Student Support Must Be Grounded in Relationship

Author: Andy Wilson, Superintendent, Roscoe Collegiate ISD

In November, I attended a Zoom meeting with one of our P-TECH students who had a rough first semester. The student is capable of much greater academic success than what he had demonstrated.  In turn, each school employee softly admonished the student and vigorously encouraged him to implement a few supports that could turn his second semester into great success.  He was very apologetic and accepting of our coaching.  He was also a bit embarrassed as his mother, through tears, admonished him not quite as softly as the rest of us.  This student is 18 years old and in his first semester of university course work under the support of the RCISD P-TECH program.

As I seek out and reflect on material for my dissertation, one recurring theme to college success is student support.  I recently read an article outlining support systems for high school-aged students who had been academically disconnected, but were engaging in early college programing as an effort to reconnected them (Mathern et al., 2020).  The article describes holistic supports for students who are most at-risk of academic failure.

As we implement systems that increase student access to higher education, it is important to remember that student support is a critical element to student success.  The article offers numerous supports from tutoring to coaching to social services.  However, the underlying foundation of those supports is relationship.  The article describes life coaches who meet with students weekly.  They form relationships with the students and, in time, they come to know what the students need in order to be successful.  The article describes coaches who take soup to sick students in order to address attendance issues, walk students to social services when needed, and help students find jobs – not to mention academic tutoring and coaching. One student in the article recounted that the coaches were “on your back” and “wouldn’t let me quit” (Mathern et al., 2020). He further states that for him, it was a good thing.

During the fall semester (2020), I had the privilege of sitting around the table of one of San Angelo’s finest Mexican restaurants with several Roscoe Collegiate ISD P-TECH students. As they went around the table telling us stories of their first semester on the Angelo State campus, I was amazed at their excitement to be going to school.  I was also amazed at how well Morgan Martin (Dean of Continuing Education at RCISD) knew each of their stories, successes, and struggles. Another thing that was evident was the relationship between the students and their coach, Bailey Thompson.

We should not only be mindful of student support systems as we plan for and implement college access programs, but we should be careful to hire people who understand the critical role of relationship while supporting students.  “Personalizing supports starts with authentic relationships” (Mathern et al., 2020).

Mathern, N., Toner, M., & Achieving the Dream, I. (2020). A gateway to college for high school students. Equity in design for holistic student supports. A series of four briefs examining the support needs of different community college student populations

Comments 1

  1. I agree wholly with your premise, Mr. Wilson. Bill Daggett shared with us several years ago the NEW three R’s in education. (Most of us remember the old/traditional 3 R’s: Reading , ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic.”) Dr. Daggett ‘s new three R’s are Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. I’ve always seen them listed that way. But I’ve always contended that RELATIONSHIPS will “trump” (no pun intended) the other two. Ask any student, and most will tell you that the reason they believe Mrs. Jones or Mr. Gonzales or Dr. Joubert is their favorite teacher (and from whom they learn most!) is because that teacher CARES–cares about them–and builds a relationship of respect and caring. The old adage is true: Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

    When students know you care about them, you can provide rigorous instruction and they will learn. And relevance? If they respect you enough, the only relevance they need is that you want them to do/learn it!

    Ask your clients–your students. Test Mr. Wilson’s premise. I believe you’ll find it to be true.

    Circling back, just a few months ago, I was on a Zoom call with Dr. Daggett. He was talking about the primacy of relationships–about social emotional learning. It was obvious to me that he believed that relationships was the “important” R to fuel the other two. I remarked how excited I was–and did I understand that the “order was RELATIONSHIPS and then RIGOR and RELEVANCE. He was adamant in stating that absolutely, relationships were key.

    Relationships–support for students in the totality of their lives–is important/invaluable for at-risk students. But they are equally important for ALL students. Support students, and you will establish a relationship that will sustain them and help them along their journey to academic, career, and personal success.

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