The Three R’s: Relationships, Resilience, Reflection

Teacher and Classroom

Almost every school day I witness the same (or similar) incidents play out in our classrooms, and on our campus. Children in crisis. The issue(s) might be real, imagined, understated, or dramatized; but whether perception, or reality, there are kids who are in survival model — struggling just to manage day to day challenges. Their concerns may be the result of generational poverty, family illness, abuse, broken homes, homelessness, lack of identity, isolation, legal issues, or a plethora of other problems. I see it so frequently that I have to remind myself to be shocked. I have to remember that it isn’t normal. Yet, it often seems like our most persistent question in education is, “Why didn’t you do your homework?”

The longer I’m involved in this education gig, the more I see my mindset shift. Don’t misunderstand, I still believe content is important and I am a firm believer in the purposeful use of technology in education. I like Google Apps for Education, I’m all for promoting exploration and student creativity, and I think Twitter is a great tool for students and educators. But I also believe that the most important thing the education profession has to offer our young people is a caring adult (or three, or five, or twenty). Someone that is going to be a proverbial rock in that student’s life. This is especially true for children in crisis.

Most of us are familiar with the “three R’s” in education — reading, writing, and arithmetic (this is clearly logical since only one of those words begin with the letter “R”). In recent years, rigor is another “R” word that has crept into our academic vocabulary. I get it, but still cringe when I hear the word — perhaps because so many people confuse rigor with challenging content, but forget that high expectations must be met with a high level of support (or maybe it’s because, as a former science teacher, the first thing that comes to mind is rigor mortis). Regardless, I would encourage teachers and school staff members to consider a new set of three “R’s” when it comes to being an effective educator.


No significant learning can occur with out a significant relationship. – James Comer

Sometimes, I think we dismiss this quote, and similar statements, as feel good platitudes, but doing so is a critical error — especially when working with youth in crisis. Kids will work for an adult who takes a personal interest in them, but good luck making any progress if you don’t convince a child you care. Relationships are hard work (especially with hormonal teenagers), but the investment is worth it. In fact, it is imperative. Our kids deserve caring adults who will model respect, appropriate behaviors, and social interactions.


I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become. – Carl Jung

Kids in crisis need a supportive adult who will foster their resilient spirit. They need someone who will point out, and celebrate, the small wins in their education, and their lives. Too many kids have been academically beaten and diminished — dismissed as kids who are lazy, or don’t care. As educators, we need to stop making negative assumptions, quit writing kids off, and be persistent with empathy, encouragement, and affirmation.


Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action. – Peter Drucker

If you ever think you have “arrived” as an educator, you are fooling yourself. Every day, I make mistakes, I take things for granted, I make incorrect assumptions, or I fail staff and students. Without taking the time to reflect on our work, we become tolerant of the status quo, and the status quo does not typically serve the best interest of our students. Reflection requires asking ourselves (or our peers, or our students) the difficult questions, and then being able to hear, and respond, to the answers — even when they sting. Reflection requires a willingness to make appropriate changes to serve the best interest of our school communities.

The three “R’s” — relationships, resilience, and reflections — are not a curriculum, a program, or a gimmick. They are the heart of effective education. They are a lifeline for students in crisis.

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