Monday, May 21, 2012

Relationships for Learning

My name is Dorothy Shapland, and I have been an early childhood educator for the past 28 years teaching preschool, kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade. I work as a mentor and coach providing training and support to teachers both locally and on line. 

The Issue I have become most passionate about through this work is the importance of building relationships for learning in education.  When teachers connect with their students, when children feel they are valued, when curriculum is modified to meet the specific needs of each child, the chance of success for all involved is increased. 

Building a relationship with a student, understanding who he is, how she learns, what his passions are, what she sees as her strengths and how he perceives his chances of being successful, are all skills that can be broken down and mastered by teachers.

I decided to research what it would take to ensure that teachers are equipped to do this kind of relationship building.  I began with a review of studies that have been done on the effectiveness and the long term impact of student-teacher relationships. Research conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Campaign for Educational Equity, The California Department of Education, Teachers College, Michigan Department of Education, and the National Education Association all evidenced that positive student teacher relationships, are directly correlated to improved student outcomes. 

As much as we feel the push to standardize instruction, and teach students in core content and subjects, driving for improved test scores, the research consistently supports taking the time to know students well and build strong relationships so that we can individualize their instruction, is the more effective course.

I interviewed pre-school, kindergarten, first grade, middle school, high school and college students about their perceptions of what makes an effective teacher.  I spoke with parents about how they see their children’s success over years with different teachers.  I asked educators what separates great teachers from bad ones. 

These various stakeholders identified very similar attributes and qualities, and their statements were completely consistent with the research data I had collected.  I found that when I analyzed these results for themes, the answers fell into the categories Attention, Belonging, Care and Direction.

Because these categories are perceived as essential for teachers by all of those invested in the outcomes, and because the research is aligned, it became important to find out what teachers are being taught about relationship building.

I surveyed 104 teachers representing 12 US states, and 5 other countries, teachers of all levels with degrees from 92 colleges, and teaching experience ranging from 0 to 44 years.

From this survey I found that teachers feel they are well trained and supported in direct instruction, content and curriculum, but learn about the importance of relationships, family connections, and positive behavior supports through experience and independent study.

A completely unexpected, but significant outcome from this study was finding that teachers felt well trained in those things that were of least value in their practice, and that the things they valued most as creating success for their students were those individualizing skills they were least trained and supported in. 

The community has identified a need for training expectations around relationship building for beginning teachers. The Next step for action then is to change the standards for teacher training programs.  

Over the next several months the Colorado Lieutenant Governor's Advisory Council on professional development will be defining the competencies for Early Childhood Education degrees in the state, and aligning these with other licensing and certification programs. As a member of this council, my plan is to have this research inform some of the alignment work we do moving forward.

The other key action step that emerged from the research was the finding that more experienced teachers feel that their best learning is often in professional reading. 

After examining the data for themes, stakeholders have identified some initial topics and content for a resource book I hope to complete in the next year.

Earlier this week Kansas became the first state in the union to create and pass standards for social and emotional development in K-12 education.  My hope is that Colorado will use this work as a blueprint for our own as we move forward to ensure that every young child and family is met by responsive and caring adults throughout their education.

For more information or to get involved in the project please visit!relationship-building

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why do we study what we don't value?

We recently surveyed 104 teachers representing 12 US states, 4 provinces of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Great Brittan and Japan, teachers from birth through university, with degrees from 92 colleges and universities ranging from none to AA, BA, MA, M.Ed, PhD, in 49 fields of study, with teaching credentials from none to state licensed, province licensed, specialty licensed, endorsed, credentialed, and certified, and teaching experience ranging from 0 to 44 years. What they had in common was access to the internet, and 90% self-identified as white/Caucasian.

Teachers evaluated the various teacher programs they participated in, and how they feel they were prepared in terms of various relationship development factors. 

Teachers then evaluated how supported they felt during the first three years of their teaching.  This is generally a time when mentorship, if available, is provided.  It is also the time that licensed teachers are in a probationary period in many states, and when continuing training and development is required to ensure that teachers have the skills determined key by different states or districts.

Teachers also shared which of these factors they valued most in their teaching.

 In analyzing this data, we decided to compare pre-service preparation and support in the first three years to what was valued most.  The results were striking.  There is an inverse relationship between what we value in education, and what we feel we are prepared for.

In an effort to determine the best methods for educating teachers after the first three years of teaching, teachers were asked where they learned the most about each of these areas.  Experience was selected as the foremost learning tool for all areas overwhelmingly.  The results seem to support the idea that self-initiated training (professional reading, workshops and conferences) and experience are the primary ways that these relationship building skills are learned.

 Questions that arose from this analysis are those surrounding the causes for our values and experiences.  It is possible that we are not well prepared for relationship building despite how we value it.  It is also possible that we grow to value those things we learn on our own over those things we are directly instructed on.

What do you see?