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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

August 21, 2014 at 5:00 AM

It ain’t flashy but it works: Get personal and schools improve

Becka Gross, right, walks with student Taylor Trimming to class earlier this week at Denny Middle School in West Seattle. Gross belongs to a group called City Year, which works in designated middle schools to encourage better attendance and tutor students. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

City year tutor Becka Gross, right, walks with student Taylor Trimming to class at Denny Middle School in West Seattle. City Year is a nonprofit that works in designated middle schools to encourage better attendance and tutor students. The program was featured in an Education Lab story last fall. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times 2013.

In the search for answers to problems in education, the go-to phrase employed by everyone, on all sides, is this: There are no magic bullets. Well, there might be one, but it’s squishy-sounding, labor-intensive and difficult to measure.

In every full-length Education Lab story we reported over the past year — each demonstrating clear gains in public schools — one constant echoes: the power of relationships.

Schools that are turning the corner point to this over and over, a focus on forging solid, sustained, one-on-one relationships — primarily between teachers and students.

The power of a personal relationship to motivate young people is also among the few things that education reformers and public school traditionalists can agree on. An essay in last Sunday’s New York Times lays it out like this:

It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school…. that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.

That column — which also pilloried ed reformers as market-obsessed automatons interested in nothing beyond turning schools into cash machines — incited the usual raft of rebuttals. But buried within those was, again, acknowledgement that “the all-important relationships among students and teachers” make a true difference for kids.

The word “relationships” does not inspire catchy slogans. Nor is the decision to focus on relationships something you can purchase.

Maybe there’s a lesson here.

Comments | More in News | Topics: ed reform, relationships

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