can participate in. Make sure that each task also provides an opportunity to work with or share an activity. For instance, if the task is about mending school uniforms, arrange a virtual coffee for volunteer menders to share tips and tricks and get to know each other. Take a similar approach for school gardening volunteers and so forth. You can download our free Volunteer Wish List for ideas of tasks volunteers will sign up to.
4. Bond around a shared activity
Virtual book clubs are going strong on Classlist. Set up a book club group and ask parents to recommend a book and to invite another parent to join.
Walking groups on Classlist are also thriving. Use the sign up tool to arrange pairs to walk together. Focus the rules of engagement on making new friends by suggesting to parents to sign up to walk with someone they don’t already know. You could even set up a competition amongst participants. Here at Classlist we’ve set up three teams to compete in a step challenge. Countit.com is an inexpensive and easy app to set up your teams. It’s also something you could roll out more broadly across the school as an inter-class challenge.
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