Relationships, Relevance, Rigor

I haven’t wrote in a while.  For some reason, the topic I chose to put down is probably the most common theme I’ve written about this year: Relationships.  Though I’d like to take it two steps further.  I’d like to link relationships to relevance and rigor.

I believe the three must go in that order.  Building relationships with students means discovering their interests, learning about their background, and peeling away at their personalities.  Once these interests, backgrounds, and personalities are discovered, the teacher can begin to personalize instruction to make learning relevant.  Relevance is one of those topics you hear a lot about in college.  “Make learning meaningful and relevant.  Connect learning to something which they can relate.”  Those sound great, but I wonder how many teachers actually know how to do that?  Or how many teachers actually do it?

In my own reflections recently, I’ve wondered just how much of my own content is relevant to my students.  I’m currently trudging through a unit on rate of change, slope, graphing lines, etc.  This is historically the toughest topic for my students to grasp.  In the past I’ve exhausted methods of instructing these concepts but it always seemed that the assessments would indicate my efforts were to no avail.  I’m sure the 9th grade math teachers are wondering if I even spoke about slope of a line at all.  I’m convinced that these concepts are just too abstract and mean nothing to my students at this time.  I’ve struggled to make these concepts meaningful and relevant to them.  I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into building relationships with my students and I’ve wrote about it a lot in this blog.  For some topics this year, I feel I’ve done a good job of strengthening students understanding by making math relevant and meaningful to them.  The relationships I’ve built with students allow me the possibilities of building those connections.  Whether it’s the student who will probably join his family in the roofing business when he gets older, or the student who dances year round, or the student who enjoys coding and minecraft, trigger those interests as often as possible.  Reinforce their passions and desires from inside your classroom.  Do that and those students will work hard when things become demanding and difficult.

I have a had a few college students in my classroom this year for observation hours.  One such college student had an encounter in which he and another student of mine chatted quietly about college basketball during my instruction.  After the period ended, the college student came to me to apologize for distracting that particular student during my instruction.  I quickly explained to him that those are the opportunities that teachers need to capitalize on more often.  Because tomorrow, if the college student were to ask my student to engage in something of rigor, that student is more likely to work hard because of the time you took to talk with him about his interests.  Students don’t naturally engage in rigor.  It’s getting more and more unnatural for students to engage in demanding tasks.  Perhaps an emphasis in building relationships and making learning relevant will help our students engage in more rigorous learning activities.

2 thoughts on “Relationships, Relevance, Rigor

  1. While I am not a perfect teacher, I know that the fact I try to build relationships with my students is the main reason I have little to no discipline problems. All the technology and learning strategies will never replace the relationship factor between student and teacher. I had a retiring teacher tell me once that in his whole teaching career, he had never once had a student come up to him and thank him for teaching them what a noun and verb were, but he couldn’t count the times one of them had come back years later and thanked him for believing in them and caring about them.

    • How true Debby! Definitely! I’ve thought a lot recently about the things our students truly remember. I’ve had good students contact me a year later and ask questions about things I was convinced they were good at in 8th grade. Just a reminder that we make far greater impacts on the affective domain than the cognitive domain. I don’t think we’re preaching this enough in our schools. Many “think” they’re investing in relationships, but I wonder how many truly are. I appreciate the opportunity to teach with you!

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