Nine Power Practices -- Ruby Payne
Much of the focus of the Saint Mary's program has been community and relationships. I could list at least 20 references to articles and activities that have been used in the last year of our program that point us toward the understanding that effective instruction and learning take place when positive community is built and respectful relationships are formed. This is not a completely new concept to me, I believe that I became a teacher due to the relational aspect teaching offered. To this day, I would say that the people who have had the most impact on my life and beliefs (after my parents, of course) are the teachers and coaches I had in high school.
What is new to me is that there is research to support the claim that effective teachers are those who can establish healthy and uplifting relationships with their students. An additional shift in perspective is the emphasis in the research on meeting the learning needs of students living with a lack of resources through establishing predictable and respectful relationships. I have not been exposed to much poverty in my educational experience, so the reading that we have been doing on education and poverty have been very insightful and thought-provoking.
One quote that stuck out to me in our reading over the past two months was used by Payne in, Nine Power Practices: "No significant learning occurs without significant relationships" (James Comer 1995). When I saw this I immediately thought of a phrase that was used frequently in the training my husband and I received before starting on our journey of being dorm parents to high school dorm students: "Rules without relationship leads to rebellion." After four years of dorm-life--caring for up to 36 boys and girls emotional, physical, emotional and spiritual lives--I could not agree more with this statement. The students who were hard to connect to and have relationships with, were often the ones who struggled to follow the rules. They didn't have a connection with us that motivated them to want to be a part of the "family-like" atmosphere we were trying to create in the dorm. It was during these years of my life that I really gained an understanding of life as a student and the great power relationships have in the education of a child. Because of my vantage point as a "Mom" to teen kids who were not my own and my "teacher" role in the community I was able to see and hear about which teachers were making a positive impact on students lives (and sadly, those who weren't). And believe it or not it wasn't the "easy A" teachers who the kids wanted to have as their teacher. On one occasion in particular, I recall a student who was not known for a strong work-ethic (he was more along the lines of, tell me where the line is for average and I will try to get there) tell me his favorite teacher was one of the strictest teachers in the Math department. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. When I asked why, his response was, "I know she really cares about me and just pushes me because she cares that much." I think this story exemplifies that it is the strong connection students feel to us and how much we care that will have the greatest impact on their motivation and learning.
As I pondered my current reading, my past experiences and the fact the phrase "rules without relationships leads to rebellion" doesn't quite fit the context of the classroom, I thought of one more fitting: "Content without Connections leads to Confusion." When students feel cared for, respected and known the chances that they will take the content of our classrooms more seriously increases. And I no longer have to wonder if I am being cavalier in this aim of building relationships as teacher, I can trust that it is profitable because of the abundance of literature that is circulating in support of effective teaching beginning with teachers who can connect with students and connect students to one another.
Links to all the, Go and See Study, sessions.