Spoiler Alert: It’s our secret sauce.
Every adult remembers a teacher who either made a tremendous positive impact on their life or one who made life miserable for a short time. Why? Because the teacher-student relationship is an important part of child and adolescent development.
My favorite teacher was Fran, from my third grade year. . She lived with such joy; there was always a twinkle in her eye, she would often break into song, and she was the first person that told me that I was a good writer. She created a classroom where I felt challenged, supported and that I truly belonged.
Think about your favorite teacher. What made them so special? Were they the person who helped math “make sense” to you? Maybe they introduced you to the book that made you love reading? Teachers’ wisdom and mentorship can be life-changing, especially for younger students. Research shows what we all know and feel when we’re with an impactful teacher: positive teacher-student relationships can improve academic achievement, increase self-motivation, and promote self-regulation.
In addition to being transformative for individual students, strong student-teacher relationships also strengthen school culture and provide a sense of belonging for every child. At Commons, teachers use strong relationships as the foundation for building engaged classrooms where students are prepared and excited to learn.
So how does Commons cultivate a culture of strong relationships? Below are some key questions and answers:
Why are strong relationships so critical?
Strong relationships provide a foundation for student engagement, belonging, and, ultimately, learning. The more high-quality relationships students have with their teachers, the better their engagement in school. When students experience healthy and supportive relationships with adults at school, it provides a blueprint for the rest of their lives.
Which adult relationships are most impactful?
At Commons, all in-school adults strive for solid relationships with students. When students have strong relationships with their teachers and the rest of the school’s staff, they can’t help but feel a strong sense of belonging, which is the bedrock of the Commons student experience.
How do Commons’ faculty and staff foster good relationships with students?
At Commons, we believe that a positive relationship is close and supportive but not overly dependent. Our teachers foster these relationships by:
Believing that every child learns differently and at different rates
Setting high expectations
Taking a personal interest in students’ lives
Showing respect and valuing each student's individuality
Projecting warmth and trust while striving to keep relationships conflict-free
Giving honest feedback and offering second chances
Using humor, admitting mistakes, setting clear boundaries, and being open, honest, and approachable
How does Commons strengthen relationships among students and staff?
We know that it’s not enough just to state: “relationships matter.” At Commons, we invest in curricula, professional development, and coaching to build the capacity of our staff to engage in high-quality relationship building that directly positively impacts our students’ experience. We provide teachers and school staff with the time, space, and occasion to interact repeatedly with individual students. Some of the structures that we use include:
Small student/teacher ratios
Morning and afternoon meetings that focus on relationships and SEL
Regular small group instruction time
Interest-based projects allow students to express what matters to them
Individual interviews that help students discover and hone in on their purpose each semester
What training do adults receive to support building strong relationships?
Through our SEL program, Commons staff receive training and coaching at the beginning and throughout the school year. In addition, through our instructional coaching program, Commons teachers receive individual feedback and coaching around adult interactions with students.