As always, I have been reading a lot about what to do to make schools better. Some of what I read lately is just downright ludicrous! Pay students for grades, put more kids into excellent teacher’s classrooms, hire business leaders to run districts, make yearly tests even more high stakes, and so on. Where in the world (make that wordle) in this discussion are the students? Outside of doing something to them, like paying them or testing them, they are left out. Education reformers have moved the conversation away from talking about making meaningful, nurturing relationships with students. So many of our kids today do not care about what we say or what we want them to do until they know we care about them. In other words, rigor and relevance mean little without true nurturing, caring student-teacher relationships. The most successful teachers I have ever had the privilege to work with or be taught by were ones who took the time, and risk, to get to know their students and build a professional relationship with them. Good teaching is not just about high test scores, engaging kids with project based learning, using social media and technology to make learning relevant…etc. None of that means anything to the student who is looking for acceptance in their bewildering search of a self concept they are comfortable with. More students come to school today without a strong sense of self confidence and/or a feeling of belongingness. Poverty, family disruption, and other outside factors are derailing many students before they ever hit the school threshold. I have been in public education now for 20 plus years and have seen some amazing educators and how they build relationships. These teachers and administrators do little things every day to try to make kids feel good about themselves such as: greeting kids at the door, saying hello to students by name, going to see them participate in extra-curricular activities, or finding something special to do for kids that need a little boost. Above all, giving the gift of time to a student who needs it. We have to hold them accountable, we need to make their learning environments rigorous, but without a strong sense of belongingness to a caring learning community, many of our students simply will choose not to buy in.