Saturday, January 23, 2010

Building Trust in the Classroom: An essential competency

Are you an educator that accepts you must earn the trust of your students? By contrast, do you expect students will enter your classroom inherently willing, ready, and able to trust they will be met by your good intentions and hard work? Research by Bryk and Schneider (2002) find schools with high trust levels are three times more likely to report gains in reading and math scores. Students that trust in their teachers are more willing to share interests, needs, and personal circumstances. Teachers can thereby use this information to make meaningful connections between students' lives and their learning. Our students who face the greatest challenges to effective education will benefit the most from building upon these connections. The result of this effort can be the difference between their successfully staying in school compared to failure and dropping out.
As educators, we must recognize our students will start each school year with a range of feelings about their teachers. Most of these feelings will have little to do with their personal experience with you. Rather, they will be greatly influenced by their past experience with other educators and adults. The reality is whenever students don't trust us, we must spend considerable time and effort dealing with the symptoms of their distrust, including defiant or disrespectful behavior, instead of the underlying issue. We should be alert to subtle cues that a student is struggling to trust. Otherwise, a lack of trust that remains unnoticed, unaddressed, or ignored will continue to undermine the educational process. Whenever educators exhibit an understanding that not all students enter school feeling trust for educators, they view trust as another competency that must be nurtured and developed in our students. Relational trust is a foundation for learning, teaching, and leading, which allows individuals to connect to the school community. Without this essential trust, an educator's efforts will produce only temporary results. Bill Gates (2005) notes teachers can create a trusting environment by focusing on the three Rs: relationships, relevance, and rigor.
When educators model caring, respectful relationships over time their students are thereby allowed to build trust with them. Educators begin fostering relationships with their students by helping students find personal meaning and relevance in the course material. Educators can further build effective student relationships by maintaining high expectations, even when students are struggling, thus showing your belief that they have what it takes to be successful.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A New Year and a New Chance to Review Our Educational System

We are a country that still strongly believes in states' rights. Not withstanding Lincoln's victory during "the war of northern aggression", as it is known by my colleagues living below the Mason Dixon line, the desire for individual state's rights are still seen most profoundly in regards to our educational system. During the Federal Constitutional Convention (1787), states' rights proponents pressed to include their ideas in the Constitution; others advocated a strong national government, with minimal power residing with the states. The federal system adopted at that convention was a reasonably satisfactory compromise that reconciled state and national power. It included an upper house, the Senate, which provided each state with equal input into the legislative process. In 1791, the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution made the states' rights doctrine more explicit: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." However, the federal government can influence state policy even in areas that are constitutionally the purview of the states (e.g., education, local road construction) through withholding funds from states that fail to comply with its wishes. John Stuart Mill (1859) wrote that an "education established and controlled by the State should only exist, if it exists at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence." During the nineteenth century the dangers of too much state involvement in the sphere of education was seen as a necessary state intervention to reduce the dominance of the church and thereby to protect the right to education of children against their own parent's belief system. During the late 20th century the term, "states' rights" came to be applied more broadly to a variety of efforts aimed at reducing the powers of the national government.
Educational reform has been adversely impacted by the overarching desire to protect state rights. While other countries were developing a national approach toward effective education, individual states within the United States developed separate statewide standards to guide the education of their children. The result of such a fractured system is most clearly seen in NAEP testing, which is currently the most reliable example of a "national report card."
Compared to other developed countries, the United States continues to exhibit poorer and poorer test results, especially in the area of mathematics and science.
Failure of every state to adopt national standards for learning, clinically-based teacher preparation, and minimal length of a school year will result in a continuation of this downward spiral. While states' rights provide an important opportunity to balance power, strong national standards for assessment, integrity, and fiscal accountability should lead every state's education systems to ensure the highest quality education while mitigating the damaging results of local partisan preferences.