Madison teachers focus on building better relationships with and between students

students

Wisconsin State Journal: Midway through the first semester, a top-down directive to strengthen learning by teachers building deeper, more trusting relationships with and between students is playing out in classrooms throughout the Madison School District.

“Strong, authentic relationships are crucial to our work,” said Superintendent Jen Cheatham, who set the districtwide focus. “Achievement gaps can persist in part when there is a lack of the safe community and support to engage in challenging and meaningful work.”

The push is seen as especially important for students of color, whose test scores as a whole lag far behind white students’ academic performance in the district. Helping them get ahead may require teachers and administrators to take a step back, in a sense, as they focus first on breaking down walls to let learning happen.

“Kids aren’t going to be able to take risks and push themselves academically, without having a trusting support network there,” said Lindsay Maglio, principal of Lindbergh Elementary School, where some teachers improved on traditional get-to-know-you exercises in the first few weeks of school by adding more searching questions, and where all school staff are engaged in community-building lessons in small-group sessions with students taking place at set periods throughout the year.

While noting that getting to know their students is already “something we do feel strongly about,” fourth-grade teacher Beth Callies, now in her 11th year at Lindbergh, said she saw value in a districtwide strategy emphasizing it. “It’s a good push to remind us,” Callies said.

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