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Secrets one through five focus on strategies used by teachers to establish high expectations and build connections with students. Multiple independent researchers agree that the development of caring connections between teacher and student and among students is critical to academic effort and success (Bempechat, 1998; Bernard, 2004; Henderson & Milstein, 1996; Patrick, Turner, Meyer, & Midgley, 2003). The significance of relationships also emerges from research on the practices of effective teachers of students living in poverty, from research about teachers who are effective with English Language Learners, and from research about students’ perceptions of teachers who make a difference in their learning (Cushman & Rogers, 2008; Delpit, 1995; Stortz & Nestor, 2008; Valenzuela, 2009; Wilson & Corbett, 2001). Relationships emerge as significant factors across cultures and from early childhood to high school settings (Garza, 2009; Judge, 2005; Monroe, 2009; Schillwer, 2008).
Research also suggests that having strong relationships means more than caring about children or building good rapport with them. It means caring enough to have high expectations for children and ensure that they meet them (LePage, Darling Hammond, & Akar, 2005; Monroe, 2009; Patrick, et al, 2003). For example, one major study of achievement in urban classrooms found that effective teachers believed all children can succeed and fully accepted the responsibility to ensure the success of each student. Less effective teachers also said they believed all children can succeed but qualified their statements in ways that absolved them from responsibility. That is, they believed children could learn IF children were motivated to try and IF their families were supportive. Like the award-winning teachers in Florida, the “no excuses” teachers found ways to motivate students who were not self-motivated or who lacked home resources to support their learning (Corbett & Wilson, 1998; Corbett, Wilson & Williams, 2002). The significance of the “no excuses” philosophy is reinforced in a review 18 studies of schools that make a difference with under-achieving children from poverty environments (Richardson, 2003).
Strong relationships with families are an additional factor that strengthens children’s commitment to school and engagement in learning. For example, Monroe (2009) found that teachers who are effective classroom managers for middle school students engaged in outreach efforts such as home visits, frequent phone calls and reading out via technology through email. Additionally, research supports the conclusion that family engagement is not defined by the poverty level of the school or the diversity of the student population. Instead, schools that work actively to reach out to parents, meet their needs, and convey their commitment to the learning of the children are effective in eliciting parent engagement (Adams, Forsyth, & Mitchell, 2009).