What is the primary way your school is strengthening school-wide relationships?

Voices from the Field is a place for administrators, teachers, school support staff, community, and family members to (1) share what you think by responding to a polling question, (2) see what others think by viewing the poll’s results, (3) learn what experts think by reading a short post that includes references and related resources, and (4) share your own experiences by posting comments on safe supportive learning topics.

What is the primary way your school is strengthening school-wide relationships?

Learn What Experts Think

Districts that need to address school violence or bullying and raise test scores may want to look more carefully at what they can do to foster positive relationships among all members of the school community. It turns out that promoting a seemingly “soft” value like respectful relationships can lead to improvements that show up in hard, academic data.

The entire school community, from the bus driver to the principal, can participate in establishing the best possible conditions for learning:

  • Students are safe. Not just physically, but also emotionally and socially. [1]
  • Students are supported. They have meaningful connections to adults and acceptance from their peers.[2]
  • Students are challenged. The school sets high expectations and offers rigorous academic opportunities.[3]
  • Students are socially capable. They are cooperative team players who contribute to the school community.[4]

Consciously working to create a culture of respect can pay dividends—in less bullying and in improved student attendance, test scores, [5] [6] [7] and graduation rates, as well as higher rates of teacher satisfaction.[8]

Related Resources

Citations

[1] Gottfredson, G., & Gottfredson, D. (2001). What schools do to prevent problem behavior and promote safe environments. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 12, 313– 344.

[2] Wentzel, K. R. (1998). Social relationships and motivation in middle school: The role of parents, teachers, and peers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 202–209.

[3] Osher, D., Sprague, J., Weissberg, R. P., Axelrod, J., Keenan, S., Kendziora, K., & Zins, J. E. (2008). A comprehensive approach to promoting social, emotional, and academic growth in contemporary schools. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.) Best practices in school psychology V, Vol. 4 (pp. 1263–1278). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

[4] Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405-432.

[5] Becker, B. & Luthar, S. (2002), Social-Emotional Factors Affecting Achievement Outcomes Among Disadvantaged Students: Closing the Achievement Gap. Educational Psychologist, 37(4), 197-214.

[6] Fenzel, M. L., & O’Brennan, L. M. (2007, April). Educating at-risk urban African American children: The effects of school climate on motivation and academic achievement. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago.

[7] Klem, A., & Connell, J. (2004). Relationships matter: Linking teacher support to student engagement and achievement. Journal of School Health, 74, 262–273.

[8] Grayson, J.L. & Alvarez, H.K. (2008). School climate factors relating to teacher burnout: A mediator model. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(5): 1349-1363.

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Judith Nuss

Learning is social! Children and youth learn by mimicking what the adults in their environment model. Teachers are models for their students. Most children and youth have a very limited view of the world; even so, they are socially wired to notice behaviors and actions of adults in their network, as well as those of other children and youth. The teacher-student relationship is critical to students' motivation for learning and academic achievement (Wubbels & Brekelmans, 2005.) Teachers need to model behaviors of effective learners. This involves listening, speaking, observing, questioning, and communicating. It also involves teacher actions that reinforce learning and redirect mistaken behaviors. I worked in a high-poverty, urban school district where some teacher-student relationships were not healthy and some were even toxic. Some of the challenge was about middle class white teachers trying to relate to minority students from low-income families. Most teachers do not learn about how to develop teacher-student relationships in their undergraduate studies. They may not realize how influential their classroom behaviors are. We provided professional development in Responsive Classroom, Developmental Designs and Facing History and Ourselves. Each of these approaches to teaching and learning provide strategies and practice in teacher language and explicit skills instruction. Teachers learn to promote students' skills with modeling and guided practice. Class meetings are a daily school structure for promoting relationships. Responsive Classroom teaches an approach that includes a daily greeting, sharing, activity, and news and announcements. Cleveland Metropolitan School District has adopted a similar model that includes a focus breathing exercise to open the class meeting and a transition breathing exercise to close the daily class meeting. This is where teachers model breathing techniques that students can use to calm down when they get angry or upset in their relationships. When this happens, students' abilities to engage their learned skills of relationship are put into practice and made easier because of teachers' modeling. Reflection is an important teacher behavior that students learn when teachers model new expectations of procedures and instruction activities. Teachers lead the reflective dialogue about how behaviors should look, feel, and sound. Learning becomes visible. Desired behaviors are reinforced. Negative behaviors fade. Using empathy and compassion, teachers use instructional strategies that enable students to identify and challenge their own beliefs and assumptions. They share more about their own lives and experiences. Teachers document students' input and display students' ideas and feelings while modeling the important acceptance of students' thoughts and feelings. Using intentional listening, teachers indicate they value what students are saying and thinking. Teachers schedule time for one to one conferences. These dialogues improve relationships. Students begin to view their teachers as trustworthy advocates and emotional coaches. In most schools today, the demands of teaching are extremely stressful for teachers. Mindfulness works to help teachers be present in their relationships with their students (Jennings, 2010.) Researchers are developing mindfulness programs for teachers. They learn to mindfully attend to students and their needs. Teachers learn to suspend judgments and personal assumptions. As teachers become more aware of their own behaviors, they are able to acknowledge and respond. They intentionally reduce their impulses to react to students' behaviors. Teachers' previous frustrating and negative behaviors are no longer the model for their students. Trusting relationships are able to develop when teachers regulate their breathing and responses to students. Teachers are more effective when they intentionally model positive behaviors. Students, as social learners, learn best from a caring teacher who explicitly and intentionally models positive behaviors. -- Jennings, P. A., Snowberg, K. E., Cocccia, M. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2011). Improving classroom learning environments by cultivating awareness and resilience in educators: Results of two pilot studies. Journal of Classroom Interaction. Vol. 46 (1), 37-48 Wubbles, T. & Brekelmans, M. (2005). Two decades of research on teacher-student relationships in class. International Journal of Educational Research. 45 (2005), 6-24.

Terese Pritschet

What we've found using the Families All Matter Book Project in elementary classrooms is that use of fictional characters opens the door for safe dialogue about differences. In talking about the characters in the story, children make connections to their own lives. As teachers read the books and facilitate discussions and journal writing with their students, they are also challenged to model respectful interactions. Students bring the lessons home into family conversations and the dialogue continues with family members. Teachers using the project report that open dialogue about such topics as adoption, racial differences, gay or lesbian family members, and disabilities eases tension in the classroom, building a context to explore empathy and acceptance. When students aren't worried about being excluded because of who they are or what their family situation is, they can focus their energy on classroom content.