Just how important is Personal Relationship Building (PRB) for student excellence, equity, and well-being?
PRB means that students feel known and valued by their teacher: known means we know a lot about them, their life, their interests, their hopes, their dreams, their struggles; valued means students believe we think they are worthwhile individuals and we want them to succeed. As a result of these conditions and other behaviors (respect, fairness, etc.) our interactions with them are characterized by mutual regard and respect.
PRB is the foundation of high expectations teaching. When we invest in building personal relationships, students want to meet our expectations. A few driven students, of course, may want to “do well” and get good grades with or without PRB. They want to win the game of school and cross the finish line ahead of the pack. But for students in the middle and, for sure, students at the bottom of the achievement distribution, PRB has a huge influence on their motivation and the effort they put forth. If we build relationships and then convince students they have the capacity to grow their ability in a subject and give them the tools to actualize that belief, wonders can happen.
This COVID era has put the spotlight on inequity, even with groups of students who appear to be homogeneous. There can be a vast range within the resources our students have available to them (internet access, parent support, food security, high or low family expectations, etc.) and of obstacles they may face (trauma, bullying, responsibility to care for siblings, unequal treatment by family members, neglect – all independent of family income.) The more these burdens exist, the more significant is the relationship with a caring teacher who knows them.
As school resumes in person, virtual, or hybrid form, a priority – always high, but now more urgent – is to have a plan to establish PRB with each and every student. Such a plan has ongoing elements and repetitive events (like one-on-one conversations). It does not replace learning; it enables it. So we need a repertoire of ways to do it and the stamina to keep at it.
We all have ways we already know for building PRB. Now we need a bigger repertoire and more tenacity in paying attention to growing it. It’s money in the bank, and we can make withdrawals all year if we build up a robust account at the beginning.