Friday, March 5, 2010

Building Relationships in the Classroom

After reading NY Times “Building a Better Teacher” I wonder if becoming a teacher isn’t too easy? Teaching can sometimes be viewed as a “fall-back” career. What if teachers college was as difficult to get into and get through as medical school? Would that change anything? Would we get more buy in from teachers? Would more of them continuously try to make themselves better? Or, would it simply get the academics only into the profession and eliminate those who are efficient educators not because of their academic knowledge, but because of their ability to relate to students?
One of the biggest dilemmas in teaching right now is how to train teachers and how to set up effective, efficient professional development. Before that can happen we need to define what makes a good teacher. Is it student scores on standardized tests? Is it achievement or success in courses? Is it preparing them for the next step whether it be the workplace, university or college? Or, is it reaching and motivating students?  I think many educators would argue that it is a combination of all those. Yet, we are only really held responsible for two – the standardized test scores and course achievement.
More and more research is being done and it often comes down to the “magic of teaching”. The biggest indicator seems to be the relationships in the classroom. This has been stated by Dr. Russell Bishop in his astounding research with Maori education in New Zealand. Time and time again, I hear it eluded to. All the teaching strategies in the world will only work with limited effectiveness until the relationships in the classroom are working effectively. And yet, to date (to my knowledge), no one has identified how to monitor, record or document these relationships. They will be varied for sure, each teacher has a different way of relating to students. This is not an easy task.
It would need to start with a clear understanding of what makes an effective educator, finding those educators and studying how they build relationships in their classroom. 
There are many benefits to being a teacher. We get summers and holidays off. We can leave at 3:30 pm if we do some planning and marking at home later on. We also have a lot of control over our work environment (at least in our classrooms).
On the other hand, there is a lot of crap that goes along with teaching. A lack of resources and restrictions on when you can use the washroom are but a few. How many other professionals do not have access to a computer to plan or have to move their office every 75 minutes to a new room? Even so, I think that the quick bandaids thrown in to “fix” teachers just might have the worst impact compared to all. Instead of looking to the root of problems (relationships in the classroom) we jump in and push teachers to try this activity, this technology, etc. We inundate teachers with new things to try, time out of the classroom, more, more, more, more… without ever supporting them in the one thing that research is starting to tell us makes the biggest difference. Relationships. Basically, we’re setting them up for failure.
We need concrete details on how to build relationships in the classroom ALONG with the strategies and tools.Teachers aren’t idiots. Even ineffective teachers are passionate and work their butts off. It’s simply that no one has ever demonstrated how to build effective relationships in the classroom.  
If anyone knows of research in the area of relationships in the classroom and effective teachers, please point me in the right direction.

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