Consider Rigor, But Focus on Relevancy and Relationships

My district just hosted a professional development morning for all K-5 staff. It was very well received. One of the sessions provided a nice overview of the Common Core State Standards along with the work that our teachers have already done with regard to mapping these benchmarks of knowledge.

The expectations are high. The next question is, how do we get there? My district addressed this by purchasing 200 copies of Pathways to the Common Core for teachers. Even though I have only read the first half on reading, I am impressed with the ideas the authors provide on connecting our instruction to the CCSS. It is a very practical and down-to-earth guide for classroom teachers.

However, if we only focus on high academic expectations, or as Bill Daggett refers to as “rigor”, we disregard two equally important components of teaching he also encourages: relevance and relationships.  My current understanding of the latter two is how we connect what we teach to our students’ lives and how we connect with our students as people. I have perused the Common Core many times. From what I can tell, relevance and relationships are either rarely addressed or nonexistent in these new standards.

I am not the only one concerned about the lack of a comprehensive plan. The Marzano Center recent published a series of posts asking similar questions. In the first post, a recent study was cited that found that, over the last twenty years, increasing the rigor of standards has little if any evidence of increasing student achievement. What the posts go on to say is educators are encouraged to understand their students’ needs (relationships) using formative assessments in order to provide more tailored instruction (relevancy).

So where does one start? In my humble opinion, it all starts with relationships. I think back to my days in high school. Even though most of my teachers had high standards, the ones I worked hardest for were the ones who got to know me as a person and went out of their way to make class engaging and meaningful. They said things like, “Your class average is one of the highest. That is where you should be.” Or they just took the time to share their thinking process while reading Lord of the Flies or Flowers for Algernon. Putting themselves out there like that let the students know that trust was implied due to the relationships they built with us and their awareness of our needs as learners.

As the Common Core becomes common place, a lot of the work on making the standards understandable will be done by us and for us (or to us, depending on your current outlook). We will have rigor coming out of ears. But it is going to be the relevancy of our instruction and the relationships we build with students that will make the difference.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

2 thoughts on “Consider Rigor, But Focus on Relevancy and Relationships”

  1. Excellent points here! Funny thing…we were looking at data from our high stakes testing and I noticed that our teachers who are great at building relationships with students had some of the highest test scores. I think it shows the importance of relationship building with our students. 🙂


  2. I agree wholeheartedly with the importance of building relationships with our students. The more we try to understand and connect to their learning styles, the more successful the students will be.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s