We’re obsessed with student growth and achievement as educators. Education should be focused on student growth and achievement, and educators should be focused on student growth and achievement. But, let’s be honest here: It’s become an all consuming, extremely unhealthy, overly discussed, much degraded, and annoyingly exaggerated obsession. From grade inflation to grade deflation, from excessive assessment to inappropriate use of the results of assessment, from forcing goals on teachers based on output versus input to evaluating teachers based on numbers versus connections, from data pouring out of notebooks to scouring walls that surround us, our obsession has become – well – an obsession.
I wonder what would happen if we put even close this amount of attention given to student growth and achievement to building relationships with students, with parents, with colleagues, with the community. Oh, I know, we immediately visit that place of perpetual apocalyptic thinking: We’re never going to help all students succeed until we hold each and every single teacher accountable to making certain each and every single child is pushed, assessed, graded, growing, and achieving according to whatever the latest standard, benchmark, or formula deems appropriate. Still, I wonder if we can entertain something that puts a little more faith into the reality and certainty of the human condition.
Now, I don’t know what any books say about this (well, actually, I do, but that’s not the point here), but I do know what my experience has proven. Once I had an educator show me that he or she really cared about me, really invested in me, really worked hard at trying to get to know me and to listen to me, I was successful. Once I’ve seen other students express the same things about other educators, they’ve been successful. Once I’ve connected with students on this level, I’ve seen some meaningful steps toward being successful. What about you? How many examples have you seen where these dynamics exist in multiple ways with multiple people, and the students are not actually or ultimately successful?
There’s nothing unique about this post, because there’s nothing unique about my thoughts being shared here. And that, in and of itself, pushes me – and ought to push you – toward wondering if there’s something to really consider here. We’ve long known innately – even when there was no research to back us up – that relationships matter. Our thinking translates into words and then into actions, and this has proven successful time and time and time again. It’s a universal intervention that is difficult to measure, difficult to receive training in, and difficult to measure. But, it’s a universal intervention that works. We know it – in our hearts, in our minds, in our lives – we know it.
Just like everything else, there is no perfect or final answer here. There’s no singular path toward wherever we’re trying to get. There is no reason to put all our weight into only one endeavor. However, our obsession with student growth and achievement has distracted us from what matters most. And, if what matters most isn’t able to get the attention it so richly deserves, we’re not going to see the results we’re hoping to achieve. I hope we can get back on track again. Actually, I believe we will. If there’s one thing for certain in education – like life – it’s change. The pendulum will swing, we’ll find sanity again, and we’ll seek opportunities to truly connect with those we serve. That’s what we do as educators because it’s what we’re called to do, it’s what we’re good at, and it’s the only thing that will ultimately make any difference at all.