Monday, August 6, 2012

The New, True 3 R's in Education: Preparing to Start a New School Year

The key to maximizing a learning experience? Relationship, relationship, relationship. Ask someone to describe a successful learning experience in their past. Watch them hesitate and then smile. Watch the comfort and enjoyment they show as they proceed to confidently tell you what they learned, how they learned, how they felt during and about the experience, and how positive they are about the people involved in the learning experience including themselves! Watch the joy they exhibit as they relive the experience and the way the memories of it make them feel. See the energy flow as they share with you the details of their challenge and success with learning.
The memorable learning experiences we have usually involve an accomplishment that was significant and required focus and effort often involving new knowledge and new skills. In describing our successful learning experience we often share about relationships. In some stories it will be about the relationship that we developed with a teacher, coach or guide. Because we trusted the teacher at some point in the experience, we were able to overcome or overproduce in reaching our goal. In some stories, it will be about the relationship that we developed with other participants. We certainly remember whom we were with when we summited the 14,000+ foot mountain peak! In some stories it will be about the relationship that we had with ourself. We pushed ourself further than we thought possible or we proved to ourself that we could or we pursued inspiration and achieved.
There are no more important aspects of a teacher's classroom to prepare for at the start of a new school year or to look towards during the school year when a teacher feels a tension in her classroom than those of relationships. 
Teacher to Student:
Students intuitively sense the attitude and energy a teacher has for them. Students will reflect that attitude and energy back to the teacher in return. If the teacher is positive, prepared, present, and polite, the students are most likely to respond to that modeling. Students can detect honesty and integrity and are eager to find those qualities in a teacher. They are hoping as they enter the classroom that their teacher will be patient, kind, and a worthy guide. Students want to be successful with new and challenging learning experiences. They will respond to trust and to worthy and appropriate challenge when they are provided with structure, autonomy, and interconnectedness.
Student to Student:
For some students, learning is seen as direct engagement between student and the teacher or the student and the curriculum. For many students, learning is expedited when they can learn with and from other students. In a classroom where the structure assures students of academic, social, and emotional safety during all risk-taking events, students benefit from learning from each other, from reflecting on their understanding and progress as compared with others, and from becoming teachers themselves as they help others with the new learning experiences, knowledge, and skills.
Student to Self:
Motivation, responsibility, accountability, sense of progress, momentum, discipline towards learning new knowledge and skills - there are many aspects impacting learning that are directly influenced by the student's personal sense, expectations, and habits as a learner and as a person. All of these are variables that can be influenced during the school year by the teacher, by other students, by the expectations of the classroom, and/or by the maturity and development of the student himself.
Relationships are definitely important factors that impact student achievement that are worthy of the teacher's conscious consideration and planning. Developing supportive conditions for positive relationships does not come at the expense of rigor and high expectations for learning. Relationships provide an important and essential foundation for the learning that will occur. The attention the teacher gives to the importance of relationships will influence and go hand in hand with the structure the teacher creates regarding classroom management rules and procedures and the amount and qualities of the autonomy that will be offered to students. Structure, involvement within relationships, and autonomy are the three legs of the stool that will optimize the chance that this year will be one of those successful learning experiences that the student will recall when in the future they are asked to describe a successful learning experience they have had.


  1. I would like to thank Russell for his phone call that inspired this post. I would like to thank Abhi, a former student, who shared in the thinking that created this post.

  2. Wow- Can I share this with the new teachers tomorrow? I think the teachers' optimism / positive attitude coupled with the message relationships matter is the most important outcome of the first week of school. For teachers who plan to have students working together and collaborating the relationship must proceed curriculum.

  3. Thank you very much, Mrs. Granas, for writing this article and sharing the "new 3 R's of Education" with the world! I will make sure to keep track of this blog and read prior and future articles.

    As Mr. McKinney said, especially as a new school year begins, I believe that it is critical for the students, teachers, and parents to foster relationships among one another as soon as possible. This would facilitate more expedient and enjoyable learning (for all parties!) throughout the year and perhaps even for years to come--as Mrs. Granas said, a student rarely forgets a good learning experience. All this starts on the first day of school: If a teacher manages to project a good first impression to his/her students, he/she has managed to start a positive trend that may last for a long time.

    Perhaps this paradigm of the "3 R's" could be expanded to include relationships including another major component of pre-collegiate eduation: the parent. I would posit that a strong teacher-to-parent relationship would create a synergy between the home and the school, permitting parents to more easily reinforce the day's learning at home and assist their child with challenging concepts. A strong parent-to-student relationship would also leave the child free to focus on the pursuit of learning, as well as permitting both child and parent to put more faith and trust in the teaching/learning abilities of one another.

    Finally, I found two interesting resources online pertaining to this topic of relationships facilitating education.

    This editorial by David Brooks of the New York Times details an inner-city school that is achieving success by adopting a more interpersonal educational model:

    This book is an extensive compendium of research on interpersonal relationships in education:

  4. John, of course share this with all teachers you connect with as school gets going. Relationships are so vitally important. Hopefully your new principal will take the lead with modeling this in all ways she can. Abhi is right when he extends the discussion to include relationships between the school and the parents and between the student and the parents. Perhaps if you continue with "Parent ESD" this year you can ask your parents about their perspective on this post.

  5. Abhi, thank you for taking the time to read my posting and also for your insight and comments. Thank you also for the additional research that I will follow up on regarding this topic. Best wishes as you begin your junior year, I believe!
    -Mrs. G