Can Learner Profiles Accelerate the Teacher-Student Connection?

Bryce Johnson +3.10.16 | 09:36 PM

I noticed a clear counter-theme running through a recent conference: teacher after teacher lamented the time required to establish a productive connection with each student. Good teachers know that creating this connection is worth the time, right? So, why the frustration?

“Personalization” was the conference theme, with dozens of promising products and methods put forth. But the undercurrent among classroom teachers was that the nature of human-to-human interaction isn’t fully appreciated in many discussions of technology and technique.

Why do teachers feel pressure to personalize?

The teacher-student relationship, though professional, is thoroughly social, and we know intuitively that a particular connection must happen.  Students may not know exactly how to put this into words, but when the student’s natural motivations are nurtured by the teacher, and the teacher’s role and capabilities are appreciated and trusted by the student, the channels of learning are open.

Finding common interests is a key part of this relationship. Harvard University professor Hunter Gehlbach through a series of experiments has shown that connections can indeed be made more quickly when student and teacher become aware of each other’s common interests. And the connection has measurable results: “students earned higher grades when teachers learned about their similarities to those students.”(1)

Naturally, finding common interests is an interpersonal skill that the best teachers practice, and they intentionally devote classroom hours to it. But many also feel what I call “checkbox pressure,” those non-negotiable, regulated, or performance-evaluation requirements that teachers are expected to meet. This puts pressure on teachers to “get on with” meeting some of those requirements instead of spending time on the student relationship, critical though it may be long term.  

Can learner profiles help teachers and students make this connection faster?

These questions have guided the development of the Own it! Student Profile, which documents student’s strengths and preferences in Career Planning, Study Skills, Personality Strengths, and Ownership.

Schools are deploying the Own it! profile both as a guide to learning path and as a tool to jumpstart that human connection between student and teacher, mentor, coach, or counselor:

  • Students at Graduation Achievement Charter High School in Georgia complete their profiles before the term starts, enabling center directors to more quickly establish a relationship with each student.
  • Achievement House Cyber Charter School in Philadelphia has both students and staff create profiles in order to create a common culture of success.
  • Success coaches at American International School of Utah sit down with their students weekly to review their Own it! profile and set related goals.
  • Virtual teachers in California, Colorado, and Minnesota use the profile as a way to create relationships with distance learners who they don’t meet in person.

The Own it! program enters its third year this fall and we welcome your input…

  • What parts of the profile would be most effective in helping you create connections with your students?
  • Are there indicators you would like to see included in the future?
  • How would you use the profile in your role?
Career Interest Scores
Learning Habits and Preferences
Personal Strengths and Interests

(1) Gehlbach, Hunter. “When teachers see similarities with students, relationships and grades improve.” The Conversation US, Inc. 27 May 2015. Web. 4 March 2016.

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