In this paper I will discuss the statement "Sustained, meaningful human interaction is the key to the enhancement of learning experiences in the context of the secondary school." The word 'sustained' implies that there is a carefully crafted system of operation that makes practices a part of the culture of an institution and not a transient or short-lived occurrence. 'Meaningful human interaction' refers to sharing and exchanging information, ideas, knowledge and values among individuals in a manner that is productive, value adding, desirable, and supporting the overarching objectives of the school. These interactions are between school administrators and teachers, school administrators and students, among school staff, teachers and students, and among students. These interactions are a major influence in creating an environment that improves the efficacy of students' learning experiences (encounters where knowledge and skill are acquired through teaching, study, practice and interaction).
The students who are at secondary school are generally between the ages of eleven and eighteen. During time at secondary school adolescents transition to adulthood. According to Crowl, Kaminsky and Podell (1997), through cognitive growth, teenagers develop a sense of their own identity, which they struggle with in the context of their family and friends. Others issues they face include developing sexuality with the onset of puberty and changes in relating to parental figures (Briggs, 2003). This is the context in which students and teachers interact in the educational environment.
Some of the types of human interactions include how teachers engage students in the classroom, how teachers work together in delivering curriculum in the school, how administrators support and partner with teachers and students in the education process and how the school community relates to the wider society, through businesses, individuals, universities and governments to ensure that a relevant education is achieved.
Enhanced learning experiences produce individuals who exhibit excitement about learning (the process and the outcome) (Fink, 2003). They demonstrate genuine and sustained interest and desire for more knowledge. Learning becomes the ownership of the learner who is now self-motivated to continue to have these experiences. Behavior changes take place with the hope of permanent effect and benefit to the learner. The process of learning becomes fun and place of learning becomes desirable and safe. These experiences are worthy to be sustained and to make happen for every learner (teacher, administrator and students).
One of the primary human interactions that take place at schools that have a direct impact on student learning is that between the teacher and the student. Studies have shown that college students define "a really good teacher" as someone who is caring, friendly, able to motivate student, able to maintain discipline, patient, able to relate to children (adolescents). (Murphy, Delli, & Edwards, 2004) These attributes and characteristics are demonstrated as teachers and students interact, primarily in a classroom environment.
While there are many factors that can enhance the learning experience for students, this discussion will focus on teacher student interactions. This does not preclude the impact of the other factors, which include curriculum content, external defining expectations by education policy makers, politicians, parents and the wider society. There are also more immediate factors like available resources and proper infrastructure in the school environment that do affect students' learning experiences.
The value of education in the twenty first century is being influenced by globalization in that the individual entering the job market is no longer competing in a local sphere, with peers one sat in class with. Competition is fierce and companies are looking for the best in the world, and have access to global workforce. Education therefore is premium and has to be accounted for as equipping individuals with the best skills necessary to contribute and boost productivity and profitability.
Policy makers in government and public institutions, businesses in the community, and families (the basic social unit) are all defining and demanding higher performance standards, better grades, equal access to improving the quality of one's life in order to be more successful. Success is defined as being able to attain Maslow's definition for the purpose in education, which is to attain self actualization, having influence in one's sphere in life, and being able to contribute in a meaningful way to the society (Maslow, 1943).
Education reform in the twenty first century places a demand on schools to improve student performance. (Printy, 2010) The impact of this demand is evident throughout the school system. There are significant implications on school administration, curriculum development and execution, school culture and the general attitude teachers and students in the classroom. Leaders in schools are being asked to address issues of staff collaboration, curriculum changes, instructional changes in the classroom, teacher training, school culture, teacher-student interactions and student learning experiences.
School leaders, teachers and students are collectively responsible for building upholding the declared school culture that inculcates values and principles that would ensure that the organization accomplishes their objectives. The end product of education is a student for life; an individual who continues to seek learning experiences that would make them a better people through the course of their lives, to be lifelong learners. (Hodgson, 2010)
When children enter secondary school in the Caribbean, they simultaneously enter adolescence. They are developmentally being transformed through what could be a very tumultuous process of becoming an adult. There are many challenges they learn to navigate through life (with varying degrees of success) with or without the help of adults particularly their parents and teachers. Some of these challenges include the struggle against feelings of alienation (Mendler, 2001), issues of connectivity with adults in school, dealing with the challenge of being in a more complex social environment compared to primary school, where there was closer more frequent interactions with one teacher, as opposed to more teachers for a shorter period of time per day (Mendler, 2001).
There is the issue of a sense of belonging, which studies have shown is intimately linked to beneficial learning experiences. Lastly, there is the challenge of being misinterpreted by adults for their cultural definitions that could be misconstrued to be psychological damage. This often times lead to further alienation and distance (lack of connectivity) from adults (Mendler, 2001).
Adults have many roles in the lives of teenagers. Adults model behaviors that these young adults would soon adopt as their own. Adults help teenagers navigate through their identity issues, sense of self-worth, productivity and learning capacities. Adults help young people overcome the mystery of adulthood and the overwhelming sense of responsibility that attends adulthood. Decision-making about relevant issues is life skill that must be acquired through adolescent years. A sense of ownership of one's learning experiences is very important as well.
The environment in which mainly teachers interact with teenagers in order to maximize their learning experiences such that they continue to engage beyond the secondary school context therefore, must carefully and consciously craft learning takes place. Aspects of the learning environment are the qualities of the teacher, classroom management, and relationship issues like trust and connectivity. There is also the issue of the curriculum content, the new skills they must acquire, the new knowledge and the application of it.
In light of the pressures that education reform policies which puts the majority of the responsibility for student performance on the teacher, there are issues that must be addressed in order to achieve or facilitate enhanced learning experiences for students in addition to meeting education reform demands. Older teachers respond to this demand by anxiously awaiting retirement, while younger teachers tend to be non-committal to the profession (Murphy, Delli, & Edwards, 2004). Some teachers find it hard to balance the need to connect with their students and the time it takes to do that with meeting the demand by effectively covering the course content they teach.
In order for secondary school teachers to facilitate beneficial learning experiences for their students there are a couple of strategies and considerations that specifically address the teacher-student interactions. Teachers must have an understanding of the different learning styles of the students in their classrooms. This informs that ways the teacher engages the students, the kind of material used and covered, the strategies they employ.
Teachers must be able to meet the students where they are. Teenagers will respond to teachers who demonstrate that they care about them beyond their ability to get good grades in their subject area. As a result, teachers must be able to put aside their personal prejudices that could hinder building genuine relationships and connectivity with the teenagers. Adolescents place a different kind of demand on their secondary school teachers to relate to them in a social context to meet their specific needs. The need to connect and trust adults plays a significant part in developing a sense of self-worth, a sense of belonging and confidence that they can accomplish their journey toward adulthood through their learning experiences.
Classroom management and the concept of power in the classroom impact the nature of the interactions between teachers and students and the learning outcomes the students achieve. Teachers and students enter the classroom with their personal agendas for that session. The question arises and can often times cause conflict as to who has the power in the classroom. Whose agenda would be accomplished in the class?
There are two schools of thought on the issue of power in the classroom. The first places all the power in the hands of the teacher, which goes hand in hand with the demands placed on teachers to improve student performance in today's classroom. There is also the concept of shared power, reciprocal teaching strategies that involves the teacher strategizing how the class flows by giving students more choices in the way they engage in their individual learning processes (Manke, 1997). Power sharing is located in a constructivist and interactivist theories and approaches, where students and teachers partner in building learning experiences that the empowering of the students in their own process of learning as well as the outcomes that the teacher set out to accomplish. There is a lot less psychological responsibility for the teacher to have to bear. The natural conflict that can arise in the classroom no longer creates a negative student-teacher relationships and which could take away time from the learning outcomes as well as the right tone in the relationship.
Classroom interactions can be dictated by the teacher's beliefs that students need to be provided with opportunities to express themselves in order for learning to take place. The types of expression, whether it is verbal, written, the type of written expression, a poem, essay, report, the timeframe given for expression and genuine interest from the teacher to 'hear' what the students have to say can have significant impact on student learning.
Teachers feel that the burden on them to increase student performance is onerous and misplaced because they do not have full control over the influences on students' learning. If a student has a family history of abuse, neglect and violence, there are limits to which the teacher or the school can have in intervening or counteracting those factors. As a result, it is important to note that the extent to which teacher-student interactions may benefit the students' learning experiences might simply be to provide some level of stability, sanity and hope that their future could be different.
Some teachers have discovered that in order to meet their curriculum objectives, they must first get to know the students. They must first gain the trust of the students. They must be able to get the students to get past their stresses and frustrations from home before they can focus on the subject content for the day. The benefit of the sensitivity by the teachers in taking this approach may not please administrators who also under pressure from policy makers in government, but an overarching benefit to the wider society that individuals who learn how to manage their emotional lives, making them viable citizens is achieved.
Teachers in the twenty first century therefore must be current with the trends and cultural changes that are taking place among the youth of the nation. They must have clear value systems and beliefs about what they bring to a classroom. They must be prepared to invest wholeheartedly in the management of their teacher-student interactions.
When students are asked to list the characteristics of a good teacher, they tend to describe the qualities that feed into what makes for positive human interactions. Trustworthiness, patience, respect, understanding, thoughtful, caring are a few of the characteristics that describes a good teacher (Murphy, Delli, & Edwards, 2004).
Teachers give students opportunities to make their own decisions about their learning (Murphy, Delli, & Edwards, 2004), because it helps them take ownership of their learning process and the successful learning outcomes that result. This ability to make decisions, as a young person is preparation for adulthood, where responsibilities are serious issues they must successfully handle. The trust that a teacher gives to students inspires confidence in the students as they take charge and aim therefore to enjoy their learning experiences and to develop a desire to continue having those experiences in other areas of life.
One of the benefits of being able to connect to adults for teenagers is that they are better able to understand what awaits them, as they themselves become adults. They are able to see firsthand what it means to be an adult. If young people see adulthood as a desirable state of being, if they are able to see the value and appreciate soberly the ongoing demands and process of life they would enter it and become what they see. Adulthood is a process and an end in itself. Adolescents in secondary school must therefore go through the final stages of their development toward becoming adults with conscious interactions with adults (teachers), as their apprentice adulthood duties through their learning experiences.
Life can be described as a series of learning experiences that make human beings existence worthwhile. The capacity to extract value from these experiences, and to become better human beings is an ongoing process. It is also not replete unless one becomes a meaningful part of another person's learning experiences.
There are schools that have a long-standing culture of teachers who are unapproachable to their students. This comes out of an approach that teachers are superior to their students because of their knowledge of life or subject area. It has been a sustained practice, with systemic evidence of teachers not even knowing the names of their students, passing them straight along the corridors of the school and completely ignoring them if encountered outside the confines of the school compound.
This is in direct contradiction with the theme of this discussion however prevalent it is in practice today. For there to be sustained meaningful human interactions among teachers and students in the secondary school context, there needs to be careful planning, structural and systemic policies and a vision in administration and teaching staff that this will produce enhanced learning experiences among students as well as other stakeholders. Evidence of sustainability towards this objective involves partnership with members of the corporate world and the wider community. Partnership between administrators and teachers, collaboration among teachers, administrators and students as well as the school and families of the students is also necessary (Jones & Maloy, 1988).
Sustainability is seen in the human resource management of the school, the orientation of new staff members, modeling of meaningful interactions among staff members before the students. The value of relationships and of people that make up the institution has to also extend to ancillary staff in the school community as well. The students would also be expected to be respectful and appreciative also not just of their teachers, but the cafeteria staff, cleaners and security officers.
The value of human relationships is something that is taught in principles and demonstration (Singer, Murray, Hines, & The Hofstra New Teachers Network, 2003). Building human lives, developing human potential, bringing people into a sense of purpose and destiny, teaching them how to put these building principles into practice in their own lives, is priceless. Staff and students consciously engage in a process of development and change toward the student holistic development as lifelong learners. Rehearsing these values as part of the school community culture ensures sustainability of a system that will continuously deliver sound citizens to our nation fit to face the challenges of the twenty first century world we live in.