Rigor, relevance — and relationships that matter

The following is excerpted from the speech Rappahannock County Public Schools Superintendent Aldridge A. Boone delivered to the school division’s staff on Aug. 16:

In 1895, Booker T. Washington said, “In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” He went on to say that, “Our greatest danger . . . is that we may overlook the fact that the great majority of the masses of us are destined to live by the productions of our hands. Our greatest danger is that we may fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in direct proportion to the extent that we learn to dignify common labor and put our brains and skill into the common occupations of life.

“No one can prosper until he learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin and not at the top. Cast down your bucket where you are and we will help you help yourself.”

Because relationships matter, we will help you help yourself: What a powerful motto for a school division, because relationships truly matter.

I believe that positive, meaningful relationships can be the “something else” that gets many of our children over the proverbial hump. Who among us has not been moved to tears by experiencing that uniquely uplifting feeling, whether in the classroom, around the kitchen table, in Sunday school or at extracurricular activities, when we see the light come on in a child’s eyes. Conversely, we should cry for different reasons when that switch does not flip. Because relationships matter.

The goal is simple; Raise the bar and eliminate the gap for all with respect to literacy and numeracy, emotional intelligence, thinking and problem solving, teamwork and collaboration, or rigor, relevance and relationships. Both rigor and relevance must be built on relationships.

For many students, especially those at risk of school failure, the caring relationship must precede their engagement with subject matter.

It is not merely enough for a lesson to be taught . . . a lesson must also be learned. Kids will show and tell us how to do it. We just have to listen to them. Our society needs creative, knowledgeable people who’ve had an opportunity to dream and an opportunity to develop their talents and abilities. It is not enough to believe that all children can learn because not all students are learning. All children must learn. No excuses.

Building relationships is not about the flavor of the day. It is about sustainability and having the moral resolve to realize that doing the right thing is simply not enough. You must do the right thing for the right reasons. If we are going to ensure that all children learn, powerful and relevant relationships at all levels of our school community must help clarify philosophical differences and move educators and citizens, as communities of learners, toward meaningful compromise and functional agreement.

Relationships and cultural competence are very important elements in facilitating this process. As your superintendent, I intend to continue to foster a persistent, public focus on learning and establishing meaningful relationships and cultural competency between and among everyone in our school community by making it central to everything I do. To this end, I will continually and consistently communicate that providing students with optimum opportunities for learning is the shared mission of school board members, students, teachers, administrators and the community by articulating core values that support a focus on powerful, equitable learning.

We all need to be flexible, adaptable and user-friendly communicators whose focus and vision rests squarely on educating our youth to levels that allow them to be successful in a global technology-infused knowledge/information society.

But first we need to be able to communicate and establish relationships with those who don’t look like us, those who don’t act like us, those who don’t worship like us, those who don’t have as much money as we do, those who don’t dress, eat or talk as well as we do.

How in the world are we going to learn anything about anybody if we don’t sit down and talk to them? Simply put, those of us who can influence this process have an innate responsibility to do so. So, what else can we as individuals do? Start with yourself and work it one person at the time. Every day make it your goal to establish or strengthen a meaningful relationship with someone else. Think 212 degrees. The difference between hot and boiling. The extra effort. The extra degree.

Fannie Lou Hammer, a lesser- known civil rights activist once said it in a different way, “Whether you have a PHD, an EDD, an MED, a DD or no D. Whether you’re from Morehouse or no house. We’re all in this thing together.”

I say, “Only by acknowledging our commonalities can we ever begin to recognize and accept our differences.” And when we pull that off we will go a long way towards achieving true greatness as a school division and not simply as a division of schools.

Always remember to celebrate your successes and starting today, let the good times roll.

Have a great school year!

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