Photo: Jeff A. Johnstone, US Navy
In our work with teachers around the challenges and rewards of working with students, we frequently explore the research seeking what works to support achievement for struggling students. Repeatedly, the concept of relationships of mutual respect surfaces as a key component. Positive relationships enhance student motivation and desire to learn. Mutual respect doesn’t necessarily mean “liking” a student but rather recognizing each other as individuals of value. Ruby Payne of AHA Process offers the idea that mutual respect means offering support, high expectations, and insistence — the belief that the individual is capable of meeting those expectations. She further defines relationships by saying that mutual respect is comprised of structure (boundaries), consequences (what if boundaries are not honored) and choice (individuals make decisions regarding parameters and boundaries). For me, the quote from Dr. Comer sums up the idea that motivation (the excitement, desire and curiosity for learning) comes from such relationships, whether it is with a student or a colleague.
This spring I had the opportunity of attending two different training sessions that reinforced the idea that respectful relationships are the basis for student learning. In March, I attended Capturing Kids Hearts that focused on creating a culture for learning through respectful classroom and school environments, and some of the intentional moves teachers may need to incorporate to teach students the skills to navigate professional or respectful relationships. Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending training at Monroe2 BOCES with William Parrett and Kathleen Budge, authors of the book, Turning High Poverty Schools into High Performing Schools. In this multiple day training, as well as in their text, the authors postulate that before school leaders and teachers can do something; they need to also identify barriers to action and what they need not to do. In other words, what do we need to eliminate that may perpetuate underachievement? In fact, in their study examining what successful schools did (success defined as achieving higher than expected achievement with high rates of poverty as compared to similar schools), two actions found across all of the schools were adults being mindful about building relationships and the use of data. Similarly, John Hattie in Visible Learning also identified across his meta-analysis that teacher-student relationships were highly correlated with student learning.
This TED TALK by the late Rita Pierson celebrates the importance of the relationship. A take-away from this inspiring talk and the research above, is that in teaching, coaching and professional development we have to create relationships. Whether the connections are with students, or colleagues, relationships of mutual respect are key. As we enter this frequently stressful time of year, please take a moment to celebrate those relationships. With whom have you developed a relationship of mutual respect this school year? Where have you made an impact by forming a relationship with a student or colleague? What might you be intentional about in the next year to create or nourish professional relationships?