Do Our Policies Prioritize Relationships?

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Canter-c120x148Formerly a teacher, now an administrator-in-training, Chris Canter blogs about his yearlong assistant principal internship at Fulton County Public Schools in Atlanta, Ga. Canter was a 2010 ASCD OYEA honoree.

Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan posted a letter on the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) website that placed teacher and student relationships at the center of every classroom. The letter has caused much public debate and my own personal reflection on my experiences in Georgia schools.

I must say that I agree with the secretary wholeheartedly: relationships are crucial. To engage students and fully influence their lives, we must know our students and their individual needs. Further, teachers need better data systems to monitor students, better training to use those data systems, and training on how to overcome challenges unique to their student populations (such as the effects of poverty, crime, and drugs).

I fear, however, that once again leaders are giving lip service to a good idea with little means to address the real issues. If teachers are to build meaningful relationships, they cannot be inundated with historically high class sizes, and standardized tests cannot be the sole determinant of teacher effectiveness. What do those tests say about the effectiveness of a relationship, after all?

To move beyond lip service, we need to provide adequate funding up front, not just to a handful of winning states, for the lower class sizes that enable relationship-building. We need to find testing models that actually measure student growth, not merely student baseline knowledge. Generally, we need legislation that practices what government leaders preach: differentiating for the needs of individual schools rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach to measure school effectiveness.

Truly, teachers are “the force that forges the meaningful connections at the heart of every great classroom,” as Duncan suggests. They are, however, being asked to produce more with less, each and every school year.

Duncan writes that the center of a classroom is not “a state or district policy, and it most certainly is not a federal law,” but we cannot write off the profound influence these have on whether or not relationships—the true center of the classroom—hold.

Do you agree that relationships are the center of the classroom? Which policies hinder or help support classroom relationships?