I think that many policy-makers, except those who have spent real time in the classroom, do not understand the social and emotional dynamics of the school.  With the overemphasis on student testing and teacher accountability, the simple fact that students and teachers are human beings, not numbers, has been lost.  A face must be paired with the data.

Schools are complex organizations, housing countless dyads and triads of relationships, such as student-teacher, teacher-teacher, teacher-administrator, administrator-student, administrator-family, teacher-family-student, administrator-teacher-student, etc.  I believe policy-makers at the federal, state and local levels need to be mindful that education is about the business of people, not scores.

As James Comer of Yale University says, “While most of today's jobs do not require great intelligence, they do require greater frustration tolerance, personal discipline, organization, management, and interpersonal skills than were required two decades and more ago. These are precisely the skills that many of the young people who are staying in school today, as opposed to two decades ago, lack.”

With vast amounts of knowledge available at our fingertips, education has become less about memorizing facts and more about problem-solving.  One of the best ways to solve problems is through conversation, genuine and open dialogue. The path to meaningful conversation is simple but not easy…relationships.  

Relationships matter.  Giving time and space during the school day for building relationships through strategies like morning meeting and advisory time, pay back dividends in increased engagement in academics.  Students will work hard and excel when they know their teachers care.

In order for teachers to care for their students, they must be cared for as well.  Through routine self-care and intentional support and appreciation from administrators and parents, teachers care tanks can be refueled.  

A focus on relationships builds community.  Parents and business partners will engage when they can see and feel the improved culture and climate of the school.

I believe it is time for policy-makers to invest money into strategies and practices that cultivate a sense of belonging.


This piece was originally published on Education Week's Classroom Q&A blog.