Sunday, April 27, 2014

Can You Have a Culture of Learning Without Relationships?

I saw this quote from Charity Stephens (@differNtiated4u) on Twitter recently, and it made me think about the role of relationships in classrooms today. The job of the teacher has evolved,  it used to be that we were managers of the classroom, focused on organizational issues and maintained a distinct boundary between us and our students.

But, times have changed.  Whether you agree with the idea that we are asking more of our students today than teachers did 40 years ago is irrelevant.  What is relevant is the simple fact that behaving today as teachers did 40 years ago is misguided because our students are sitting in classrooms that are structured differently and are asked to interact in innovative ways with their learning environment.

Where teachers used to be managers, we now need to be relationship builders.  I am sure you have heard the quote that goes something like 'they won't care what you know until they know that you care.' This quote is appropriate when you consider the makeup of today's classroom.  In a student-centered classroom, a student assumes new roles and responsibilities that require them to be active participants.   It is imperative to develop a relationship with each and every one of your students that lets them know you care about them as a person.

In my classroom, I began each year crafting meaningful relationships with my students.  While other teachers may have dabbled in getting to know you activities for a day or two before jumping into the content, I spent weeks devoting at least some portion of each day to connecting with my students on a personal level.  The time that I 'wasted' on these activities invariably paid off later in the year when I was able to constructively criticize my students for their effort, work, or attitudes in class.  Their responses to this criticism was vastly different than what other teachers received.  Why?  Because they knew that I cared, that my criticism came from a place of love, and wanted them to be successful. Unbeknownst to them,  I was creating a culture of learning.

In a culture of learning, teachers are learners alongside their students, trying new things, failing, succeeding, reflecting, and growing in a continuous cycle.  When a classroom is built on strong relationships between teachers and students, these cycles are able to occur minus suspicions from either side.  No one questions the intent of criticism, for all are aware of the meaning behind it.

In this era of high stakes testing and increased data aggregation, it is imperative that teachers never lose sight of the benefits of connecting with our students.  For it is within those relationships that we are able to create a culture of learning and encourage our students to reach for new levels of learning!

What do you think about relationships?  How are they connected to creating, and maintaining, a culture of learning?

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