Skip to main content

Here's a hint -  it isn't helping them get higher scores on standardized tests.

AOL News yesterday had this piece by Keith Middleton, Associate Superintendent of Mason County Schools.  The top 11 things he and a co-author of a recent book found students saying were:

   *  Know us personally, our interests and strengths
   * Let us know who they are as individuals
   * Smile at us
   * Encourage us to participate in school activities
   * Spend time beyond class time to help us be successful in their class
   * Give us descriptive feedback on assignments
   * Tell us why
   * Share how what we learn is connected to real life
   * Apologize when they make mistakes
   * Give meaningful work
   * Are energetic, enthusiastic and enjoy their job

Please keep reading.

The book from which this comes is Simply the Best: 29 Things Students Say the Best Teachers Do Around Relationships, co-authored with Elizabeth Pettit.

I will return to the complete list in a moment.

Let me offer from the AOL piece in which the list was found a couple of important snippets.

As one looks at this list of attributes identified by students, it is evident the words of Dr. James Comer capture what the best teachers know: "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."

  For those who don't recognize the name, Comer has been one of the nation's leading child psychologists.  He has specialized in educational issues during his long career at Yale Medical School (where he has served as associate dean), and is known for his pioneering efforts to improve the scholastic performance of children from low-income and minority backgrounds.  His "Comer Process," developed in schools near Yale, has had an especial focus on the development of children's social skills and self-esteem.   He is one of the Conveners of the Forum for Education and Democracy, about which I have periodically written.

Middleton argues that at the heart of effective teaching is relationship:  

Put simply, the words and actions of teachers and how they are internalized by the student are powerful! They either impede or enhance the learning process.

(The idea of relationship in teaching is also, as I have also written, key to the focus of Parker Palmer, whose The Courage to Teach is still as important a book on teaching as I have encountered.)

Middleton poses the question of why are there not more great teachers.  In part, it is because neither schools of education nor school leadership emphasize relationships and the making of personal connections.  

In addition, high-stakes testing often relegates an intentional focus on relationships as fluff or something that does not truly impact achievement. However, that is an erroneous assumption because research is replete with the importance of forging positive relationships in schools.

There's also an assumption by some instructors that "I am here to teach content and students just need to do what they are told."

Anyone who thinks they can be truly successful by just teaching content without knowing or understanding the students is sadly mistaken.  Just because we teach it does not mean they will learn it -  that is one reason canned curricula and so-called teacher-proof lessons simply are not really effective.  We have to understand where students are in order to help them connect with the material.  Just because we teach it does not mean we have done our jobs.  They have to learn.  While we need to help them adjust to understand how to learn, we must adjust to meet them where they are.  That requires knowing them.

Let me again put up the list of 11 characteristics with which I began, only this time offering some commentary on each.  And let me note before I proceed that in examining this list I think back to the ceremonies the 21 of us receiving the Agnes Meyer teaching award from the Washington experienced, where we heard comments from students, peers, parents and administrators that had been part of our applications:  we regularly heard statements like these, certainly from the students, but also from the others.

Know us personally, our interests and strengths   I teach students, they come before the curriculum.  I want them to understand that I see them as more than the person in that chair that period.  For my instruction to benefit them I must understand them, especially strengths and weaknesses, as much as possible.

Let us know who they are as individuals   We want students to trust us.  Trust requires some degree of mutuality.  They are also attempting to understand us.  That means that need some sense of who we are.

Smile at us -  I remember the title of a book for beginning teachers that simply horrified me - "Don't smile until Christmas."  How ridiculous. If we want students to give us anything except what we can compel them to do, if we want more than sullen compliance, we have to make learning a more pleasant experience.  It will be hard enough.  A smile is an important part of acknowledging the humanity of another person.  And remember, many of our students are fragile, still figuring out who and what they are.

Encourage us to participate in school activities  Especially in High School, it is important for students to explore themselves and their relations with others.  They are not just their brains.  There is a balance, and there should be an understanding of priorities, although we cannot impose ours on them by force.  This is a part of recognizing the students as whole person, of understanding their strengths and weaknesses.

Spend time beyond class time to help us be successful in their class  At the Secondary level, this is incredibly important.  If the student is willing to come for help outside of class hours, we have to find a way to offer it.  It may be s/he is embarrassed at struggling.  It also may be the only way to give a child the individual attention s/he needs without having a class of 35 others students who do not need that additional time on a particular topic or skill have to wait.  It might be tutoring, small group instruction, or simply addressing concerns and understanding through email, messaging, or phone calls.  

Give us descriptive feedback on assignments  It is insufficient to simply mark something as wrong.  The student often needs some guidance as to why.  In a large class, it is possible that the teacher will see patterns of incorrectness, which then can be addressed in a mini-lesson reviewing the assignment.  It is one reason I try to turn around regular assignments by the next class, so that I can address any misunderstandings that may extend to multiple students.  I may be correcting insufficient or confusing instruction on my part, or I may realize that I did not fully understand how the students were approaching the task, or their prior knowledge.

Tell us why and Share how what we learn is connected to real life    To me these are connected.  Why is it important that we learn it?  The answer had better be beyond "because it will be on the test" whether it is your test or some high-stakes external test.  If that is our answer, then we should not be surprised if the students take a memory dump as soon as the test is completed.  Students may not be able to understand why they have to learn something.  Even after teachers explain, they still may not fully grasp it.  But if the teacher has taken the time to explain - in the context of building a relationship - students will be somewhat more willing to trust, to make the effort.  Why?  Because we have a built a relationship, because we have taken the time to help them understand, however incompletely, the importance of what they are learning.

Apologize when they make mistakes   Teachers are human.  We make all kinds of mistakes.  If we are going to expect our students to take responsibility for their mistakes, we must model it for them.  And if we want them to take the risk of going beyond their intellectual comfort zones, we must recognize that they will make mistakes.  Having them understand that we can learn from our mistakes but first we must acknowledge them is as important a lesson as they can learn, and we should not expect them to learn it if we do not demonstrate its importance in our dealings with them.

Give meaningful work Don't give assignments just to keep them busy, or so that you have a basis for giving them a grade.  Our time is precious, but so is theirs.  We do not want to waste either one.  It is one way we demonstrate to them that we respect them, that the work we assign is meaningful.

Are energetic, enthusiastic and enjoy their job  If teachers are bored and going through the motions, trust me, students of any age will know it.  The likely response is that they will go through the motions.  Enthusiasm can be contagious.  It may go off the rails sometimes, but it really makes a difference.  I tell my students I plan to enjoy what I am doing when I am teaching them, so they might as well go along for the ride.

Quoting again from Middleton:  

One can't argue with the importance of content knowledge, but that alone is insufficient to capture the essence of great teaching. At the heart of effective teach is relationships.

Put simply, the words and actions of teachers and how they are internalized by the student are powerful! They either impede or enhance the learning process.

And also this:  

Robert Marzano, a respected educational researcher and writer, suggests in some of his work that relationships are crucial to what happens in schools, not only as it relates to classroom management, but maybe to the "entirety of teaching."

Relationships are crucial.  Students understand this.  The better teachers have already internalized this understanding in their teaching practice.

So let me end by asking one very simply question:  why is it that we do not see this as a significant part of our educational policy discussions?

It is the lack of emphasis on the importance of relationships that bothers me and so many other fine teachers I know when we look at the educational policy of the administration as expressed in Race to the Top and the Blueprint for Education.   It is one reason I think the voices of teachers need to be more prominent in the discussions framing our educational policy.

According to students  . . . .   relationship is key in what the experience from those they consider great teachers.  

Maybe, just maybe, we ought to listen to what our students say?


Originally posted to teacherken on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 03:18 AM PDT.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  I must apologize up front (31+ / 0-)

    I am posting this around 6:15.  I will be leaving for the school site at around 7.  While I am driving, and after I arrive at school at about 8, I will be unable to respond to comments.  I obviously cannot during the 40 minutes I am on the road, and as I noted yesterday, I do not have internet access at the school site.

    I think it is possible that there can be a productive discussion on this without my constant presence.  

    I will eventually read all comments, responding when I can.  I don't do drive-by.

    I thought this an important enough topic to take the time to craft the diary and post it.

    I hope at least a few people find it of value.


    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 03:18:20 AM PDT

  •  Relationships don't play a major role in a money- (12+ / 0-)

    based culture and profit-oriented economy. However, it is what people most yearn for and value, whether in teaching, as you have outlined, or elsewhere in their lives.  

  •  I will be interested in your responses (6+ / 0-)

    if you are an educator,  of course I want to know how you react to this.

    Even if you are not, you were a student.  Think back to the teachers who had the strongest impact on you and why.  Is it possible there is overlap with the list of characteristics these students emphasized?

    Are there other things that were important for you?

    I am interested.


    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 03:28:46 AM PDT

    •  Best teacher prepared me for high stakes test (3+ / 0-)

      The test was the focus of all our work. We knew we could not slack off because we would end up failing. We were not treated as individuals or smiled at either. It was more like a drill sergeant. In fact I think that's what the guy was before he became a teacher.

      He was hard as nails to the point of having us memorize sections of the test prep book. He taught discipline, and demanded excellence. He was a good teacher, even if he did not fit the warm and fuzzy model you described.

      I had a math teacher much the same, except he did not boast of bench pressing 250 pounds. Neither tolerated excuses or took crap from helicopter parents worried about their kid getting poor grade since the test could not be fudged with the stroke of a pen at the end of the year.

      •  That Might Work, Sometimes, for High Stakes Tests (6+ / 0-)

        But what did it get you to learn, beyond material for success on the tests?

        We have begun to mistake success on high-stakes tests with learning.  The two are quite different.

        Having taught in the French system (in Africa), I've seen the result of over-reliance on single tests for evaluating student progress.  It often results in a travesty of education, where too many students think they know something, when all they can do, really, is succeed on a test.

        Still, it is true that different people learn differently.  Some really do learn through test-oriented environments--as you do, apparently.  But they are the few, really.

        What we need, what we really need, is a system that can provide real learning possibilities for everyone.

  •  These rules sure seem obvious, don't they? (7+ / 0-)

    Who doesn't strive to be appreciated and to appreciate?  Being a educator in small private liberal arts colleges has been my husband's career, so my perspective, gained from him is somewhat different.  It is as important to encourage college age students to participate in all aspects of college/campus life (arts, theater, music, debate - the list goes on...) as it is for high school students.  In many ways, it is in the extracurricular that prepares and enhances the notion of life long learning.

    I think the one philosophical attitude or approach to teaching that my husband practiced was that he never told a student s/he was wrong.  No matter how off base a question or answer was, somehow he found a positive 'link' to the subject at hand.  No student was ever intentionally humiliated.  

  •  Thanks. (5+ / 0-)

    It is good to be reminded of these points right now, as I prepare for the fall semester.

    •  I experienced them yesterday (7+ / 0-)

      I am at another high school in the district.  I have 11 students who will each be taking their first ( or in some cases 1st and 2nd) AP Courses this fall.  Ten will be juniors, one will be a sophomore.  This is a program to transition them into the different mind-set and expectations for AP.  I have them for 3 hours through Thursday.

      Even in this brief period taking time to get to know them a bit, sharing when relevant a bit about myself, including some of my struggles, having some fun (as I usually do when teaching) seemed to make a difference.  Before the day was over I had several students asking why I wasn't teaching in their school.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 03:45:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Our school system is actively destroying this (6+ / 0-)

    They are trying a blended model with a team of teachers.  The students will rotate through three 'stations' (teachers) over three days.  Two are subject area certified teachers and one is a special education teacher.  They are doing this to utilize different funding streams.

    Since each class period there will be three cohorts, and assume each cohort is 30 students, then teachers will see 90 students each hour.  For 4 or 5 class period of 'blended instruction' this could end up with teachers having 390-450 students they will see every semester.

    If each teacher only sees the students every third day, it is going to be extremely difficult to form a relationship with them, much less even learn their names.

    "[G]overnment is the referee, not the other team." Crashing Vor

    by Mlle L on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 03:53:51 AM PDT

  •  I follow all of them (7+ / 0-)

    No one ever told me to, for the most part.  Who I am in person is who you get in front of the classroom.

    As someone who was involved in about a million activities over 25 years of teaching, I'm always encouraging students to get involved in their school.

    The one thing on the list I don't do is apologize when I'm wrong...I'm never wrong.  :)

    Just kidding- I'll add to that,  kids like teachers that know how to say, "I don't know." when asked a question for which they don't know the answer.  It shows honesty.


    "Sick Around the World"

    Watch it, send it along to all you know.

    by oxfdblue on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 03:58:42 AM PDT

  •  I Could Take For Days And Days (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JanL, Only Needs a Beat

    about this.

    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

    by webranding on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 03:59:45 AM PDT

  •  Maybe I Went To School A Lot (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wenchacha, JanL, Only Needs a Beat

    One of my favorite things we have was the teacher that rocked the place. Maybe showed up in custom just cause he/she could. I am looking at you T Harry Williams. I recall that lady for me. I took her classes in college not cause it was easy, but cause she made me think. I got a double major just cause of her.

    "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

    by webranding on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 04:14:02 AM PDT

  •  I'm currently in school (10+ / 0-)

    to earn my degree in High School Education with a history major. Several of my friends' high school age children keep asking me if I'll have my degree before they graduate, because they want to have me as a teacher. When I ask them why, they tell me it's because I am friendly, know what I'm talking about and, most importantly, because I make history "fun". (I've tutored many of them when they were failing history, helped them do research for papers, and so forth.) The kids also tell me that they wished they were able to go beyond what's in the textbooks, but they aren't allowed to, because they only have to know what's going to be on the test. Even the kids see the disaster that NCLB has caused.

    "Truth never damages a cause that is just."~~~Mohandas K. Gandhi -9.38/-6.26

    by LynneK on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 04:22:16 AM PDT

    •  NCLB (4+ / 0-)

      Of course the kids realize what a mistake the standardized testing frenzy is. They are subjected to it every day.

      A couple of semesters ago, I had a student (in college) who would see me in my office on a fairly regular basis and asked me questions about grammar and source documentation. She would be like, wow, I've never realized this before. One day I commented that her teachers in high school or even middle school should have taught her that already. Her reply:

      I moved to San Antonio from Mexico, and from then on everything was about TAKS.

      * TAKS = Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills

  •  I find the "meaningful work" item interesting (4+ / 0-)

    because I teach college and consistently find a  difference among students about what constitutes "meaningful": So-called "traditional" students (those who start college right out of high school) constantly ask about the relevance of material covered in class and the textbook; "non-traditional" students (those generally age 25 and older)  consistently point out how the material relates to their current lives or previous life experiences. So, who's right about what's meaningful, the older students with a variety of life experiences or the younger students who are so much less experienced? And yet, the younger students are in the majority and so have greater influence on the course evaluations that influence promotion, tenure, and merit pay decisions.

  •  Apology (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Albatross, Joffan

    Bad traffic. At red lite. No time to follow diary. Sorru

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 04:57:42 AM PDT

  •  When I was finishing my MEd (4+ / 0-)

    The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry & Rosemary Wong was all the rage. I was given five copies of it and it was included in one of my course requirements. Chock filled with "don't smile until Christmas" and "wear a suit advice." I had never had my own classroom, but I had been a student in many and realized I had no interest in spending my life in that kind of an environment. I'm gratified to see that this book appears to be out of print.

    I'm getting geared up for school: classroom is ready, planning with teammates this afternoon, starting to get the schedule and first day plans ready. I'm so excited--I get as nervous as the 10 year olds. And in the front of my mind, my personal learning target for the first day is always: know each child's name and know something that makes them want to come back the next day. As they leave the room at the end of the day, I want to be able to say, "Bye Billy, can't wait to hear what happens in Chapter 2 of your book," "See you tomorrow, Lauren. Good luck playing goalie tonight."

    I don't know how kids or teachers can bear to face classrooms in which relationships and community haven't been built. Learning is such a vulnerable place to be (for kids & grown ups); relationships and trust are critical.

    Do not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the world's grief...You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

    by Albatross on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 05:19:05 AM PDT

  •  When I was a kid (0+ / 0-)

    my idea of a great teacher was one who left me alone to read instead of badgering me with trivia.  In high school, it was someone who could keep up with me.  In college, it was someone who didn't treat students as distractions from their precious research.

    His Troubness. Trouber. El Trouberino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing.

    by Troubadour on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 06:11:52 AM PDT

  •  also, (3+ / 0-)

    Teachers are some of the most important role models, outside of their parents, that kids have. They internalize how teachers deal with conflict, how much enthusiasm they show for what they are doing, and when they recognize positive behavior from students.  Ask any adult what they remember most from their school years and they will probably have a story in there about a teacher and how it affected their life.  Do we want it a positive memory, or a negative one.

    Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world--and never will. Mark Twain

    by whoknu on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 06:26:55 AM PDT

  •  I tend to think... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wenchacha, LynneK

    ...that a teacher who does all those things will, in the long run, help their students achieve better test scores anyway because their students will be more inclined to learn from them.

    But in the end, it's not the test score that really ought to matter. It's a shame more people don't realize that.

    Thwarting Republicans since 1978.

    by wiscmass on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 06:39:51 AM PDT

  •  Thanks teacherken! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I have always like your posts. As of last week, my son is a TEACHER! He had been tutoring since he graduated from college two years ago and got accepted into a grad school teaching program like Teach for America. He just got hired for his first real teaching job. I forwarded your post to him and hope he incorporates your ideas into his personal approach.

    He is the first person in our family to go to grad school and the first teacher since his great grandmother left her Amish family to teach in the 1920's.

    We are so proud.

    Try organic food, or as your grandparents called it, "food"

    by madame damnable on Tue Aug 10, 2010 at 07:45:26 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site