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The current cover of Educational Leadership, the journal for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, headlines just two words – Relationships First. I love it that thousands of teachers across the U.S. and beyond are being reminded of this essential learning element. There is no getting around it, no shortcuts to it, and no technology that replaces it. When it comes to learning, relationships matter.

Care is in the eyes of the receiver; care doesn’t exist unless those being cared for truly experience it.   Elizabeth Bondy

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Glasser emphasized the importance of 3 Rs when it comes to kids learning in schools – Relationships, Relevance, and Relf-Evaluation. (Ok, it was really two Rs and an S, but it isn’t as catchy as 3 Rs.) From the outset of his career and his work at the Ventura School for Girls, basically a prison school, he recognized the absolute importance of positive connection. This connection is especially needed with any of the students we work with who have struggled with school, who have been traumatized in their past, or who are English Language Learners. One of the keys to Reality Therapy’s success, Glasser’s approach to counseling, was his emphasis on what he called involvement between patient and therapist. By involvement he meant a warm, caring connection. In 1965, when he introduced Reality Therapy to the world, this therapeutic emphasis on connection was fairly unique. The point here, though, is that whether in the classroom or the therapist’s office a positive relationship is vital.

The most urgent questions students ask as they begin a new school year are Am I safe? and Do I belong?   Rick Wormeli

I began attending workshops in cooperative learning from David and Roger Johnson almost 30 years ago, yet I still remember some of their key points like it was yesterday. They explained that there are three important relationships in every classroom – 1) the relationship between the students and the material, 2) the relationship between the students and the teacher, and 3) the relationship between the students themselves. Not to devalue the importance of the other two, especially the relationship between students and teacher, but the Johnson’s felt the most important relationship that exists in any classroom is the relationship between the students. This stuck with me and during my years as teacher, principal, and superintendent, I came to agree with them. Students enter a classroom unsure about how they will fit in and unsure about how they will be treated by others. Until they experience a classroom environment where they feel safe, learning takes a backseat. Threats and sanctions regarding lower grades or trips to the vice-principals office only contributes to their performance being worse.

If you find yourself frustrated with a student, try to find something that you genuinely like and respect about that student and repeat it to yourself.   Lisa Medoff

Rick Wormeli, who contributed the lead article, What to Do in Week 1?, in the recent Educational Leadership, shared something that Rabbi Harold Kushner said during a 1998 interview –

Often I will read about someone from the most unpromising circumstances – inner city ghetto, drug family, single-parent home, abandoned by father, abandoned by both parents sometimes – and the child will have grown up to be a star athlete, a successful politician, or a doctor. The reporter will ask, “How did you get to be who you are?” And the answer will always begin with the same four words: “There was this teacher.”

It’s true. Whether it’s about our relationship with students as teachers or their relationship as students with each other, relationships matter. And rather than relationships being touchy-feely fluff, they directly impact learning.

I realized very early in my career that to successfully and thoughtfully teach my students, I needed to imagine life through their eyes.   Cherish Skinker

In Choice Theory Speak, as teachers we want students to place us in their Quality World and we want them to place our subject matter and our classroom in their Quality World, as well. We can’t inject ourselves into their Quality World. We can only behave in a way that invites students to place us there. We can only create classrooms that students come to value. Coercion has no place within this dynamic.

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As I write this it is early in the morning in Cicero, Indiana, where I am giving a two-day in-service on choice theory to the staff at Indiana Academy. They had already read Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Educators, so I am now joining them in their journey toward a non-coercive life and a non-coercive classroom. Yesterday we focused on Glasser’s Big Four – the Basic Needs, the Quality World, Creativity, and Total Behavior. Today we’ll focus on application of the ideas here at the academy.

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The Indiana Academy campus is well kept with sprawling lawns leading to classic brick buildings. It feels peaceful here.

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The school is located north of Indianapolis and is the academic home for 129 students.

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A quiet hallway at the end of the day. So busy between classes. So empty now.