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Monday, January 19, 2009

School an Unhappy Place

Students Unhappy at School. Not exactly a breaking headline, but California takes it seriously with their Healthy Kids Survey.

The California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) is an anonymous, confidential student and school staff report of attitudes, health risk behaviors, and protective factors...Used by California schools since 1997, the CHKS consists of age-appropriate survey instruments for students in grades five, seven, nine, and eleven and is designed in a flexible, modular format that can be customized to meet local district needs.

The survey consistently finds that students feel alienated at school at all age levels. Some of the factors included in the survey, especially harassment, depression and connectedness, can perhaps be considered proxies for relational trust. Relational trust is emerging as a useful umbrella concept for predicting academic achievement. Relational trust subsumes other popular variables such as teacher quality, parental involvement and socio-economic status.

Relational trust is not just some warm and fuzzy psychobabble. Relational trust does not mean that everybody likes each other. Relational trust means students, parents and administrators respect and esteem the knowledge and ability of teachers. Relational trust means that teachers believe that parents and administrators support them, especially in discipline matters. For example, Japanese teachers have no reputation for being warm and fuzzy, but relational trust so characterizes the relationships between teachers, students, parents and society as to be a presumptive, defining feature of Japanese education.

Statewide in California, whether urban, suburban or rural schools, middle school students report 42-54% moderate or low levels of school caring and connectedness. High school is worse, with 59-71% of students reporting lack of connectedness and caring.

Interestingly, middle school and high school students often put forth a facade of indifference. Being “cool” often masks a desperate desire to experience relational trust. Middle school students form especially strong bonds with their teachers, and their loyalty can be magnificent. Yet school authorities may mistakenly believe that students do not care. Students are diligently searching for adults to trust. Frequently, student misbehavior is a test of the adults. If the adult caves in the face of a student's nonsense, how can that adult be trusted in times of real trouble? Once students become convinced of the reliability and steadfastness of a teacher, they will work incredibly hard for that teacher.

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