Teachers and Coaches: Relationships Matter

Poverty-ASCD-Cover-75pYou are probably realizing that I have a serious brain-crush on the book Teaching with Poverty in Mind, by Eric Jensen. Besides sharing snippets on social media, and using ideas through numerous conversations and blog posts, I’ve shared excerpts here, here, and probably other places that I’m forgetting about.

The book is generally written to school teachers and administrators. I am neither, but I’m still gaining valuable insight and practical application.

Jensen is not focused merely on education in the simple sense of ABC’s and 123’s. He also talks about the importance of positive social interactions, and the effects of environment of negative relationships.

“Low-SES children often experience impaired relational experiences. It starts early for most; impoverished parents are often dealing with the chronic stress of poverty, struggling to just stay afloat (Keegan-Eamon & Zuehl, 2001), which results in less attention support, and affection for the developing child.

Outside the home, children in poverty are more likely to describe feeling deprived, embarrassed, picked on, or bullied. These children feel isolated and unworthy in their younger years and often become depressed or even psychologically disturbed as they come of age and face struggles in marital and other relationships.

Children who learn early on that they cannot rely on those closest to them and who are left to suffer repeated hurts of isolation, criticism, and disappointment find it more difficult to rise above their circumstances (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2001). The implications for classrooms are profound: no curriculum, instruction, or assessment, however high-quality, will succeed in a hostile social climate.”

In short, relationships matter to children who grow up in poverty. But can a teacher make a difference? Yes!

“The assumption that students from poverty won’t succeed at school because of their home lives is not supported by research. Teachers are in an opportune position to provide strong relationship support.

According to Lee and Burkham (2003), students were less likely to drop out and more likely to graduate when they felt a positive bond with teachers and others at school. The one-on-one attention and nurturing guidance that come from lower student-teacher ratios enable children to succeed academically and help improve their self-esteem.”

And in particular interest to me and other coaches is Jensen’s take on sports and coaching:

“High school athletic programs have proven especially beneficial. An in-depth survey (Newman, 2005) of coaches and their impact on male students’ academic performance found that most of the coaches were highly involved with their student athletes.

Two-thirds of the coaches said in the survey that they took time to talk with students individually and to follow up with teachers and parents about the students’ academic performance.

Likewise, more than 80 percent of the student athletes said that they believed their coach cared about their grades, and three-fourths of the students rated their coach as one of the top three most influential people in their lives (Newman, 2005). . . .

Not surprisingly, athletic programs have been found to increase rates of academic performance and to reduce behavioral problems in schools (Ratey & Hagerman, 2008; Sallis et al., 1999).”

Without a doubt, more than three-fourths of student-athletes in Allendale (most are raised in single-parent households) consider their coaches as one of the most influential people in their lives.

I’ve only been a coach for one season, so I’m not claiming that I’ve had an big impact. But when I read these statistics, I immediately thought of the coaches who have been doing this for years in this community. I thought of the coaches that I was blessed to have in high school and college. They have touched hundreds of lives.

So, for all you teachers and coaches who have poured in relational energy, who have gone beyond teaching book knowledge and field skills, keep up the good work. Long-time educator Rita Pierson reminds us that “kids don’t learn from people that they don’t love.”

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  (Galatians 6:9)

And if you haven’t yet purchased a copy of Teaching with Poverty in Mind, what are you waiting for?

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