With an increasing volume of curriculum to cover and no time to spare, teachers often hit the ground running with the full throttle rigor and relevance critical to teaching and learning. However, I argue that the first two R’s are futile if teachers don’t have meaningful relationships with their students. Theodore Roosevelt said,
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
This is so especially true for children and teenagers.
Elementary teachers have 15-30 students to build relationships with. Middle and high school teachers may have more than 150. How do teachers get to know each unique child or young adult? Individual conferences, ice breaking exercises, writing assignments and surveys can prompt students to divulge background information, interests and ability levels. While surveys are great getting-to-know-you tools, they also serve to accurately reflect teaching effectiveness as the semester or school year progresses.
Recently the New Teacher Center received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to administer a Teaching and Learning Conditions Survey as part of the foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project. Thousands of teachers from six urban school districts across the country were evaluated using multiple measures including student surveys, observations and value-added models. While the final report will be released in March of 2012 after the 2nd year of research, the preliminary findings offer interesting insight into the importance of student teacher relationships to propel student achievement gains, or learning growth, as measures through value-added metrics.
Presentations made by Gates researchers at the National Governor’s Association’s June 2011 Education Policy Advisors Institute highlighted student survey questions that had the highest and lowest connection to positive teacher value-added ratings. Value-added methods seek to identify the portion of each student's growth in learning that can be attributed to the teacher. Value-added models focus on student progress, rather than a static measure of achievement as measured by one assessment. The following survey items had strong connection to positive ratings.
#1 “Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.” Respect from students is not easily offered, it has to be earned, especially from middle- and high-schoolers. This survey question assessed the level of mutual respect between teachers and students. With respect being a foundation of positive relationships, classroom management and climates, I was glad to see this question top the list as an indicator of educator effectiveness.
#2 “My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.” This survey question offers another glimpse into the quality of student-teacher relationships. If students first respect their teachers and then physically and mentally act upon a teacher’s direction, learning will take place, and at rapid pace as evidenced through the high value-added correlation.
Professional development specialists like the International Center for Leadership in Education conduct student surveys in grades 3-12 to provide feedback about experiences in school in order to initiate innovative, meaningful school change. Whether teachers make up their own surveys and conduct them via the internet or paper and pencil, or use a vetted instrument like the ones described above, anonymous surveys are wonderful tools to assess relationships with students, and to drive instructional changes to better meet their needs.
“In years to come, students may not remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
Taking the time to build meaningful relationships with students will make teachers more effective and boost learning when students embrace the rigor and relevance delivered on a daily basis. While all Three R’s are critical to advancing student learning, relationships will be teachers’ legacies that live on through students’ lives and careers.