Relationships Matter

11/23/2011 01:25 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2012
  • Sean Slade Director, Whole Child Programs at ASCD

Relationships matter.

In the never-ending discussion around school improvement and reform, the role of relationships rarely gets a mention. However the role relationships play -- as research shows us and children tell us -- is key. Whether it be inside the classroom, outside the school, between peers, teachers or families, relationships are key to student success and growth.

Relationships matter.

They matter not only for grades, but for engagement. They matter not only for understanding but for providing meaning and context. They matter not only for reducing risk-taking behavior but for connectedness and belonging. They matter not only for attendance but for reducing dropout. They matter not only for minority students but for all students. They matter not only for students but for staff. They matter not only for schools but for communities. Relationships matter and the sooner we appreciate it the better off our children, schools and communities will be.

Relationships matter.

Positive teacher-student relationships are associated with:
• Increasing student's feeling of safety at school (Austin et al; Basch; Steinberg et al)
• Increasing academic test scores (Basch; CDC; Comer)
• Increasing student understanding and meaningfulness of what is being taught (Benard)
• Reducing absenteeism (Basch; CDC)
• Decreasing student dropout (Benard)
• Decreasing student-student conflict (Griggs et al)
• Improving school climate (Cohen et al; McClure et al)
• Improving transition to school (Pianta et al)
• Decreasing risk-taking behavior (Basch ; CDC; Rudaskill et al)
• Developing language skills (O'Connor et al)
• Improving self-esteem (DeWit et al)
• Decreasing incidences of depression(DeWit et al)
• And has been highlighted as beneficial to learning by the major US educational associations, including the Council of Chief State School Officers, National School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, and of course our own ASCD.

But it's not just teacher-student relationships. Positive family-school relationships have been shown to be associated with:
• Improving the development of student's social skills (Powell et al)
• Improving the development of student's mathematics skills (Powell et al)
• Promoting learning (Christenson & Reschly)
• Decreasing student behavior issues (Powell et al)
• Preschool social growth and academic development (Marcon)
• And increasing motivation to excel (Wentzel).

And between peers. Studies have highlighted how positive peer relationships are associated with:
• Remaining in school (Juvonen & Wentzel)
• Remaining in community college (Napoli)
• Developing pro-social behavior (Snyder)
• And improving academic achievement (Zitzmann).

And between teachers. Positive relationships between new and experienced teachers have shown to:
• Decreasing teacher attrition (Gratch)
• And minimizing emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of low personal accomplishment (Grayson & Alvarez).

All relationship matters.

And in combination these relationships provide a broader support network and deeper influence. Studies have shown that teachers, family and peers all can have a positive effect on
• Developing resilience (Benard)
• Reducing dropout (Pittman; Dunn et al)
• Improving attendance (Epstein; Klem)
• Increasing learning (Klem).

All in all -- relationships matter. So the next time school improvement, turn-around, or reform efforts are discussed, ask whomever is talking how their plan develops what we know is key and cannot be overlooked -- relationships.

So how do we develop all these relationships? Well that may be for another blog article but for now have a listen to these podcasts:
Partnerships Between Home and School: The Real Missing Link?
The Whole Child Needs a Whole Teacher
School Climate: Developing the Quality and Character of School Life

Relationships matter.

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