In this section
A student’s education can be negatively affected by disconnection
from their school, in the short and long term. Teachers can play a
really important role in helping a young person maintain a social
presence at school when they’re absent due to a health condition.
Research gives us some insight into young people’s perspectives on
living with illness and their connection to school. It shows that these
young people can feel detached from their school community when their
relationships with their friends and peers keep changing because they’re
away a lot. When you’ve got a student who is absent for long periods,
you can help them keep up important social bonds by maintaining a social
Encourage regular contact between the absent student and their peers through email, text messages, phone calls, Skype, or social media. Communicating with an absent student has more information about keeping in touch.
Include the absent student in class events such as footy tipping competitions or class photo walls.
Keep the seat warm with a teddy, toy or
something that’s a physical reminder of the young person. It’s a way of
‘holding’ their place in the class until they can return in person.
Create a communication bag to hang on the back of an absent student’s chair. Have the class make regular contributions to it.
Use roll call to mention the absent student. Take a moment to reflect on their progress or share news.
Regular Student Support Group meetings
are another way to promote communication between an absent student and
the school. Encourage parents to share concerns and ideas about
improving the connection to school.
Find inspiration in some of the projects and research underway into
technology and communication with young people absent from school due to
The Ambient Orb Project is one of our research projects aiming to improve children's sense of connection to their peers and school community.
Providing Education by Bringing Learning Environments to Students (PEBBLES) is an innovative system that combines video conferencing technologies with simple robotics.
Sometimes you have to take a step back. There will be times when a
young person just won’t feel up to contacting peers or teachers because
they’re tired, distracted or experiencing other symptoms associated with
their illness. Even parents have said they sometimes feel unsure about
the best way to keep their child and school connected.
When the student hasn’t been in the classroom for a
long time, it can take a bit of effort to keep them in mind. You may
find it difficult to maintain that connection when they’ve been in hospital for
an extended period.
But the research tells us that your efforts will be
noticed. Young people really appreciate teacher efforts to maintain a
relationship between themselves and the school. They might not make a
fuss about it, but it makes a difference to them when they’re actively
Keeping Connected: Identity, social connection and education for young people living with chronic illness (2010) is the final report of the Keeping Connected
project. It highlights the clear and pressing need for a system of
advocacy on the part of young people and families within both the health
and education systems – and for communication between schools and
Keeping Connected: Young people's stories of living and learning with an ongoing health condition
(2009) is research report with a central focus on the 31 young people
who participated in the longitudinal case study component of the Keeping Connected project. It has lots of stories and photos, so it’s a large pdf file to download.