Lack of Focus on Relationships

Many students -- especially students of color -- are not yet experiencing positive student-teacher relationships, positive school cultures, and feelings of connectedness at school. When these essentials are lacking, disciplinary and academic challenges often arise.1

  • “All students value personal connections with teachers; this was evident from the data we collected and examined. But perhaps what was most significant from the focus group conversations with both students and teachers was that quality student-teacher relationships seem to be most critical for students of color [and] students who may be first generation college.”2

  • “The quality of [student-teacher relationships] may matter more for students of color and low-income students. In other words, students who are already marginalized in our society may suffer more (emotionally and academically) when they do not have teachers who are able to help them feel seen and engaged.”3

  • “TALK TO STUDENTS OF COLOR AS MUCH AS STUDENTS WHO ARE WHITE… Many of my teachers only talk to students of color if they are being punished or quieted, yet have no trouble joking around with white students for 10 minutes, despite a student of color trying to talk to them.”4

Existing structures and practices impede relationship-building for educators, students, and families.

  • “There are cultural, interpersonal, and systemic barriers to the creation of quality [student-teacher relationships].”5

  • “Teachers need more time and opportunities to build relationships with students.” Community members report that student-teacher relationships have not been sufficiently emphasized and implemented as a top district priority.6

  • “In OST (out-of-school time), we have the time and capacity to build relationships with children in ways that classroom teachers don’t seem to have time to do. Strong relationships with kids is what makes it work out.” A comment was made that “it’s not that I believe classroom teachers don’t want to build relationships in this way, I think it’s that, given the other demands, they just can’t.”7

  • “Without a consensus [about what quality academic learning looks like], academic learning… [is] defined narrowly according to traditional, white supremacist values and our system is set up to perpetuate that. These values - consciously or not - inhibit relationships between mostly white teachers and students of color. Many stakeholders recognize the importance of quality relationships for students’ engagement, and cite the quality of student/adult relationships in out-of-school spaces, while noting that the many external demands placed on teachers make building similar relationships difficult in the structure of the school day.”8

  • “Families, particularly families of children of color, noted that the distance between their homes and their schools can be quite far, thereby creating a physical barrier to developing relationships and building community... Additionally, some parents and caregivers also felt disconnected to their schools because there were not many opportunities to engage in meeting other families and/or those opportunities were not easy to access (e.g., the school is on the other side of the city, activities took place at inconvenient times).”9

Educators of color are creating positive relationships with students and families. But educator racial representation remains insufficient -- and educators of color face barriers to positive collegial relationships that could support them in challenging workplaces.10

  • Educators of color emphasize “connection with families and communities” as a core aspect of their work.11

  • “For me (I’m a mixed female with a black mom and a white dad) whenever I see a female educator of color (which I don’t find often) I feel very capable of my work. I almost look at them as role models. I told myself, she went through the same things as you and look at her now.”12

  • “Students feel that they can identify when they need emotional/mental support. However, students who need emotional/mental support are hesitant to seek adult help in school. Many struggle to find adults who can relate to how they’re feeling, including a lack of racial representation.”13

  • Educators of color often feel they are the “only ones” in their buildings and “lack opportunities to share identity-based affinity experiences. These feelings of isolation contribute to not feeling connected to a building or school, feeling as if they are confined to relationships only within the classroom, and [limiting] opportunities for broader perspectives and views.14

  • There has been “no platform” for educators of color to connect with one another. “How do I meet people (of color) in different buildings? How do I see who else works here? I’ve worked in this district for years, and I've only met one person in this room before today... And everyone's been here for many years... Where's Cambridge helping us to do that?”15

  • “Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) [also known as affinity groups] were launched in May 2018. This opportunity can provide meaningful connections for teachers and staff of color; however at the time of the qualitative interviews, these groups had not been in place long enough for teachers and staff of color to feel the impact.”16

Students have powerful visions of what meaningful student-educator relationships look and feel like.

  • Students report that they know teachers care about their learning and well-being” “when they see you they greet you which makes you feel good”; “when your teacher respects you”; and when “they want to talk about how you feel.”17

  • “Teachers just need to show any sort of support or empathy for their students just so the students know that the teachers actually care about them. They can enforce the rules on a student to teacher level but they should also show that they care about their students on a person to person level.18

  • ”“It feels like you have someone on your team that is ready to support you when you feel like you are falling.”19

1 For additional evidence, see “Coherence” barrier
2 CPAR Study 3-7
3 CPAR Preliminary Themes
4 CRLS Student Quote, CPAR Studies 3-7
5 CPAR Preliminary Themes
6 Student-Educator Relationship Sense Making Team Narrative
7 Focus Group Report
8 Academic Leader Sense Making Team Narrative
9 Focus Group Report
10 For additional evidence, see “People of Color are Not Being Centered” barrier
11 CPAR Study 8
12 CPAR Study 3-7
13 CPAR Study 13
14 Focus Group Report
15 Focus Group Report
16 Focus Group Report
17 CPAR Study 10
18 YPAR
19 CRLS Student Quote, CPAR Studies 3-7

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