Creating Systems That Value Teacher-Student Relationships

When I read Kevin Eikenberry’s post: 7 Ways to Nurture Professional Relationships for The Beauty Between Us, his point about making relationships a priority completely resonated with me. In fact, it stayed with me and I kept thinking about it! I thought about it so much that I ended up doing a deep dive into thinking about how our systems support strong, caring, professional teacher – student relationships.

Make it a priority. If relationships are important to you, you must make them a priority. I know you are busy. I know you have plenty to do. I know that unless there is a major problem or conflict, relationships won’t logically show up as an urgent item on your to-do list. (If you have conflicts or an issue, you need a different article!) If relationships really are important to you, put your focus and your calendar where your mouth is. Spend time doing the things that will build relationships, rather than neglecting them. Neglecting relationships lead to weed-filled garden results. What’s that, you ask? A big mess!”

~Kevin Eikenberry

I started deeply thinking about how great educational pedagogy starts with strong, professional, caring teacher – student relationships. I was wondering: why does this seem like such a major feat to accomplish? What are the barriers for educators to have these strong, professional, caring relationships? How do we identify the root of this problem?

So, I brainstormed some of the barriers educators face:

  • Factory model of education: In secondary schools, teachers can work with over 200 students!
  • Busy: The standards are so comprehensive that there is not enough time to cover the content. Teachers are under tremendous pressure to teach all of the standards for the grade level, take accurate attendance (sometimes 7-8 times a day), administer both district and state assessments…
  • Time: Of course, time is an issue as well. There is simply never enough time to do everything that is on a teacher’s plate.

As I was thinking about all of these various barriers (and I’m sure there are more!), it occurred to me that the business of teaching involves so much accountability–from district and state assessment results to gradebook accuracy to attendance–and yet there is no system that prioritizes relationships!

Thinking about these questions breaks my heart. With everything on their plate, teachers could easily believe that they do not have time to build strong, caring, professional relationships with their students- and there is nothing in the system that helps to prioritize and/or create the time and urgency for teachers to do this. The teachers who embrace building strong, caring, professional relationships are doing so on top of everything else that they are required to do and held accountable for.

This led me to the following question:

So again, I brainstormed. I started thinking about the United States federal response; then what states could do, then districts and schools. I believe that our collective #CallToAction should focus on our broader educational systems and create paths that allow the time and the impact that developing strong, caring, professional teacher – student relationships deserve.

Federal and Corporate (SIS) Level:

  • What can we remove from teacher’s plates in order to support this ‘new priority’ focused on relationships?
  • In the United States, should an advisory period be included in the Title 1 program?
  • What other ways might the federal government support this foundational, important priority for teachers?
  • Should we create standards linked to the Common Core that reflect building strong, caring professional relationships?
  • How might we integrate the personal information we gather about students into our student information systems such as learning styles, interests, etc?
  • Would smaller class sizes positively impact the ability of our teachers to build these relationships?

State Level Questions:

  • In secondary schools specifically, should our State Departments of Education mandate that they have some type of advisory period?
  • For an advisory period, what will the state level guidance be? Standards/ curriculum?
  • Should we create state-level standards that reflect building strong, caring professional relationships?

District & School Level Questions:

  • What might districts do to systematize relationships?
  • What could we take off of teachers plates to help to create the time needed to build these relationships?
  • What tools can we provide to teachers to support relationship building (tech for newsletters, ways to track contacts, etc.)?
  • Are there schedules that we need to consider that may help to create more time for teachers?
  • How might we ensure that all students have at least one adult on campus they feel connected to? How might we track this important data?

My fear is that if we don’t build systems to support strong, caring, professional relationships, that we will continue to reinforce the feeling that this is ‘one more thing’ rather than the most important thing that our teachers do. As outlined above, at every layer of government, we can work to create these systems. Ask these questions as often as possible and together, we can work to create a systemic priority on teacher-student relationships–which, most importantly, will have a powerful impact on student learning!

This week I got a tad off track–as mentioned last week, I was going to focus on making feedback personal. I had to take the conversation about how to #MakeLearningPersonal to the systems level when I really started thinking about it! Thank you for reading–send me an email and subscribe below! I’d be so grateful if you could share with your friends. Until next week!

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Ask these questions as often as possible and together, we can work to create a systemic priority on teacher-student relationships–which, most importantly, will have a powerful impact on student learning!