Speaking with two very close friends who happen to be fantastic school leaders, we started talking about how essential relationships are in education, but how relationships in education alone are not enough. I have watched both of these passionate leaders create a solid foundation with their schools, but they have pushed their learning ahead as well. They understand the constraints that they work within (measurements that are evaluated by the state and school district) and they have helped move their schools forward. The relationships they created with their community helped them push forward. If there is no relationship foundation within the school, they might help their learners forward, but it is going to be much harder and take a longer time.
When people feel valued, they are more open to being pushed. When they are pushed without feeling valued, they will either push back or leave.
Years ago, I read an article from a school leader talking about how their test scores were low, and at first, it bothered them, but later they talked about how they had built relationships, and how the tests were stupid, so they let it go. I struggled reading it because although I agree that standardized testing is not the best option to measure the growth of the school, if that is used as a primary measurement by my bosses or our community, then I do have to take it into account. This is a real struggle for many administrators today, and why I focus on innovating inside of the box. There are constraints and measures that we have to live up to in our schools, agree with them or not, and how you find a way to improve that while ensuring kids walk out of your schools as better and more curious learners is part of the complication of the work.
Here is the thing…I assume people want to feel valued, BUT I also assume they want to grow and get better. I have asked teachers the question, “How is your principal?” and have heard the simple response of, “They are really nice.” is often code for, “They are nice but they aren’t pushing the school or me to get better.”
This should be no different for our students. I have heard a similar sentiment on how students talk about teachers and how “They are awesome because they let us do anything we want!” Sounds like fun, but is it serving the student?
I have challenged the term “data-driven” (which I despise), and how we need to be learner-driven, evidence-informed. I believe that if you know the student well, you can support them to do significantly better with better long-term results. If I teach to the test, the students might do well at the moment needed (the test), but if they lose all learning a week later, did it help? If I teach to the student, I believe they can still do well on the test, but long-term, they will be better learners.
Don’t forget the focus on relationships. It is crucial to the work we do in education, which should be the most human-centered profession in the world. Just remember though that relationships are the foundation, not the end goal.