Yale educated child psychologist James Comer claimed that “no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” I believe that truth and hold it as a personal value. Might I suggest, however, that relationships are even MORE important now than in generations past?
If you haven’t noticed there has been a MONUMENTAL shift in education. After all, for most of the history of American schooling has been centered around providing, what was deemed, important information. In the era of the internet, students find themselves with a plentiful supply of information. It is readily available at overwhelming quantities and speed. That being said, the lower parts of Bloom’s Taxonomy are becoming increasingly less relevant. Rather, the world and workplace demands we ask students to engage with information at much higher levels. Consider the 4 Cs of the 21st Century Skills and how they might influence the value of interpersonal relationships in the classroom.
Collaboration I’m sure when the great minds behind the Partnership for 21st Century Learning formulated the 21st Century Skills, they did not simply intend for students to sit in close approximation while independently looking at their phones or working on their projects. Rather, they envisioned lively debate, discussion, and a greater product for having worked together. Asking students to engage at this level is no easy task. However it begins with building relationships. After all, I do not risk sharing ideas, let alone dare to disagree with others, if I do not feel the trust and safety to do so. Think of your best collaborative piece of work. Did you accomplish it with virtual strangers? OR people with whom you shared a trusting relationship?
Critical Thinking In the CCSS Mathematical Practices, this might manifest itself in the 3rd Mathematical Practice which includes “critiquing the reasoning of others.” Yep! I’m not doing that! I don’t feel comfortable correcting the work of a complete stranger. Might they be offended? Will I look like a know it all? The safety to do so, my fellow educators, is a culture we must build in our classrooms. We must communicate to students that whether they be right or wrong, we debate ideas. This is a safe place to do so. We must have an engineering mindset. Let’s share ideas and then improve upon them with each iteration!
Creativity Let’s face it–we need people to find solutions to serious problems we face. Information is not the problem. We need people who can look at them with a new and creative lens. That being said, some ideas will sound crazy–until they are crazy good. Someone will have to be the first to throw the spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks. After all, Rutherford B. Hayes scoffed at Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, saying “Who would ever want to use such a thing!” Your classroom has to be a safe place to openly share ideas. Oftentimes, the most creative people are often the most quiet in the classroom. Getting them to speak and risk the sharing of ideas, will take some cajoling on both the part of the teacher and encouraging peers. We must daily put relational deposits in the emotional bank of introverts.
Communication After 23 1/2 years of marriage, I think my husband and I have mastered communication. It took about 10 of those years for us to really make it work. It’s getting more difficult now that we are both older and our hearing is waning. It is not unusual to hear one of us screaming “What?” from another room. That being said, communication is one of the most relevant skills for one’s personal and work life. It allows us to deeply know and understand another person and their ideas. It also helps us to accurately communicate our thoughts and feelings, in order to avoid the unnecessary and emotionally draining drama of being misunderstood. That being said, face-to-face communication is becoming a lost art. I’m not judging. I, too, have caught the smart phone bug. As educators, we must realize as information has become more accessible, opportunities for our students to engage in face-to-face communication is decreasing at alarming rates; and not without consequence. Our classrooms are a laboratory for practicing this essential life skill to build both empathy and understanding. On this particular “C” I would say the needs are flip-flopped. You don’t need relationships to build communication as much as you need communication to build relationships.
So, let’s start there. Let’s communicate with our students and give them ample time to communicate thoughts and ideas with one another. We can teach them the art of active listening, talk moves in response and academic risk taking. It’s an exciting time to be a teacher, but the demands are different. Let’s teach them the 4 Cs in the context of our content. Let them talk about math, create solutions to the world’s science-related problems, let them communicate their thoughts and ideas about the Civil Rights Movement. All of this will happen more powerfully if we invest in the building of relationships.
If you’re on board but you want some new ideas on how to build those relationships…I’m working on that post next! If you have ideas, please share! Just for fun, here’s a fun 4 Cs Poster for your classroom from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.
Curley, R. (2010). The 100 Most Influential Innovators of All Time. New York, NY: Britannical Educational Publishing .
Scherer, M. (1998, December). Is school the place for spirituality? A conversation with Rabbi Harold Kushner. Educational Leadership, 56(4), 18–22.