Seven Standards for Creating Relationships

One of the mysteries surrounding great teachers is the quality of the relationships they create with their students. Creating relationships with students is a critical attribute of good teaching and student achievement, according to research . Yet given the importance of this skill, there’s little that I’ve found in the way of identifying concrete ways to create the kind of caring and supportive relationships that really help kids. The question of how to do that has been one that’s absorbed me for most of my career. Are there concrete ways, or practical strategies, or essential behaviors that form the rapport of great teachers?

When I think about the big picture of how we get along with each other, I always reach for answers from whom I think of as The Elders. Those thinkers, writers, and philosophers who study the human condition. What patterns do they find? What did they learn that we can use? As I’ve gone deeper into the questions, I’ve discovered patterns of seven, which was intriguing, seven being such a mystical number. 

One pattern of bad relationships and miserable lives is summed up in the classic Seven Deadly Sins AKA the Capital Vices or the Cardinal Sins. They emerged in the fourth century as a way of describing behavior to be confessed and ultimately healed by confession. While somewhat variable over time, most recognize them as:

Pride

Greed

Lust

Envy

Gluttony

Wrath

Sloth

A parallel group of Seven Virtues began in the work of Plato, who identified four of them; the three rounding out the group refined by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. Some have alternate definitions (perhaps because it’s easy to say what’s bad, but more difficult to describe what’s good) The list is:

Prudence

Justice

Temperance (or Restraint)

Courage (or Fortitude)

Faith

Hope

Charity (or Love)

Rachel Kessler, author of The Soul of Education, created a curriculum of Seven Gateways to Soul in Education that she built from thousands of interviews with students and colleagues in the field of social and emotional learning. Her list is:

The yearning for deep connection

The longing for silence and solitude

The search for meaning and purpose

The hunger for joy and delight

The creative drive

The urge for transcendence

The need for initiation

The final set of seven I discovered is from the work of John Gottman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington, who became famous for a scientifically based model of predicting divorce with more than 90 % accuracy. Decades of  watching couples yielded a list of Seven Principles on the Road to Happily Ever After:

Know each other’s goals, worries, hopes, and dreams

Nurture fondness and admiration

Turn toward each other – respond to bids for attention

Let your partner influence you

Solve your solvable problems

Overcome gridlock

Create shared meaning

What do these have to do with teaching and how can you use it your classroom? That’s what I’m going to be exploring for the next seven weeks.

Image: Illuminated Manuscript, Duke Albrecht’s Table of Christian Faith, Seven Deadly Sins by Walters Art Museum via Creative Commons Public Domain

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