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It’s all about relationships at #siis2013

4 min read


Did a relationship with an educator help change your life — help you identify your purpose — help you overcome shyness, sadness or other circumstances?

The importance of student/teacher and learner/mentor relationships was a core message throughout the third annual 2013 School Improvement Innovation Summit (SIIS) held July 8 – 9 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Inclusion of student voices in the conference was a refreshing component and effectively shifted the focus from being exclusively on practitioners to including the viewpoints of students, reinforcing School Improvement Network‘s goal of using innovation to help make 100% happen.

Student Erika Franco-Quiroz opened Tuesday morning’s keynote presentations speaking to the audience in Spanish to illustrate the barriers children of immigrant parents like her sometimes face in school. “School was just so terrifying. I knew no one, and I had no friends,” she said.

Erika is now a straight A student and youth leader thanks in part to four teachers. A Spanish teacher she met during her first year of school helped her begin to feel safe. Two English as a Second Language teachers did something no one else had done before: “They asked me about my feelings,” she said.

And finally, a teacher took Erika and her two younger siblings into her classroom one summer after learning they would be staying home alone. She taught them about math, reading and speaking English, even using puppets and Spanglish to help the children better understand a children’s book.

“What’s so important for you to understand today is that student/teacher relationships are essential in a child’s education,” she told attendees, adding, “Some kids will not open up and actively engage in their learning environments unless they feel safe and feel that someone cares about them.”

Students’ Six: Strategies for culturally proficient teaching

Erika was joined in a later session by student Jotham White and educators Graig Meyer and Bonnie Davis to highlight a series of six strategies — identified and taught by students as part of the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina. Educators can use these six strategies to help build a safe environment and stronger student/teacher relationships.

  1. Visibility: Make every student feel acknowledged and included in the classroom.
  2. Proximity: Use physical space to engage students and reduce perceived threat.
  3. Connection to students’ lives: Make linkages between classroom content and student experiences and perspectives.
  4. Engaging students’ cultures: Incorporate positive elements of students’ culture into classroom learning and community building.
  5. Addressing race: Talk openly about racial dynamics and how they impact the student experience.
  6. Connection to future selves: Help students identify their future paths and use classroom experiences to guide students toward their personal goals.

Additional materials about the Students’ Six: Strategies for Culturally Proficient Teaching, including a video series developed by School Improvement Network, can be found online.

“The teachers you remember the most — the teachers who truly make a difference, are those who take the time to get to know you,” Erika told attendees. “They’re those teachers who are always open to helping you with anything, even if it’s not school related. They’re the teachers who will embrace your culture in front of the entire class,” she said.

Have you — as an educator — helped change a student’s life — helped him identify his purpose — helped her overcome shyness, sadness or other circumstances?

Melissa Greenwood is SmartBrief’s senior education editor, with responsibility for the content in a variety of SmartBrief’s education e-news briefs. She also manages content for SmartBlog on Education and related social media channels. Prior to joining SmartBrief, Melissa held a variety of positions in the education field, including classroom teacher and education editor and writer.