Written by Paul Kelly
Elk Grove High School Principal
How do you get a student to learn? How do you get a student to trust you? How do you get 450 students in a gymnasium to sit for an exam when they don’t see any benefit to taking it seriously?
The clear answer to each of these questions is relationships.
It seems obvious to most of us…form a better relationship, get better results. However, it’s more than common sense. According to John Hattie’s “Visible Learning” research, “teacher-student relationships” influence student achievement to an extremely large degree, with an effect size of .72 (just below my favorite teaching technique, “feedback”). As a classroom teacher, I always felt that strong relationships with students were absolutely critical. As a principal, I feel they are completely necessary. When administrators and teachers are able to come together and harness the power of their relationships with students, amazing things happen.
As Elk Grove High School students filled our main gymnasium for the PARCC examinations over the past two days, there was rampant speculation that students would refuse to test. What if they disrupt the environment? What if they disrespect the test proctors? What if they all walk out???
Trust me…in my weaker moments, I had my own fears. However, I always have faith in our students, and I ultimately believed they would come through. That faith was more than justified as 100% of our students participated in the mandated testing. In a culture of sensationalized social media stories of student refusals and walkouts, not one EG student refused to test.
Why did our students not follow the lead of those who walked out in other schools? Why did they stick it out to complete an exam whose value they questioned immediately? To me, the answer is clear. It is because of relationships. As I watched incredible teachers like Dawn Ferencz, Steve Lesniak, Chris Rugg, Stephanie Kezios, Tim Phillips, Wendy Relich, Colleen Mullaney, Kim Molberger, Midge Snow, Ami Heng, and many others work their personal magic in a deeply impersonal space, I knew that we were going to make it. Our students completed the PARCC exams with 100% participation not because they saw value to themselves, not because they were interested in the test’s content. They completed the PARCC exams because they trust the individuals who asked them to do so.
Now take the effects of those relationships and picture them coupled with one of John Hattie’s most important teacher factors, collaboration. If Elk Grove High School staff can get 225 tables of students to take nine hours of PARCC exams, imagine what we can accomplish by working together during the course of a student’s entire high school career.
It’s pretty exciting to think about.