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Relationships and Culture

Key Traits
  • Students collaborate with one another throughout the learning process.
  • There are positive relationships (mutually respectful and productive) between teacher(s) and the students.
  • Students are engaged and interested in what they are learning in this classroom.
  • Students engaged in the tasks they do.
Literature Supporting the Element
1. “Students who are surrounded by disbelieving peers and discouraging adults, or who suffer from institutional
labels that predict underperformance (such as “remedial,” “SpEd,” or anything other than “gifted and talented,” or
“advanced placement”), may find it difficult to generate the motivation to attempt challenging tasks. Therefore it’s
important that we manage those social expectations, too, through strong and responsive classroom management
techniques and reflections on our own beliefs about what’s possible for our students and ourselves. We might even
need to reconsider and reform the way we test, sort and rank students by ‘ability.’ After all, no learning environment
will be successful if students don’t believe they will succeed.”
—Toshalis, E. (2015). Make Me!: Understanding and Engaging Student Resistance in School (p. 106). Cambridge,
MA: Harvard Education Press.
2. “You know, great classrooms are places where kids are not just listening to the teacher, but they are also learning
from each other, learning with each other, and problem solving together. For that to happen, teachers actually
have to teach kids how to work together, and teach them that working together does not mean copying someone
else’s work, but it really means each person is taking responsibility for their contribution. If you are able to create an
environment where kids are working together, it is easier for teachers to address the individual needs of children.”
—Rea, D.W. (2015). Interview with Pedro Noguera: How to Help Students and Schools in Poverty. National Youth-AtRisk
Journal 1(1), 11-21.
3. “When considering an environment where students are constructing their own understanding, educators may
conclude that a teacher has nothing to do. On the contrary, a teacher’s role in a constructivist class is no less critical
than the teacher’s role in a traditional class. It is different. Teaching no longer focuses solely on making presentations
(although those are still sometimes appropriate) or assigning questions and exercises. Instead, teaching focuses
on designing activities and assignments—many of them framed as problem-solving—that engage students in
constructing important knowledge.”
—Danielson, C. (2017). Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching (2nd ed.) (p.17). Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
4. “To find the core of a school, don’t look at its rulebook or even its mission statement. Look at the way the people in
it spend their time—how they relate to each other, how they tangle with ideas. Look for the contradictions between
words and practice, with the fewer the better.”
—Sizer, T.R., & Sizer, N.F. (1999). The Students are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract (p. 18). Boston, MA:
Beacon Press.
5. “Transformationist pedagogy means teaching and leading in such a way that more of our students, across more of
their differences, achieve at a higher level, more of the time, without giving up who they are. In the transformationist
classroom the price of success is not assimilation (‘acting White”), but rather a process of deep engagement with
authentic identify and one’s own intellectual efficacy. The reward in such classrooms is that everyone gets smarter
together, including the teacher, while at the same time maintaining, strengthening, and honoring our differences.”
—Howard, G. R. (2006). We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools (2nd ed.) (p.
133). New York, NY: Teachers College Press. 
6. “Learning occurs in every social, intellectual, and procedural transaction between the teacher and students and
among the students. Therefore, it is important to foster positive, caring relationships with other students and the
teacher in the classroom. Because relationships matter, who you are and what you know and can do matters. While a
teacher may have the ideas that being colorblind and ignoring differences shows equal acceptance of all, even young
students are very aware of their differences. Instead, in identity safe environments, student differences are recognized
and validated. Consideration is given to every aspect of the classroom, to all the subtle and overt messages that
recognize that diverse ideas, perspectives, and materials can actually enhance learning.”
—Steele, D. M., & Cohn-Vargas, B. (2013). Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn (p. 8). Thousand
Oaks, CA: Corwin.