- Experts agree the job of successful teachers is two-fold: to connect with and care about students first, and care about and connect students to content second.
- At a Capitol Hill event Wednesday discussing the future of teacher development, 2016 District of Columbia State Teacher of the Year Topher Kandik said most teachers care about their content, but caring about students is not always evident.
- Later in the day, at a different event across town unveiling the America's Promise "State of Our Grad Nation" report, Principal Anthony Terrell of Mt. Vernon High School in Alexandria, VA, said to boost graduation rates and student success at his school, he focused on hiring teachers who connect with students above everything else and who connect students to content second.
The idea that teachers should care about students seems like common sense, but it really should be a priority of everyone in the district, from the top-down, to make sure everyone employed within the district cares about and can connect with students. It is difficult to craft effective policies and practices for students to whom you have no connection — even for the most well-intentioned leaders. This is why practices touted by Columbia University Teachers College's Chris Emdin and others around developing sound pedagogy based around an immersion in and attempt to identify with student experiences is so important.
Students are more likely to succeed if they feel someone cares and someone expects them to reach a certain level of achievement. But if teachers, principals and district leaders themselves don't believe students can learn and excel academically, how can they impose expectations of success on those students? One of the biggest hindrances to the success of students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities and English language learners is lowered teacher expectations. This doesn't mean educators can take a situation-blind approach to education. In fact, it requires the exact opposite: empathy and a concerted effort to have conversations that matter to students. Part of connecting students to content is ensuring resources and materials reflect their interests and experiences, and making sure students are exposed to models of success who look like them and share their common experiences.
The need to promote social-emotional learning and a growth mindset is not only something that needs to be imparted on students. Teachers, principals and everyone up to the superintendent should show these competencies. And it isn't just important for young children, either — high school and college students benefit just as much, if not more, from these personal touches, and efforts in this vein are sure to boost graduation rates.