What was it that helped a black girl from Chicago’s Cabrini Green Housing Project make it to Spellman College, then a doctoral program at the University of Michigan and ultimately a successful career in pharmaceutical sales in Raleigh? What was the turning point for the young Latino man who is now a manager in a health care system, but who found himself at the age of 10 having to assume responsibility for the care of his mother after she suffered a stroke, his father moved out and his teenage sisters became mothers themselves? How did the El Salvadoran boy who lived in a group home, where every day he saw his own pain reflected in the eyes of his peers, persist through high school, graduate from college and become poised to start his own hedge fund?
It turns out that most of them, like many other low-income youth of color who have beaten the odds stacked against them, attribute their success to encounters during their adolescent years with at least one adult, a teacher or an after-school program provider, who set high expectations for them, saw them in a way that they did not yet see themselves and found ways to communicate genuine care and concern for their well-being.
The importance of these relationships was highlighted last week at a one day summit hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, entitled “Beating the Odds, Successful Strategies from Schools and Youth Agencies that Build Ladders of Opportunities.” Part of Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, the summit brought together academics, representatives from the U.S. Department of Education and city school districts, funders and leaders and alumni from long-standing community-based organizations, including the three alumni whose stories appear above.
At least three things need to happen in order to ensure more young people have the type of relationships with adults that make a difference and as one of the panelists at the summit described “help us to see the options that we do not even know exist.”
First, as colleagues and I document in a review of the research literature on student-teacher relationships, though there is widespread agreement that these relationships matter for myriad positive outcomes, ranging from academic achievement to greater overall well-being, there is little agreement about what these relationships look like in practice.
Until we can come to better, more precise understanding of what effective student-teacher relationships entail and how youth of different cultural backgrounds respond, we cannot achieve the next step, which concerns teacher training and professional development.
Second, teachers desire training and support in this area, but their institutions provide little guidance. Rare is the school of education that teaches a course in student-teacher relationships. Instructors may touch on the topic when they introduce differentiation, culturally relevant teaching or other practices that require tailoring instruction to students’ backgrounds, interests and strengths; however, little explicit instruction or support for teachers interested in developing strong relationships with their students exists.
Instead, in this highly litigious climate, teachers are often taught how to protect themselves from these relationships: to avoid touching students, giving them rides or engaging them in individual conversations about sensitive or highly personal topics. Most of the teachers I know are hungry to support their students as people, not just as learners, but they are hindered from doing so by either a lack of knowledge of what to do to show their students they care or a lack of the permission and support to do so. We would do a great service to both pre-service and practicing teachers were we to offer focused education and professional development opportunities that take up the tricky questions of how to build and sustain meaningful relationships with students and how to attune expressions of support and care to different students’ needs. It would also help to create policies that encourage and reward teachers who are already forging these relationships.
Third, we need policies that will create the conditions that make it more likely that young people, particularly those growing up in poverty, will encounter adults who will care about them and know how to express that care. Small class sizes, reasonable ratios of students to counselors and support and funding for after-school programs staffed with well-trained professionals can help to increase those odds.
For all children to rise to their potential, we may also need to retire the narrative that all it takes is one adult to turn a child’s life around. In a study of students in high-performing, well-resourced schools, colleagues and I found that students who perceive that more of their teachers care for them fare better in terms of academic engagement, mental health and physical well-being, even if they do not identify an adult in their school with whom they have an especially close relationship, than do students who have an adult confidant but perceive little widespread teacher support.
If we know that students in well-resourced schools benefit more from having a greater number of supportive and caring student-teacher relationships than fewer, then why would we settle for only one such relationship for students in less-advantaged schools and communities? As a nation, it is time to reach higher.
[Source:- Us news]