Student social dynamics, school-based transitions and school redesign

This blog post is part of the School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: A longitudinal study of educational success and well-being study. To learn more about the larger study, visit our projects

When a school in a marginalized neighbourhood goes through a redesign, what social impacts does it have on students and school staff?

This timeline indicates the years when children were initially relocated to other schools and then later brought back to their newly redesigned school following completion.

From 2011 to 2012, we held focus groups and interviews with students (ages 4 to 13) and school staff (teachers and administrators).

The redesign of a school in a low socioeconomic neighbourhood in Toronto resulted in students and staff being moved to two other neighbourhood schools (feeder schools) while the focal school was under construction. Students shared their thoughts on the changing social dynamics amongst students and staff during this transitional period.

At the beginning of the transition, students spoke about an initial divide between the new students from the redesign school and those who were in the feeder schools. There were reports of bullying, spreading rumours, and physical fights. Another challenge mentioned was the lack of school space and changes to school activities and resources. RS students were blamed by some feeder school students for these challenges.

Some RS students felt more comfortable with school staff from their own school in comparison to the staff at the feeder schools. They said that they could trust the staff from the redesign school more, and also shared that they felt the school staff from the feeder school favoured the feeder school students more.

During the transition, many students said that they missed the redesign school, and wanted to return to graduate there. Others felt nervous that when they moved back, the original school would be completely different.

So just how does school redesign impact the social dynamics between students?  There was tension between students when bringing the redesign school and feeder schools groups together. This was reported by both students and staff. Staff also noted that feeling a sense of ownership or identifying with the school was particularly important for the older students. This research can help inform other schools undergoing redesigns and renovations. Additional staff to better support students during transitions, such as psychologists or social workers, at the school could help students to adapt to the changes easier. Having activities that encourage connections between students, such as a buddy system, could help to ease the transition as well. Teachers incorporated themes of neighbourhood and school change into the school curriculum during the transition to help students adjust which is a helpful practice. Allowing for more time for students and teachers to adjust to the changes, build relationships with one another and get settled in the redesigned school may be beneficial.

Click here to read more about student and school staff perspectives on social dynamics during the school redesign.

See also: Patel, S., & Cummins, N. (2019). Student and staff social dynamics and transitions during school redesign. Improving Schools, 22(2), 158-172. doi: 10.1177/1365480219832415

To read more about the School Redesign and Neighbourhood Redevelopment: A longitudinal study of education success and well-being study, click here.

To learn more about social dynamics and transitions during school redesign, read our manuscript here.

Document citation: Patel, S. (2016). School redesign and neighbourhood redevelopment: Knowledge mobilization summary report. Toronto, ON: School of Early Childhood Studies, Ryerson University.