Good relationships in the classroom lead to better learning. Students need to feel safe, accepted and appreciated. A scared or angry student doesn’t learn well. I know this from my own experience as a student. I learned the most from the classes taught by teachers who treated me with kindness and respect.
It’s likely that relationships between students and teachers are more difficult during the current pandemic. A virtual connection with a teacher isn’t the same as in-person contact. The same might also be true even for those students who are attending school in person. Masks covering the faces of teachers and other students create an additional barrier to relationships. While not impossible, it’s harder to judge a person’s mood or attitude when you can’t see their face.
A post on today’s Educator’s Room blog provided some insight into building relationships. The author, Thomas Courtney, is currently teaching his students virtually. He reflected on his experience as a child watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and thought that perhaps distance learning teachers could gain some insights from Fred Rogers’ experiences on TV.
FRED ROGERS, GENIUS
When distance learning began, I thought perhaps that one of the bonuses to being virtual would be an ability to recreate that for my elementary school students. I used videos from youtube-I even made videos of myself. Something told me that this unlimited supply of visual and verbal experience would blow what Mr. Roger’s gave us right out of the water–that technology had advanced far beyond the small neighborhood world that Fred Rogers made for us. I just needed to find the right media to explain the solar system, the water cycle, to explain good nutrition. Right?
I was so wrong.
It has been over six months since my class became an online experience, and recently I’ve made a discovery that has profoundly changed my teaching now and hopefully will continue to change it after our pandemic ends: Mr. Rogers, you were even more ahead of your time than we thought.
You see, I have come to realize that Mr. Roger’s adventures in the neighborhood weren’t about using the power of TV. It wasn’t about expertly crafted videos. It was about using the power of relationships–relationships that all of us have. Relationships that can be forged and developed even though the computer and the best part is that these relationships can be made even easier through distance learning.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
The quote below from August 2013, embeds another quote from an article in Kappan magazine (membership in PDK International required). The article discusses the importance of positive relationships for boys in school. The conclusion states that “Positive relationships precede desired school outcomes, including the end of obstructive, resistant behavior, increased engagement in classroom process, and increased willingness to complete assigned tasks.”
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.
I posted this in December 2015 during the time I was still volunteering in a local school. It’s gratifying for teachers to see their former students, especially when they remember their teachers fondly.
This morning one of my former third grade students (from c.mid-1980s) paid me a visit…
She was my student during a particularly difficult time in her life. I remembered it clearly when she mentioned it this morning and I mentioned a talk we had, teacher to child, during which I did my best to encourage her. She remembered, and was surprised, but seemed genuinely pleased that I remembered it as well.
The important part of our conversation today, was that she expressed gratitude, after all these years, for the patience and understanding which I had shown her when she was a child who was hurting. She has carried it with her throughout her life and has shared it with her family now that she is an adult.
She didn’t thank me for helping her learn to read. She didn’t thank me for helping her pass the achievement test. She didn’t thank me for helping her learn her math facts. She thanked me for being a kind and caring adult who helped her during a difficult time.
There is so much more to education than tests and standards. Children learn much more than can ever be put on a standardized test. Teachers – living, breathing, actual human beings – make the learning process part of life. One of the most important aspects of the education of our children is the relationship between teacher and child.
No test can ever measure that.
Relationships between students and teachers are more important than standardized tests. There are things that tests can’t measure.
Understand that the increased importance of standardized tests — the fact that they are used to rate schools and teachers, as well as measure student knowledge accumulation — is based on invalid assumptions. As a professional your job is to teach your students. If knowledge were all that were important in education then an understanding of child development, pedagogy, and psychology wouldn’t be necessary to teach (and yes, I know, there are people in the state who actually believe that). We know that’s not true. We know that one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning is the relationship between teacher and child. We know that well trained, caring teachers are better educators than computers.
TECHNOLOGY ISN’T ENOUGH. WE NEED HUMAN INTERACTION
Both administrators and teachers are human. Public schools and those who work in them have never been perfect. The one major regret from my own teaching years has to do with failing to develop positive relationships. But that does not mean that computers should replace real, live teachers in today’s public schools. There is more to education than learning facts (be sure to read Personal Relationships Make School Fun below).
It turns out that technology cannot, will not replace the human touch, when it comes to learning that is worthwhile and sticks in our students’ brains and hearts. We already knew that, of course. But it’s gratifying to know that school—bricks and mortar, white paste and whiteboards, textbooks and senior proms—is deeply missed.
Public education is part of who we are, as a representative democracy. We’ve never gotten it right—we’ve let down millions of kids over the past century or two and done lots of flailing. There are curriculum wars that never end and bitter battles over equity, the teacher pipeline and funding streams.
SEND POSITIVE MESSAGES
Earlier this year, Russ Walsh, at Russ on Reading, wrote about experiences that stay with students long after they leave school. From April 2020…
The messages we send to kids last a lifetime and they are not often about the times table or coordinating conjunctions or how many planets are in the skies. It is the personal messages and connections that are remembered. It is the belief a teacher instills that we can do that resonates through the years. It is that one book that made a special impression that we remember. That is a lesson we all must take into every interaction we have with a child.
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS MAKE SCHOOL FUN
Nearly seventy years ago, in 1951, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov told the story of two children who found a book. They didn’t know what it was because they had never seen a “real” book. All they knew were the electronic books in their “mechanical teachers.” Asimov, who spent some time teaching college students, but never taught elementary kids (although he did write quite a few books for young children), instinctively knew that children need human interaction…even in school.
…She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather’s grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighborhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it.
And the teachers were people…
The mechanical teacher was Hashing on the screen: “When we add the fractions 1/ 2 and 1/ 4…”
Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.