Education Reform? How about Relationship Reform?

Posted on Thu, Feb 07, 2013 @ 15:02 PM

education reformKen Chenault, CEO for American Express, once said, “Most companies maintain their office copiers better than they build the capabilities of their people, especially the ones who are supposed to be future leaders.” This is something all educational leaders aspiring to greatness should take to heart.

We hear an awful lot about education reform. We’re no stranger to the discourses about high-stakes testing and reaching every student. We’ve heard the “3 R’s” (“Rigor, Relevance and Relationships”) and probably bandied them around ourselves. But do we have it all backwards? Shouldn’t it be more like, “Relationships, Relevance and Rigor?”

In the political hubbub, it seems that we may have forgotten about nurturing the capabilities of our students and teachers by taking the time to establish real and meaningful relationships with them. There are an infinite number of ways to make this happen, but here are five to get you started.   

Use the gradual release of responsibility model with your teachers
You spent time in the classroom. You didn’t simply stand before your students, tell them how to do something, and then watch them blossom before your eyes, did you? Very likely, you practiced some variation on what Frey and Fisher have described as the “gradual release of responsibility model.”

You modeled the activity; then you offered guided instruction by posing questions, facilitating discussion and collaborating with your students.  When they were ready, you had them work in pairs and when they finally mastered the activity, they put it into practice and flew on their own.

Your faculty and staff are no different. You can tell them how to respond to student work. You can talk about classroom organization and describe mentorship, but have you gone through the gradual release process that you’d use with your students?

Stop by a different classroom every morning
We’ve talked about 5-minute walkthoughs as an alternative to traditional teacher evaluations. But when was the last time you stopped by a random classroom just to reconnect with teachers and students? Before you do this, you may want to arrange it with teachers to make sure that you’re not interrupting a test or presentation. You’ll also want to let them know your intentions: You’re not evaluating; your visit isn’t a guise for something punitive. You simply want to reconnect for five measly minutes.

Substantiate your philosophies
If you’re passionate about your school’s vision of success, you should shout it from the rooftops. But don’t expect everyone to get on board until you’ve substantiated your initiatives with scholarship. Generally speaking, people are resistant to change; they don’t like disruptions and they are skeptical of new ways of doing things.

If you want to win their hearts, prove to them that your way is not simply “best practice” because you happen to like it. No, it’s best practice because scholarly research and data say so.

Get out of the office
It’s easy to find yourself cloistered up in your office for hours (maybe even days) at a time, but you’ll find that parent, student and teacher concerns become much more tangible when you see them for yourself. Setting up shop in a “satellite office” is one of the best ways to get out of the office, but without having to compromise the work you do in your home base.

Chances are that you spend a significant amount of time on your computer. Why not head over to the computer lab or grab your laptop and work at one of the tables in the library. This is a great way to engage with students and other faculty that you don’t get to see as often as you should. It’s also the best way for you to get an in-the-trenches perspective on the school culture.

Greet your students every morning in person
You probably arrive well before the students, but where are you when they start to trickle in every morning? You have your hands full, but being a visible and approachable leader is as important as the duties that call from your office.

When it’s cold outside, stand in the lobby of the front entrance to the school and greet each student with a hello or a handshake. When it’s warm, stand outside and do the same. You’ll be surprised when students start approaching you on their own accord simply to say hello or chat.


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Topics: student engagement, Becoming an effective principal, Developing Teachers, education reform

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