Content vs Contentedness: Prioritize Relationships in order to Reduce Student Attrition and Boost Faculty Retention
Many educators have long known that the strength of the student-teacher relationship is the greatest factor in improving students’ learning outcomes. Fewer know that research also shows a direct correlation between those relationships and faculty satisfaction in their profession--strong relationships create more joy and less work-related anxiety. We are living in a year of unprecedented disruption in our society and in our schools. So far as I can tell, the 2020-2021 school year isn’t going to make it to the top of anyone’s “best of” lists, least of all students and teachers. That’s why for the remainder of this school year is important for academic leaders and educators to focus on relationships.
Last spring, twin pandemics disrupted learning. Educators felt overworked at the same time that students felt underserved. The upheaval of distance learning further underscored the institutional inequalities inherent within American schools as calls for social justice coupled with the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, produced the Black@ social-media moment. BIPOC faculty and students shared their experiences with daily microaggressions and outright racism in schools, and in the process predominantly white institutions were held accountable for the broader failure of many schools to ensure genuine belonging. At the time when relationships were most crucial, connections faltered.
Therefore, it isn’t surprising that independent schools face unprecedented challenges going into the 2021-22 school year. Attracting and retaining constituents in our schools (students, faculty, staff, and administrators) brings us full circle to the topic of today’s post: building and sustaining positive relationships. In January, NAIS published its Staff Predictions for the Future of Independent Schools predicting, “the value of human connection and interaction will increase” and “the result will be more balance, appropriate pacing, time to breathe, appreciation for each other, and joy.” As you continue to assess your curricular objectives and program outcomes, make sure that you design in the time that educators and students need if they are to sow, cultivate, and reap positive relationships. Teachers might be inclined to increase the pace of instruction to boost student progress. Resist that temptation. By building relationships, teachers can cultivate their students’ strongest performance.
The time that teachers liberate from planning and disseminating content will allow them to spend more time on what matters most: the right relationships, opportunities to personalize instruction, and the creativity that unfolds when students are invited to drive their own learning. Let go of more content and unlock opportunities for greater good in your class: joy in the daily process, community that values equity and belonging, and the deep cultivation of life-long learning skills.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)