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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Keys to Student Success

Successful school reform requires having the right resources. Schools cannot succeed unless they have the resources to pay for the various components of the reform. Some students from low income homes do not have access to basic resources or supplies. In this case, it will be important for schools to have working relationships with social service agencies. When parents are unable to provide for their children, the onus then falls on the schools and the community.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, students need to have their physiological needs met before they are able to learn. If a child is hungry, he or she will focus on that fact and not on schoolwork. Federal law allows schools to provide breakfast and lunch for students whose families meet federal poverty guidelines. If children have all of their physical needs met, they will be more likely to succeed in school.  

Another need that must be met is the safety of the child. Students need to feel comfortable and safe enough to learn. Students will not be able to focus unless they feel safe in both the home and the school. When teachers become certified to teach, they become mandated reporters of child abuse. This means that a teacher who suspects abuse in the home of a student is compelled by law to report this information, using protocols established by the school and/or the district.

When a parent is unable or unwilling to meet their child’s physical/biological needs or the feeling of safety and security, teachers have the means to support the child’s well being through the use of a number of resources, including federal and state laws. Teachers must perceive these actions of advocacy as professional responsibilities which serve not only support the child’s well-being, but also facilitates the ability of the child to attend to learning opportunities in school.

The main job of schools is to deliver effective instruction for student learning. If the school needs to provide some or all of the necessary physical/biological needs, it should do so. Schools should be concerned about the welfare and the safety of the children they serve. The school’s purpose in the community is to ensure that students have the support and resources they need to be successful.

It is important to realize that the schools are not required to provide said support. Schools not operating as full-service organizations should advocate for their students whenever necessary. Ruby K. Payne discusses support systems in her book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Payne posits that students who live in poverty need support systems to succeed. She believes that students with the right resources and support systems can succeed even if they are living in poverty.

Local schools are the only community-service organizations that come in contact with virtually all school-aged children in a given area. Many would assume that educators and administrators are in a unique position to understand the needs of children and the communities in which they live. Teachers are among the few people who understand children’s hopes, aspirations, and impediments; however, only a small percentage of teachers take advantage of this fact.

With all the problems and the issues that our children face, we can ill afford to miss opportunities to connect with them. A strong student-teacher relationship will in turn help the teachers better educate their students. One of the keys to the teacher-student relationship is the creation of mutual trust and respect. Once students understand that their teacher trusts and respects them, they will do everything in their power to live up to the teacher’s expectations.

James P. Comer, a child psychiatrist who studied students from low income neighborhoods In New Haven, Connecticut, developed the Comer Process which focuses on child development in urban schools. The Comer process is based on six interconnected pathways which lead to healthy child development and academic achievement. The pathways are physical, cognitive, psychological, language, social, and ethical.

Comer believed that the pathways should be considered a road map to a child’s successful development into adulthood. If a child’s needs are not met in one of the pathways, there will be likely difficulties in the child’s ability to achieve. Comer explained that a child could be smart, but unable to be socially successful. He wanted teachers to be aware that they should not teach for the sake of teaching, but rather to help the child learn how to negotiate life both inside and outside of the classroom.

According to Comer, if a child is intelligent but cannot socially interact, then the school system did not do its job of preparing the child for the world. The theory pushes teachers to make sure that children are developing emotionally, physically, and socially before the child can learn the school-related topics. Comer believed that children will not be functioning members of society if he or she is only successful in academic skills such as math and reading.

Comer proposed that children need a primary social network that includes parents, and people from the child’s school and community.  Comer emphasizes that the people in this network should be concerned with all of the child’s needs that are part of the developmental pathways. Children who have this level of support will likely be more successful in school. This is the main premise behind Comer’s idea of letters home to the parent or caregiver. He wants to make sure that the parents and caregivers are aware of what is happening in their child’s school life so they are able to share in creating a positive experience at school.

Comer’s notion of developmental pathways is now practiced in many schools across America. In fact, there is such interest in his theory that a field guide is now available for creating school-wide interventions to help students achieve academic success. Comer’s theory is concerned with the ways in which the world is changing. He foresees children needing to have more skills and more “book smarts” than previous generations. The future adults of this society will need to be socially accepted while also being “book smart tech savvy” and multi-taskers.

Educators today should understand that when they become teachers, their duty is to advocate for not only the children in their class, but also the students in the entire school. Teachers are often the creators of grassroots advocacy organizations and coalitions. Advocacy is an essential part of a teacher’s profession. When teachers advocate for a student, their action conveys to children a message that the teacher cares about their well being and creates a positive bond between teacher and student.

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