Monday, April 20, 2009

Is There a Disturbring Correlation Between Teacher-Student Relationships and Sweet Caroline?

Promoting teacher-student relationships in schools seems to be the most obvious no-brainer in education. It's like playing Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline at a party; it's just a given. (Please allow me a side note here: why is every guy I know a closet Neil Diamond fan? Why do we deny ourselves the joy of being an out and out fan of one of the all-time musical greats? I would argue it's for one of two reasons: A) We are intimidated by the fact that every female over the age of 60 raves about his ravishing good looks, or B) We are threatened by anyone who has hair that looks that good at his age. Look, I'm not happy about liking him either. We'd all be a lot better off if he dressed like Jack Black and looked like Pauly from Sopranos. That way, he wouldn't be an icon among the ladies and we wouldn't have all these hair-envy issues. But the reality is that he dresses differently and has great hair. I say we get over these fears and succumb to Neil Diamond. Throw on a silver silk shirt, un-button the top 3 buttons, turn up the volume on Kentucky Woman and live!) But as I attend the birthday parties of my kids, I've begun to notice a pattern with Sweet Caroline; It's not being played. What's worse, because we've accepted it as the party-song for all occasions, we don't even notice that it's not being played. It's no longer on the party mixes. We're humming it, we're bouncing to it, but it's not being played and we aren't even noticing! Parties without Neil Diamond? A travesty to future generations!

Are we facing the same dilemma with teacher-student relationships? Are they such a given that they've been swept aside and we no longer notice their absence?

We've all heard what the research says about positive teacher-student relationships, or so I've been told. But have we? Do we really know how profoundly teacher-student relationships effect various aspects of the educational process? Because if we do, and we understand their importance, and we realize how much these relationships promote a positive learning experience, then it should be something we discuss at school on a regular basis.

Did you know.......

  • Robert Marzano says that a strong teacher-student relationship is the number 1 deterrent of behavior problems in classrooms? Its the number 1 classroom management tool?

  • There is abundant research that says positive teacher-student relationships is one of the top two things that "hook" at-risk students? (Along with teaching material they can relate to on a personal level.)

  • The research on students who are bullied regularly, and who participate in bullying regularly, both say the best prevention measure for bullying in schools is teachers who know their students?

  • The research strongly supports the connection between academic success and positive teacher-student relationships?

If you know me, then you know I often need things explained to me like I'm a 5-year old. So, for my benefit, here goes:

Teacher-Student Relationships:

  1. increase student learning.

  2. decrease behavior problems in the classroom.

  3. decrease the amount of bullying in schools.

  4. increase engagement for at-risk students.

Maybe it's time for us to put teacher-student relationships back into the daily conversation. Instead of just assuming it's on the play list, let's put it #1 on all of our party mixes. Let it serve as a reminder each day as we jam to our educational party mix just how important these relationships are to the success of our students. If we integrate it into all of our discussions, we can put the focus of importance back where it belongs, on the relationships between us and our students. And just like Sweet Caroline, we can rekindle a timeless classic. If you don't want to take my word for it, take a few minutes and listen to 10-year old Dalton Sherman:

For my song suggestion of the week..........wait for it.............that's right, Sweet Caroline by one Neil Diamond. (Bomp Bomp Bomm!). OK, so that was too easy. Another? Try A Little Less Conversation by the King. Play it loud.

The Red Sox have won 5 in a row. Can we just crown them right now? And the Bulls are up 1-0. And the Bears got Jay Cutler. It's a great time to be a die-hard Red Sox/Bulls/Bears fan. (Oh yeah, the Blackhawks are up 2-0, I became a die-hard Blackhawks fan yesterday in honor of my mentor, Leroy Lanes).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Balancing Two Literacies

My 6-year old daughter recently showed me a new way to navigate through one of her favorite websites. I told her she was smart and that she was much better with computers than I am. Her response, verbatim: "that's because you're old dad....and bald....and you have a huge forehead." I asked her if she wanted to kick my dog while she was at it, but she declined. Apparently her love for animals extends far beyond her love for her daddy.

My little angel's point is valid. I am old, and my educational experience is far different than the one she is about to endure. For one, students today have to deal with two literacies. One is of course the traditional literacy function that includes hard copy books, articles and newspapers. The other is a technological literacy function, one where blogs, articles, chat rooms etc. are read through the use of the Internet.

In the March 2009 issue of Educational Leadership, Joanne Rooney addresses this challenge in an article entitled Teaching Two Literacies. The following bullet points are a review of the article.
  • Technology has revolutionized reading, possibly as profoundly as the invention of the printing press.
  • The format for reading may have changed, but the ability to understand what is written is still at the core of reading.
  • Schools are held accountable for teaching the traditional literacy as well as incorporating new technology into the learning environment.
  • So the challenge becomes teaching both literacies.
  • The author offers 3 mindsets in order to achieve teaching two literacies:
  1. Continue to encourage students to read good books and effectively communicate through writing.
  2. Redefine the term literacy, with less focus on textbooks.
  3. Create a culture in school that is focused on reading, writing and thinking.

So how do we create a culture as described? Nine suggestions:

  • Emphasize reading and writing school wide (poetry writing contests etc.)
  • Create student blogs or chat rooms
  • Create time and space for silent reading
  • Encourage teachers to use web tools that "hook" students.
  • Create book clubs for staff
  • Encourage electronic journal keeping for students and staff
  • Train or encourage teachers to read and write in both literacies
  • Model both literacies
  • Teach parents the importance of reading to or with their students.

This article provides good perspective on attempting to balance the new and traditional forms of literacy. The challenge of balancing the two is not going away. The sooner schools accept these two literacies as a reality for our students, the sooner we can start to find a proper balance in order to create the best possible learning opportunities for our students.

For a little pick me up, check out the tune Black Betty by Ram Jam. I have no idea what the song is about, but it's a catchy tune and it makes me want to play the air guitar while lip-synching. It's a great reminder that I could be a bodacious rock star if I only had musical ability.........or talent...............or could play an instrument.

The Red Sox are 1-1. At this current pace, they will finish 81-81. Luckily, they play the White Sox 7 times this year, so that's 7 wins in the bank. That should be enough to make the playoffs. Go Bosox!