Relationships and Relevancy Matter

by | Nov 1, 2015 | School Climate, Student Engagement, Teamwork, Youth Voice

This week, I had the opportunity to engage with several junior and senior high school students discussing their school experiences, insights and strategies to increase the graduation rates in their schools and state.

As I listened to their perceptions and reviewed my notes it became apparent that one concept rose above the others, the concept of relationships.

Interestingly they identified a comprehensive set of relationships that expand some notions we might have, these include:

  • Relationships among students
  • Relationships between students and teachers
  • Relationships between students and school administrators
  • Relationships between students and school staff
  • Relationships among teachers
  • Relationships between students and parents
  • Relationships between parents and teachers

The students further identified relationships beyond individuals to the various school components, such as:

  • Relationships between students and academic subjects
  • Relationships between students and teaching strategies
  • Relationships between students and skill development
  • Relationships between students and technology
  • Relationships between students and places where learning takes place.

A consistent theme woven within the fabric of this list of relationships is the concept of relevancy.  Let’s turn to the students to define relevancy from their perspectives.  They shared that relevancy is connecting what goes on in their school with (1) issues they care about and (2) things they experience in their daily lives.

Let’s hear it from the students:

  • It is more encouraging for students to actually see how what they are studying relates to what they actually do and what they really care about.
  • School should understand and demonstrate to us students that what is occurring in our family life connects to our schoolwork and vice versa.
  • Us high school students really care for students in the elementary school and fortunately have a PALS program to connect us; we find that we both benefit from our relationship.
  • School is not our entire life but should prepare us for our entire life.
  • Giving students things they feel will be helpful to them, for example, opportunities to engage in projects that are meaningful, measureable and make them accountable.
  • We want meaningful work with reflection not busy work.
  • I am at my best when I am motivated and what motivates me is to know that what I am learning and doing has benefit.
  • Mentoring programs provide positive influences on students lives, mentors that are students or caring adults.
  • School should include “real life learning” and be engaging.
  • Getting students involved through service allows us to understand how we can, at our age, help others and solve problems.

Given these students’ experiences, insights and strategies it becomes obvious to me, and hopefully to others, that relationships and relevance are less about dropout prevention and more about positive student development.  Thus as students develop their academic, social, civic and career attributes they will see the relevance of their education and aspire to stay in school to ensure their best future.

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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