At the end of this post is a link to a video of Dr. Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk on teacher-student relationships. It’s a perfect spirit raiser for the beginning of the school year. I urge you to take the 8 minutes needed to watch it.
ESSENTIAL TO LEARNING
…relationship does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning occurs. [emphasis added]
Relationships are essential to every classroom, every teacher, and every student. Children who develop good relationships with teachers learn better. As the adult in the classroom, it’s up to the teacher to turn negative relationships into positive ones.
Successful teachers could operate independently of boys’ negativity or personal rejection, ultimately transforming the relationship from a negative to a positive one.
Relationships are not just built on personality, though. In a study reported in the article the authors wrote
Teachers and boys alike attributed the greatest number of relational successes to teachers’ efforts to meet their individual needs…In both their written narratives and in their personal interviews, boys stressed their appreciation and admiration for teachers who established clear expectations, held them to high (but attainable) standards and, through various affective gestures, convinced them that they could succeed in meeting them. [emphasis added]
Teachers who have difficulty relating to students can learn to do these things. The authors list eight…
…specific relational gestures that helped create the supportive relationships. In those accounts, teachers:
- Reach out, often improvising measures to meet a particular student’s need.
- Demonstrate mastery of their subjects.
- Maintain admirable standards
- Respond to a student’s personal interest or talent.
- Share a common interest with a student.
- Share a common characteristic with a student.
- Accommodate a measure of opposition
- Reveal vulnerability
The bottom line is for the teacher to recognize and make an honest effort to meet a student’s academic needs with authentic interest and caring.
On the same topic, I also recently watched a short TED talk by the late Dr. Rita Pierson. In it she discussed the importance of building good relationships with your students. She said,
…one of the things we never discuss or rarely discuss is the value and importance of human connection. Relationships.
James Comer says that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship. George Washington Carver says all learning is understanding relationships…
…kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. [emphasis added]
You know what it’s like to work for a boss who reacts as if nothing you do is good enough. You try to do the best you can, but the criticism eventually takes its toll and you either quit, or stop trying. Students can’t quit, at least not till they’re 16, so they shut down. The writers of the Kappan article tell us,
…the teacher followed him and continued to berate him, concluding with “You are such a punk.” And, we asked, how did that make you feel? The boy said with conviction, “I hate him.” But, we persisted, you are still in the class, you have to work for him, right? The boy said, “I’m not doing anything in that class. He can flunk me. They can kick me out. I’m not doing anything.”
It’s clear: Bad relationships destroy learning.
Speaking of her mother, who was also an educator, Dr. Pierson said,
…years later after she retired I watched some of those same kids come through and say to her, “You know, Ms. Walker, you made a difference in my life. You made it work for me. You made me feel like I was somebody when I knew at the bottom I wasn’t. I want you to just see what I’ve become.”
…she left a legacy of relationships that could never disappear.
Easy to say…but sometimes hard to do when you have difficult students.
…you know your toughest kids are never absent…and the tough ones show up for a reason. It’s the connection. It’s the relationships…
…How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think and who had a champion.
Every child deserves a champion — an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connections and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.
Developing relationships with students isn’t a panacea for curing “education in America.” It is however an important facet of teaching and learning. So-called education “reformers” in legislatures and governor’s offices may be able to mandate testing, promote charter schools, give tax money to support religious and other private schools, starve struggling public schools instead of helping them, take away the professional authority of teachers, blame teachers and their unions for the “reformers” own failure to solve America’s economic problems, and a host of other anti-public education behaviors…but they can’t stop teachers from developing positive teaching-learning relationships with their students.
The late teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe said,
I touch the future. I teach.
Teachers touch the future by relating to their students. Our students will learn from us and remember us for the kind of people we are, not for the homework we assign, the lectures we give, or the standardized tests we administer. Content knowledge, pedagogy and assessment are important, of course, but in order to make a positive impact on students’ lives, which is after all the main reason we are in this profession, teachers must build positive relationships with them.
Improving students’ relationships with teachers has important, positive and long-lasting implications for students’ academic and social development. Solely improving students’ relationships with their teachers will not produce gains in achievement. However, those students who have close, positive and supportive relationships with their teachers will attain higher levels of achievement than those students with more conflictual relationships.
Many cognitive theorists argue that learning is a social event, and studies have proven that both teachers and students will pay the price if teachers neglect to form emotionally warm, supportive relationships with and among their students. To improve students’ chances for academic success, educators must strive to form meaningful personal relationships with students.
We all want to feel cared for and valued by the significant people in our world. Students are no different. This knowledge is a powerful tool in the arsenal available to you as you form your classroom discipline plan…When students feel that you value and care for them as individuals, they are more willing to comply with your wishes.
Teachers and administrators are often directed to distance themselves from the children in their charge. Despite the land mines that accompany personal relationships with students the authors argue that educators can still learn to build warm
and loving communities of learners.
…[conducted and analyzed] a survey of the member districts’ secondary school students that included more than 40,000 participants. The results indicated that student success depends on three qualities of teaching: content knowledge, pedagogy, and strong relationships with students.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.
Stop the Testing Insanity!