Rigor, Relevance and Relationships……The three R’s of a successful high school, or so goes the latest in reform talk about high schools in general. Rigor, being challenging, able to move students beyond what they were capable of when they started. Relevance meaning purposeful. Being able to answer the student’s question “why are we doing this today?” with an emphatic reasoning that makes the whole class say to themselves “oh, ok, I get it now!” The final R, relationships, in this instance, speaks to the growth of a bond between learners. I am including the teacher, administrator, and non certified staff with the students in this group.
We are all learners and need to insert ourselves into the group in that way. I believe that it is this third R that we often neglect to nurture in our schools. Grade schools create great relations among learners because they attract more parental involvement and the students are grouped into homerooms where they have one teacher for the academic year. Students and teachers have meaningful relationships that go beyond the academic pursuits and involve social ties because of the time spent with one another. Humans are very social animals and seek relationships for their very survival. We depend on each other for survival, camaraderie and entertainment. We all have a need to be a part of a social structure where we are accepted and valued. Most of those needs are met in the family, at least initially.
As our students move into the teen years, they become dependent on their peers also, but the family remains very important to meet these needs. So many of our youth do not get their relationship needs met at home or at school, so they turn to their peer group to get their belongingness needs met. How many of our problems, both behavioral and academic stem from the fact that some of our students feel neither connected to the school or valued by the school? The high school structure is not conducive to creating a bonded group that is both social and academic. At PHS, the typical teacher has 150 students they see each day and the focus of their time with students is academic in nature. The student’s need to be accepted and valued by a significant adult influence is not met easily in the high school environment.
With the teacher playing the role of the expert and the knowledge giver, he or she very rarely gets to interact on a personal level with groups of students in ways that are both and academic and social in nature. We need to seek a learning partnership with students where all are seen as learners and learning is a task that only happens when all are partnered to meet a common goal. If students view themselves as part of a group with a common goal, and feel like a valued participant, learning tasks and projects will become more meaningful for them. Search your memory banks for the most memorable and meaningful parts of your own education. I’ll bet you remember being part of a special group, a teacher that took the time to know you, or somebody who valued you and made you and what you did seem special.
How can high schools create more meaningful relationships and keep that need in balance with the need to make the academic experience rigorous and relevant?