The Missing “R” in Schools: Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic, “Relationships”

The Missing “R” in Schools: Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic, “Relationships”

“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                — Dr. Margaret J. Wheatley

 With all the emphasis on the importance of “THE TEST” to determine a student’s success in school over the past twenty or more years, the importance of building relationships has become the missing “R” in schools. Teaching children is not just about scores and numbers, it is about making a human connection between the teacher and the student. It is about teaching the “Total Child” socially, emotionally, developmentally, as well as academically. It is about creating a safe, risk-free environment where teachers can teach, and students can learn.

One second-grade teacher at an elementary school in Aberdeen, Maryland, said, “in schools, relationships are treated as luxuries. Relationship is a necessity for learning. We can’t afford not to do it.” Setting expectations, enforcing classroom rules positively, consistently learning who they are outside of school, individualizing instruction, and using supportive language in class will show how much you care.


  • The Teacher-Student Relationship

Research shows relationships make a difference in the way students perform in school. In John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning, A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-analysis Relating to Achievement, he determines what indicators make the greatest impact on student achievement. An effect size of d=1.0 indicates an increase of one standard deviation. A one standard deviation increase is typically associated with advancing a student’s achievement by 2 to 3 years or improving the rate of learning by 50%.

One of the most effective indicators to focus on is Teacher-Student Relationships which ranked d = 0.72. The relationship teachers have with their students dictates the impact they will have on their students’ achievement.


  • The Student–Student Relationship

Rather than bubbling-in answer sheets, students should be learning to work together cooperatively to solve problems. Cooperative learning is a learning process of its own that prepares students for the real world of work. Students should be actively engaged in their learning, both hands-on and “minds-on.” The work should be genuine and authentic to the student’s current world of interests and importance; so important that students persist and derive satisfaction from their work and their work product. Teachers facilitate this process and design the work tasks that cause the students to use critical and creative thinking and manipulate objects or information sources to create their work product.

  • The Teacher–Parent Relationship

The parent is the child’s first teacher; hence parents know their children best. Teachers should listen to the parent’s knowledge of the child without judgment, noting the similarities and differences they see in the classroom. Teachers are professionals with training in both subject-area knowledge and knowledge of the developmental ages and stages of children. Parents should listen to the teacher’s expectations of learning content and social/emotional behavior in the classroom. Respect from both sides is essential in this relationship, the parents from the home and the teacher from the school. Both the parent and teacher are there for the same reason—the best interest of the child.

  • The School–Parent Relationship

Parents and guardians should play an active role in their child’s education. They should be invited to take part in activities for learning and learn strategies to use at home with their children. Parents often feel uncomfortable in the school setting because of their own past experiences. It is important for the school to present a welcoming, customer-focused environment to break down any preconceived barriers. Schools should do everything possible to create a collaborative atmosphere, asking questions about the student and asking for suggestions from the parent, before saying what should be done and how. Again, parents should know that school staff are professionals and have experience with how students learn, so they also need to be open to suggestions from the teachers and staff.

  • The School–Community Relationship

The most successful partnerships between schools and local business are those that have a personal stake in the school families and community. Supporting small businesses and families contribute to and promote the local economy, available services, and scores priceless publicity for the schools. Knowing and inviting local and state government officials to your school for innovative student activities and community events provide good visibility for everyone involved. However, inviting them to observe quality teaching and learning in your classrooms as well as the challenges you face, can result in their having firsthand experiences when making decisions on critical educational issues.

We all know the old cliché, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I believe in the power of relationships and in all of us – students, teachers, parents, and community members – working together to build a sense of community and to support our schools. Together we can refocus the priorities of our education systems to include the importance of relationships for our students and for all of us. What do you think?

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