Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

The Four R's: Relationships in Twenty-First-Century Schools

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

What structures and systems does Envision Schools use to prepare students for success in college and their futures in the twenty-first century? We focus on four guiding principles, and the second concerns relationships and how we build them among students and educators. Read a previous post of mine that defines the principles and reflects on the first one, rigor.

Our schools are small, personalized learning environments. Class sizes are also small, and teams of teachers and peers provide students with academic and social guidance.

Remember the coach that spurred you on to athletic achievement that you never thought you could attain by yourself, or the teacher for whom you would do anything because he or she understood you so well? We believe schools need to be designed to intentionally create more of these experiences for kids -- school must be be a nurturing, caring, high-expectation place where students feel well known, well supported, and well connected to their peers as a community of learners.

We employ the following structures and strategies to achieve this goal:

  • Our multigrade, interdisciplinary teams of teachers have planning time together.
  • We have an academic advisory program for students.
  • We hold biannual student- and parent-advisory conferences.
  • We hold community meetings.
  • Academic and emotional-support programs are a part of our Response to Intervention Program.

Teams of core subject-area teachers, including instructors in art and digital media, share the same group of students for two years. In the lower house -- grades 9-10 -- the classes are blended. In the upper house -- grades 11-12 -- the team of teachers loop with the same students through a Junior and Senior Institute.

By teaching the same students for two years, teachers get the opportunity to know their students well. This approach is especially helpful in jumping off to a fast start in the second year. The teachers also have common planning time, which they use to plan projects, coordinate their curriculum, look at student work together, and discuss the learning and engagement of individual students. (A teacher leader plans and facilitates this effort.) Teachers can then collectively target students for more support within the classroom and possibly plan for other interventions outside of the classroom experience (such as tutoring or counseling).

In addition, the teacher team helps students build their own learning-community teams, each of which has a name. For instance, one school has four teams: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The students take courses, work on projects, go on field studies, visit colleges, and solve problems together. Many of the students describe their school friends and teachers as family. One student explained to me, "It is not as if we always get along. We are like a family. We might have disagreements, but we know that we will always be there for one another."

We believe that being in a safe learning community, where students are known and supported as learners and people, allows students to reach for and achieve more academically rigorous learning. Students will strive for excellence because they do not want to let down their teachers or peers. It is a cultural shift.

Having students feel supported is a good outcome, but we don't think it is enough. If we don't use these strategies and structures to increase student learning, we have just made kids feel better without preparing them for the twenty-first century.

In my next blog entry, I'll provide more on building relationships through the academic advisory program, but please share your thoughts about this post.

(1)

Comments (45)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Shannon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi everybody-

I agree with Bob's posting. By the end of every year I feel such a bond with my students that I think of how nice it would be to continue to nurture their minds and help them grow. At the beginning of the school year so much time is spent on the organizational and behavior aspects of the classroom. Teachers spend so much time fostering relationships in their classrooms between teacher and student as well as student to student. Just think of how much we could get done in the second year with our students if we could bypass all of the getting to know you routines! I do agree that when a student feels a part of a classroom they do not want to let their fellow classmates or their teacher down, which helps to push them to work towards their personal best. On the flip side, some students have difficulty with some teachers, how would it work for those students who do not thrive with their teachers to be with them for more than one year?

Nessrein's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can't agree enough with you regarding building a positive relationship with the students and getting to know them more on a personal level. Moreover, the students are eager to know their teacher as a person before knowing what he/she is going to teach them. I strongly believe that this relationship can be developed from the first day of school. Ice breaker methods are extremly needed to open the door of trust and to provide a safe learning enviroment where students can be successful.

Ty's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Bob,

I wish that we all had the opportunity to loop with a class. By the end of the year you know each and every one of you students and they all feel comfortable with you and know what your expectations are. Letting the students know what you expect of them and holding them accountable for their work sets up a classroom that will flourish. I feel that it is important to get to know your students and make them feel welcome and that they have a safe place to come to everyday.

Mike Farrell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that keeping students for more than a year could be a highly successful way of building better relationships, and perhaps fostering a better learning environment for students and teachers alike. But I am wondering if anyone will respond to the "opposite" effect this could possibly have on a teacher. What I mean by this is what if a teacher gets a class that they don't particularly connect with, and they have what they would consider not a great year-- then they have to teach that same class again the following year-- could this have a negative effect on a teacher? Just curious if this has happened to anyone that might be able to respond.

Karianne Patton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Megan~

I love the way you stated our mission as educators. Rather then acting as problem solvers, we need to be facilitators. I think that this is sometimes a hard thing to do, because as teachers we want the best for all of our students, so we think we know what's best for them. However, we do need to be active listeners who help students understand their own issues, difficulties, and problems, so that they can find their own solutions to them. Sometimes just having someone to discuss it with really opens doors and turns on lightbulbs in their minds.

Michael Myers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the value of having a student for more than one year in a row is incredibly valuable. I think your plan to use "Teams of core subject-area teachers, including instructors in art and digital media, share the same group of students for two years" really works well in helping students but it also helps create expert teachers. Robert Garmston, in his article "Becoming Expert Teachers (Part 1)", explains that "there is growing recognition of the power of school-based professional communities to support teacher learning and improve student learning". By forging those relationships between teachers and students, and also among communities of teachers, we can not only learn from each other but can model effective teamwork for the students. I believe that if they can watch us participate with one another towards a common goal they will be better equipped to do that themselves. In the real world, not many people are completely independent and team work skills are incredibly valuable.

Michael Myers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with the value of having a student for more than one year in a row is incredibly valuable. I think your plan to use "Teams of core subject-area teachers, including instructors in art and digital media, share the same group of students for two years" really works well in helping students but it also helps create expert teachers. Robert Garmston, in his article "Becoming Expert Teachers (Part 1)", explains that "there is growing recognition of the power of school-based professional communities to support teacher learning and improve student learning". By forging those relationships between teachers and students, and also among communities of teachers, we can not only learn from each other but can model effective teamwork for the students. I believe that if they can watch us participate with one another towards a common goal they will be better equipped to do that themselves. In the real world, not many people are completely independent and team work skills are incredibly valuable.

Michael Myers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Bob, I would like to add that I believe if we model good team work amongst ourselves, we can help students in the "real" world. Very few people work completely independently and most don't develop good teamworking skills in school. My own experiences in group assignments (when I was in school) left me irritated and feeling as if I had done all the work. I think that could have gone much better had we better models and better lesson plans.
Also, if students see us working more in conjunction with their parents and the rest of the community, maybe they'll feel a little more invested in their learning.

Megan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There is a large part of me that does agree with the idea ofteaching and working with the same students 2 years in a row. I usually teach 11th and 12th grade and often I do receive the same students in 12th grade that I had in 11th. My school does not structure for this to purposely happen, but when it does, it is often times helpful both for me and for the student. However, I am not sure how thrilled I would be to receive the same "problem child" 2 years in a row. I teach in Prince George's County, Maryland, and the English department at my school works the same way as mentioned, with common planning periods. We also work together a grade-level teams to exchange essays and grade for each other. The state mandated standards that I have to follow are very very restricting and making sure to stick to those rubrics can interfere with getting to know children on a more personal level. I too have just started the pursuit of my master's degree and am looking forward to learning new ways in which to follow standards as well as exercise my own creativity to reach a more personal level with my students. Does any one have any activities that have worked well in the past for you when it comes to getting to know students??

Megan Gucker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Bob,
I also wanted to add that my high school has a program called an Advisory period, and during this time, each teacher in the school is assigned a group of 10-15 students and once or twice a month, we meet with our groups of students and talk to them about things that might be bothering them, or what is going on in school or the neighborhood, or anything that they want to talk about. The group of students stays with the same advisory teacher until they graduate, so that they are given the chance to bond with a teacher they did not previously know and also have someone else to confide in.

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.