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Improving Teacher - Student Relationships By Learning The 'FIELD'

by Farrell Thomas Sr., Ed.S. & Tawio J. Barksdale, Ed.D.

(Mr. Farell Thomas Sr. Ed.S. and Dr. Tawio Barksdale work in Laurens School District 55, Laurens, SC. Mr. Thomas serves as principal at Gray Court-Owings (GCO) school, Gray Court, SC.  Dr. Barksdale serves in the role of pupil services and behavior intervention. Recently, Mr. Thomas utilized one of Dr. Barksdale's activities (FIELD) with his staff at GCO. Mr. Thomas also serves in a role for the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and NAESP approached him about writing an article pertaining to the activity. Mr. Thomas contacted Dr. Barksdale about co-authoring the article. Dr. Barksdale expressed, "I'm extremely grateful Mr. Thomas found value in utilizing this activity at his school and reached out to me about participating in co-writing the article!"


In school cultures and climates where there is never-ending demand to improve student academic and test performance, a critical element is often neglected or unnoticed - increasing capacity for building student relationships. Teachers can be equipped with cutting-edge instructional strategies. However, if there is an inability to improve rapport and relationships with their students, teachers will be less likely to solicit the highest level of performance from their students. Therefore, it is essential that educators explore strategies for improving student relationships with the same amount of vigor as they pursue instructional strategies for improving academic content and test scores.

As principal of Gray Court-Owings (K-8) school in Laurens County, South Carolina, Mr. Farrell Thomas Sr. encourages his staff to work just as hard in building relationships as they do with improving academic achievement and test scores. Recently, Farrell utilized a unique approach for helping his staff realize the value of students’ experiences and lifestyles. The activity, “Learning a Student’s FIELD”, created by Dr. Tawio J. Barksdale, is intended to assist faculty and staff members in determining just how much they know about the students and families they serve.  


“FIELD” is an acronym for “Family”, “Interests”, “Experiences”, “Love and Desires”. Each educator is provided a sheet of paper that they split into fourths. The broader acronym topic is put at the top of each fractional quadrant. “Family” is put at the top of the first quadrant, “Interests” put at the top of the second quadrant, “Experiences” put at the top of the third quadrant, and “Love and Desires” (goals and ambitions)  put at the top of the fourth quadrant. On the other side of the sheet, staff members are asked to write the name of a student who gives them the greatest challenge.  Once the sheet is set up, staff members are given one minute of time for each section to list as many things as they know about the student’s family, interests, experiences, and their love and desires in each quadrant.


Dr. Barksdale’s FIELD activity has three essential goals.  The first goal of the activity is to aggregate as much qualitative and empirical data as possible about these students because much of the data from the activity can be utilized to make day-to-day decisions for interacting with these students (personally and instructionally).  The second goal is to provoke educators to spend more intentional time with getting to know specific aspects about their students, families, as well as their experiences. Goal three of the activity is to engage teachers and staff in authentic reflection in exploring potential strategies for how to learn more about their students, families, and the experiences that accompany them into the educational setting. In many instances after doing the FIELD activity, staff members realize how limited their knowledge is of the students and families they serve.


Using his own creative administrative twist, Mr. Thomas customized the FIELD activity at Gray Court-Owings to relay to his staff the importance of getting to know students, their families, and their experiences. Teachers walked away from this exercise understanding the necessity of building and establishing relationships with their students, even the most challenging. I have not only heard this said but have seen it live and in living color, “students who need the most love, often show it in the most unloving ways”. Building trust and a solid rapport is essential to any healthy relationship and the classroom and the school is no different.  

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