Opinion
Education Opinion

The Six Relationships That Characterize Great Schools

By Contributing Blogger — June 16, 2017 4 min read

This post is by Robert Kuhl, K-12 principal at the Asia Pacific International School, Hawaii, and former Director at High Tech High Media Arts.

Over the past decade I have interacted with hundreds if not thousands of visitors at High Tech High. So many have asked how they could do Project-based Learning in their schools. After a bit more conversation I would often find that they were looking for something more comprehensive than just projects. They were looking to transform the culture of their schools through comprehensive Deeper Learning.

Underlying Deeper Learning are the relationships that make learning meaningful and sticky. In my many conversations with guests it became evident that in every educational setting some relationships were strong and others needed attention. In some schools, adult-student relationships were strong; students were known well. In others, parent-school relationships were strong; parents were actively involved in their children’s education. Through these conversations I developed a framework for reflection on the Six Relationships. This tool can help a school identify strengths upon which to build and areas in need of attention.

To be clear, many of these ideas are borrowed from others, especially Rob Riordan from High Tech High and Elliot Washor from Big Picture Learning. I do not claim any of them as my own; I have simply compiled them in one place.

The Six Relationships--What They Are

Three Internal

Student and Student - In great schools, students know one another and work together. This is what this looks like:


  • Students do group work and have concrete assigned roles and norms of interaction. The “how” of the group is as important as the “what.”
  • Students engage in constructive kind, helpful, and specific critique.
  • Students grow comfortable working with anyone in the classroom.

Adult and Student - In great schools, students are known well by one or more adults. This is what this looks like:


  • Students report that their teachers care about them.
  • Adults notice when a student is “off” and have empathetic conversations.
  • Adults give concrete, specific feedback that is personalized.
  • Instead of trying to reach the student through the text (the content and ideas in the curriculum) the adults know the students well and reach the text through the relationship with the students. One way to do this is to treat student experience itself as text. Another way is to engage in respectful dialogue about what and how students are thinking.

Adult and Adult - According to Roland Barth, “the nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else.” This is what this looks like:


  • Adults engage with one another about their practice through dialogue and co-planning. This could be through the use of dilemma or project-tuning protocols in a staff meeting and/or more informal problem solving at lunch.
  • Adults celebrate one another through shout outs and by attending each other’s exhibitions of student work.
  • Adults take a solution-oriented approach when conflict arises, rather than reverting to gossip and triangulation.

Three External

School and Community - How well does the school engage the community as a resource and/or audience for student work? This is what this might look like:

School and Home - How well are the school and families integrated to support students? How well does the school understand the homes its students come from? This is what this might look like:


  • Home visits: A student’s advisor does a home visit when the student is new to the school.
  • Exhibitions: Whether at school or in the community, parents attend exhibitions of student work.
  • Student-led Conferences: Parents and teachers attend conferences that are led by the student and grounded in evidence of the student’s growth.

Work in School and Work in the Adult World - How closely does the work students do in school approximate the work done by adults? This is what this might look like:

This is not the only lens through which to look at one’s school or at project-based learning. However, I have found it is a productive place to start thinking about transforming a school and a helpful framework for efforts to continually improve. Using this framework at the beginning of the year helps a team celebrate and leverage strengths to address areas in need of growth. In the middle or at the end of the year it provides a framework to safely and continually improve culture and the quality of experiences for students, educators and families.

Back-to-School Savings
Start the school year right. Get up to 60% savings on a six-month subscription to Education Week, where you’ll find more insights on teaching, learning, and school leadership--as well as essential news and analysis.
SUBSCRIBE TODAY >

The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read