It was a great moment! The leadership team from one of the Michigan Safe and Supportive high schools student advisories– made up of 5 students and 2 teachers — arrived for training early and were waiting for the student and teacher teams from two other schools.
As the group sat around Neutral Zone’s boardroom table, a subtle yet momentous interaction ensued. The students and teachers, genuinely enjoying each other’s company, discussed happenings at school, engaged in some playful banter, and discussed some of the things going on for students outside of school. As I eavesdropped, I wondered why are these kinds of deep relationships between students and teachers the exception and not the norm?
This group was exhibiting one of education’s new 3 “Rs” – relationships (the other two are rigor and relevance). Research now demonstrates that relationships (between all stakeholders in a school system students, staff, teachers, administrators, etc.) is one of the most important factors making an effective school and learning environment. Furthermore, evidence shows that this personal connection with an adult helps ensure that students have an advocate who understands their interests, struggles and ambitions.
Positive relationships between students and teachers promote belongingness at school. High levels of belongingness lead to increases in motivation, positive social behavior and academic achievement. Students sense when they belong and if adults recognize their self-worth. Students know when teachers genuinely care, believe in them, and are interested in their successes.
So how can schools enhance student-teacher relationships? Here are some low stakes suggestions:
Teachers are not to blame for the lack of focus on teacher-student relationship building. School structures and requirements simply don’t allow teachers the time or permission to make relationship building a priority. Relationships, however, are foundational to student learning, achievement and development. If we hope to make our schools supportive and welcoming places where students thrive we must make relationships a top educational goal.