I agree with the @teachergoals that relationships must be encouraged and maintained. I suspect the intent of the quote is to encourage teachers to interact with their students as people instead of as rectangles on a seating chart, which is a worthwhile aim.
What I’m not so sure about is the meaning of a “significant relationship” in the educational context. (I’m sure, however, it’s not the meaning we occasionally hear about on TV newscasts, in which one of the parties wears a bright orange jumpsuit.)
Who are the parties to a significant relationship in which learning occurs?
In what way(s) must the relationship be significant to impact learning?
Do the learning and the relationship have to occur contemporaneously?
If all significant learning requires “a significant relationship,” is turning students into lifelong learners a pipe dream?
And, last but not least, I wonder if I the only person in the world whose most significant learning came from books?
Since my local school district has been looking for a new superintendent, I’ve been doing some reading and thinking about the process. In the last few weeks, I’ve written several posts¹ about various facets of the process, with particular emphasis on its public relations aspects.
I deliberately avoided discussing the role of students in the process for two reasons.
First, although students are certainly impacted by the work of a superintendent, they typically don’t know much about what the superintendent does or how she does it.
Second, students probably have even less information about the laws governing hiring than adults, who typically have little.
Those two considerations render students’ input into selecting the best candidate of little value.
That said, however, students could be very useful in other ways that also provide them with genuine learning opportunities.
Learn and share: 3 potential activities
I hate having students do a project that accomplishes only one objective, so I’ll suggest three ways that students could
learn some communications skills
while learning some other content, and
providing a community service.
First idea. Students could research facets of employment law to develop informational materials for the adult stake holders to use. Depending on their topics, the research could be in print and digital sources or it could be interviews with specialists in human resources and labor law.
Students’ findings could be presented as audio, video, infographics, blog posts, printed pages, etc.
Second idea. Another potentially useful activity would be the development of information to help candidates get a feel for the school culture.
A 3-minute video about the music program that includes interviews with current and former students, community supporters, and parents would help candidates understand the importance of music in the district, for example.
An infographic about the district, perhaps one on its demographics or one focused on what students do after high school graduation, could be useful not only to candidates but also to a school board attempting to educate its community.
Third idea. A third potentially useful activity would be the development of information to help newcomers get acquainted with the community. People who have lived all their lives in a community often are oblivious to the kinds of information newcomers, like a new school superintendent’s family, would find useful.
Again students would have a host of options available for presenting their information.
Each of these kinds of activities requires critical thinking, learning, and communicating on real topics for real people in the real world.
Efforts underway locally to begin a youth center have prodded me into thinking again about how teens become adults.
Turning its youth into adults is vital for this rural area, since the majority of students who go off to college never return. Unless the teens who stay here after high school become productive members of the community, the brain drain will kill it.
In Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before they Grow Old, Joseph and Claudia Allen discuss how parental and societal desire to shield children from responsibilities of adult life have backfired. Instead of helping teens, we’ve turned them into wimps who can’t fill out a job application without asking Mom what to write. We’ve kept teens doing fun activities instead of challenging them to tackle something tough but important. Many of today’s teens don’t feel capable of doing any adult task alone: They suffer from what the Allens call “chronic success deprivation.”
The answer is not creating places where teens can gather to learn from other teens how to behave. That postpones or detours teens’ development into adulthood.
The answer is putting teens into situations where they work alongside adults to accomplish goals that matter to the community.
Principles for teaching adult roles
Escaping the Endless Adolescence provides five principles to guide parents and communities’ efforts to help adolescents morph into adults:
1. Include them.
Giving teens opportunities to participate in the adult world taking on adult responsibilities at home, school and in the community. Genuine volunteer opportunities are good. (Required “volunteer work” and school-sponsored volunteer days are bogus.)
2. Go with the flow.
Build on teens’ desire for autonomy. Given them tasks they are capable of doing that need to be done. Then let the teen figure out how to do it.
3. Connect, connect, connect.
Adults need to keep offering a relationship even when teens act as if they don’t want to interact with other adults, including their parents.
4. Ramp up the challenge.
Teens respond to real challenges that are adult-like, that leave them with a sense that what they do matters in the adult world, that they can function competently and succeed in the adult world. Often that means turning over to teens something they can do but which well-meaning parents or teachers didn’t want to burden them with.
5. Give it to them straight.
Teens see through the “everybody is a winner” baloney. They need to experience some of the unpleasant aspects of adult life, such as getting negative feedback.
Adults often fear that helping teens grow up will take far too much time and energy. In truth, teens are as skillful as toddlers at mimicing adult behavior. They just need good models.
Teens learn by observation
In the late 1980s, the New York State Education Department asked the distance learning program I directed to test distance learning with students identified as likely high school dropouts. At that time, it was widely believed that only the very best students were able to learn via technology.
Four schools agreed to participate. They selected students who had failed at least two eighth grade classes and were seen as unlikely to complete high school. Studentz were told they would be allowed to enter ninth grade that fall only if they completed the 20-day program. Completion meant only that they showed up for three hours those 20 days.
We pulled together a team of four teachers, put them in four different schools, each with a small group of students. Each teacher was responsible for presenting material in a certain subject to the entire group via the technology. In addition, the teachers had to do right along with their studentswhatever tasks the presenter assigned.
By the third morning, every student was saying, “please,” “thank-you” and “excuse me.” Nobody told them to do that: It was what they heard adults do.
We also saw a big change in how students handled frustration. They observed how teachers responded to technology glitches or to another teacher’s difficulty using the technology. Those adults didn’t resorting to name-calling or smash something. They suggested options.
Those behavioral changes may seem trivial, but they signaled the students’ eagerness to prove they were up to adult challenges.
Not one of the students missed a class. One pedaled a bike five miles to and from class when he didn’t have a ride.
They were on time.
And all but one graduated high school within five years.
Discussing the local school system, a business owner said, “I know the teachers care about the kids. I just wonder if they actually know their content.”
I wondered the same thing when I read an article in the school district newsletter about a newly created school course for juniors and seniors, Business Manufacturing Technology.
When I was informed by a reliable source that other schools are considering using the same course, I freaked out.
Do Teachers Know Enough About MT to Teach It?
Manufacturing technology combines skills from engineering, economics, accounting, marketing, and psychology to reduce costs, increase efficiency, enhance reliability, or to incorporate safety and anti-pollution measures in manufacturing. It’s a business field because MANTECH tasks aim at increasing business profitability.
Manufacturing programs at the associate degree level, such as this one at Tompkins Cortland Community College, include work in areas such as robotics, lean manufacturing and lean office, blueprint reading, computer technology, industrial math. They prepare students for high-paying, computer-dependent, blue-collar work.
Do Teachers Know Enough to Teach Start-ups?
The newsletter article suggests the course is actually about starting a business rather than about manufacturing technology. It says, “Students are learning how to manufacture, advertise and finance their small businesses in the classroom.” (I’ve added that sentence to my misplaced modifiers collection.)
Nothing in the article suggests that students were guided through the business start-up process even from a theoretical perspective. In fact, the writers’ list of what students learned (manufacture, advertise, finance) suggests they weren’t.
To assist students, the teachers brought in outside speakers., the article says. One speaker was from a lumber company. That’s not particularly high-tech manufacturing, but the business operation appears to be fairly sophisticated.
Another of the outside speakers is described as a “local inventor and idea man.” I was unable to discover what he has invented or what his ideas are: He has no digital presence. It’s probably safe to assume he’s not providing expert advice on business advertising in the 21st century.
Featured Small Businesses
I laughed out loud when I read the list of featured small businesses students are developing. It reads like ideas from Cub Scouts and Brownies working on merit badges in the 1970s, not serious business plans from students who should be able to earn their own living within six to 18 months.
YouPillow (custom pillows)
Roll Up and Dye (tie-dye-T-shirts)
Cookie Madness (chocolate chip cookies)
Mr. Barbed Wire (barbed wire home decorations)
No-Bakesters (no bake treats)
Bainbridge Free Fallers (paracord bracelets)
Bobcat Clay Collections (clay accessories)
3.14 Pie (s’mores and pumpkin pies)
Imagine, if you can, the planning process for Mr. Barbed Wire’s home decorations business. When asked to identify the need his barbed wire home decorations would meet, what did the young entrepreneur say? I suppose keeping house cats out of the decorations might qualify as a need.
Do you suppose Mr. Barbed Wire did research to find out how big his potential market is, asking the potential market questions such as:
Although the class projects have given local business owners and my contacts around the world many laughs, the laughter hides a serious problem: These students are being encouraged to think they have real world business skills.
What are these teachers thinking?
Their students appear not to have been exposed to the most fundamental business principle: Find a need and fill it.
Find a Need and Fill It
Elsewhere, young entrepreneurs are being taught to focus on the question of usefulness. Here are what Mr. Barbed Wire’s peers are doing:
To save time and effort shoveling sidewalks, Zach Richardson, 13, and classmate Dominic Lavergne, 13, came up with a shovel that dispenses salt.
Eleventh-grader Marcus Esther developed a robot controlled via computer and hand remote to investigate suspicious sounds without the operator being seen.
Students from San Juan High School in Utah invented a power assisted litter device that reduces rescuer fatigue, increases rescue speed, and reduces the number of responders needed for back country rescues.
A pair of Canadian boys in grade 8, Lane McMartin and Garrett Range, developed a device to attach a biker’s helmet to a bicycle lock.
A junior high student in Indonesia built an electricity-producing desk from scrap materials. Putu Agastya Satryana hooked up a dynamo to the wheel of an old pedal sewing machine, generating electricity that’s stored in a 12-volt battery used to run a desk lamp and charge a cell phone.
Are tie-dyed T-shirts in the same league as providing electricity for rural communities where students can’t see to study?
In education circles, it’s fashionable to blog about learning from one’s students. Not to be left out—and because it’s April 1 when a certain amount of foolishness is acceptable—I will share insights my college students have generously shared with me.
One student told me that “a bird in the hand is worth two of George Bush.” That’s an insight you can take to the voting booth.
Another student cautioned me not to “burn my bridges at both ends.” Even burning them at one end could be a serious let down.
A third student said his wife ended up in the emergency room “every time she eats pees.” I am now very careful to avoid consuming pees.
And one student shared a piece of autobiography that explained something I’d never understood. The student said she had just gotten her GED and had decided to go on for her Ph.D. because she “only needed two more letters.” That was a light bulb moment for me. I finally understood why some folks consider an Ed.D. and easier degree than the Ph.D.: Once you have a GED, to get an Ed.D. you need only one more letter.
Being asked for donations to school groups has been a part of being in business ever since there have been public schools. Lately, however, I’ve noticed that the requests for donations aren’t coming from teens, but from their teachers on their behalf.
I’m sure the teachers mean well. They probably think Josh and Caitlin are too busy with band and sports and their college applications to get out and ask for donations themselves.
I wonder, however, if those good intentions are good for adolescent development.
Do Josh and Caitlin learn how to set priorities and manage their time when the teacher seeks donations on their behalf because they too busy?
Do Josh and Caitlin learn how to advocate for themselves when the teacher makes all the sales calls for them?
Do Josh and Caitlin learn the essential sales and life skill of seeing the world from someone else’s point of view when the teacher runs student activities?
Do Josh and Caitlin develop effective oral communication skills if the teacher does their talking for them?
Or does the teacher unwittingly undermine students’ growth into independent, autonomous, self-directed adults?
Perhaps if we wanted to donate to adolescent development, we would insist students solicit their own donations. Better yet, let them figure out how to earn the money they need. There’s a lot to be said for the old-fashioned car wash.
Auburn Junior High School has made LizzyDickson’s “Stop the Bull” campaign a schools-sponsored organization, with a school advisor and support from the administration.
The school’s resource officer has created a Facebook page where students who are bullied can send him messages directly. The school is also designating a Bully Locker where students can leave notes anonymously for the school resource officer.
The Writing Teacher's ABCs tells new, scared-stiff teachers the least they need to know and all they must believe before they launch into teaching nonfiction writing to teens or adults. Once they start teaching, newbies can select from the 26 topics others they need to keep ahead of their students.