Being an educator entails many things, but at its core, education is really about relationships. Most of us believe this and while we do our best to connect with all of our students, the pressures of our profession—a humdrum of rhetoric about adequate yearly progress (AYP) and standardized test scores come to mind—can easily get in the way.
But as Baruti Kafele, principal and author of Closing the Attitude Gap, suggests, neglecting relationships can be costly not only to the health of our school culture, but also to the academic success of our students.
For Kafele, there is an inextricable link between the “mood of [the] classroom” and “whether or not students can learn at optimal levels.” Research bolsters Kafele’s argument, but how do we maintain the health and heighten the mood in our schools? First we must assess the climate of our school and classrooms; one way to do this is by asking yourself the following questions Kafele outlines in chapter two of his book.
8 questions to help educators assess the health of their classrooms
What do the students hear when they enter the classroom?
What students hear directly connects to the initial interactions that occur between them and you. How do you speak to the students, and in what tone? How are the students interacting with one another? Are they cordial, orderly, and productive? Do you see any evidence of care and compassion? What kind of language are the students using? It is acceptable or unacceptable?
What do students feel when they enter the classroom?
Take a look at your classroom and reflect on what you feel. If it helps, pretend that you are a student. What emotions do you experience? Is the classroom a relaxed environment? How does the physical classroom reflect the personality of the teacher? Is the classroom conducive to learning? Do you feel comfortable? Is there a possibility that bullying exists in the environment that you may not be aware of? Do the students feel valued, appreciated, and respected in this environment? Do they feel safe and free from harassment? Do they feel good about themselves?
What is the overall experience of the classroom?
What is it like to be a student in this classroom? Do the students look forward to being in this classroom every day? Is the instruction student-centered? Is it rigorous? Are students learning or simply going through the motions of learning? What kind of impression does the experience have on the students? Are students able to learn without peer pressure to conform to counterproductive expectations?
Do I believe in my students?
This strand focuses on the teacher's attitude toward his or her students. You cannot effectively teach and inspire students if you do not believe in them.
Do I know my students?
This strand focuses on the teacher's relationship with his or her students. You cannot effectively teach and inspire students if you do not know them.
Do I care about my students?
This strand focuses on the teacher's care, concern, and compassion for his or her students. You cannot effectively teach and inspire students if you do not care about them.
Do I provide my students with an environment of excellence?
This strand focuses on the classroom environment that the teacher has created. You cannot effectively teach and inspire students if the classroom environment is not conducive to learning.
Do I realize who my students are?
This strand focuses on culturally responsive teaching and learning. You cannot effectively teach and inspire students if you do not take into account who they are historically and culturally.
If you’re looking for more ways to strengthen teacher-student relationships, you might be interested in a couple of our recent blogs, 5 Ways to Build a Relationship-Driven Classroom and 5 More Ways to Build a Relationship-Driven Classroom.