Today I will begin with the end in mind ... a familiar theme lately in my blogs and educational life. Relationships might be listed last in the title, but they serve as the foundation for all the other R's you could list! Why? Because the relationships make us care and help us connect. Consider the oft quoted saying, "no one cares what you know until they know that you care." When you learned the most, it was because there was someone who cared and that made you care. When we are moved to act, it is often the result of the influence of a meaningful relationship.
Relationships are the key ingredient to our lives as individuals, as families, as learners, as employees, and as church or community members. We all have and/or need people with whom we connect, can trust, and can work with to achieve a common goal. That relationship begins with our families but is enhanced by our friendships.
Yesterday, I watched with interest as CBS Sunday Morning profiled the importance of friendships as their lead story (click this link to view the video). One of the most significant things they noted was that friendships make us stronger and help us believe things are more manageable and easier to achieve. Studies have been done to prove this. MRI's on the brain show us that we are calmer and less stressed when comforted by a close friend. The closer the friend (in terms of the relationship) the calmer we are. I personally am blessed with a wide circle of friends and a few very special friends who enrich my life and create a network of support that I rely on frequently. This is not just a woman thing either! Men want and need friends too. While the way they conduct their friendships may differ, the bottom line is that we all need someone with whom we can connect, can offer support, and can give us perspective.
Fostering positive relationships in schools is something that will lead to better learning, better behavior, and less bullying. To put this in perspective, Dr. James Comer, Yale University Professor of Child Psychiatry, says, "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." Ruby Payne, a proponent of helping educators work with students in poverty agrees, noting that "When individuals who made it out of poverty are interviewed, virtually all cite an individual who made a significant difference for them." Many programs, such as Big Brothers-Big Sisters and other formal mentoring programs, promote significant relationships as a way to boost achievement and improve quality of life for the children/teens participating in these programs.
When considering rigor or relevance, it is often the influence of a teacher, coach, or other mentor that makes us want to achieve the higher expectations required of rigor. Their interest in us makes us interested in what they are trying to teach us, thus increasing the relevance of the learning. There are so many simple ways to make a meaningful connection with a child or adult for that matter... just saying their name when you greet them; a warm smile; a word of encouragement; or acknowledgment of effort or progress. Any of these simple acts of kindness make a difference and cost us nothing but a moment of our time.
Teachers should get to know students so that they understand learning styles and preferences, interests, strengths and weaknesses. All those are important ingredients to planning effective lessons and creating positive learning environments. These positive environments can make champions out of moderate talent. Just look at what Bill Snyder has done at K-State with players who weren't blue chip recruits, but who have bought into a traditional system in modern times because of the relationships that exist between coach and player; school and player; and the K-State community and the players. But this is not just about teachers or coaches. All of us need to take the time to invest in the children in our community so they know that they are supported and someone cares about their dreams.
As we consider how to improve education and the quality of our own lives, we will no doubt include Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic, Rigor, and Relevance, but we must keep in mind, the foundation for all these "R's" depends on Relationships, because without them life has little meaning.