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School Connections: The Power of the Teacher-Student Relationship

March 18, 2021
By Laurie Tortell

It is a privilege to be a teacher; we are trustees of the future. We help lead students to a wider, more exciting, more meaningful world by helping them to understand themselves, their classmates, and their environment. One of the most rewarding things about being a teacher is watching students grow, not only academically but socially and emotionally as well. In addition, research shows that when students have meaningful relationships with adults at school their academics improve. Developing these relationships throughout a child’s kindergarten through eighth-grade years are crucial for students as it helps set them up for success in high school, giving them skills in self-advocacy. Beginning in kindergarten, these developmentally appropriate practices can set students up for a lifetime of strength and resilience. At Gooden we are living these practices with our students every day. 

In the Lower School, students participate in morning meetings and closing circles with their classroom teacher. For the younger students the morning meeting provides them with a sense of stability. Teachers go over the schedule for the day, do a review to warm up their brains, or take a poll like “Who is your favorite Star Wars Character?” to get them ready to learn. The morning meetings typically set the tone for the rest of the day and help to improve student's confidence. They create a sense of empathy and trust, while encouraging social and emotional learning. 

At the end of the day for our Lower School students, the closing circle is a time to wind down and reflect. Teachers will read to students and make connections to the reading, have restorative justice circles to work through feelings and come up with positive resolutions, share stories of kindness, and much more.  

In the Middle School, students choose an advisor. Their advisor is the point person - the adult they can lean on, go to for help, and confide in. This is so important in Middle School because students, at this age, are sometimes reluctant to go to a parent to discuss more of their social and emotional lives. 

Each week, students in sixth through eighth-grades meet with their advisor in a group setting. Topics range from academic and organizational help to social emotional learning. The focus for each meeting is chosen based on the students' needs. Our goal is to foster a strong relationship between advisee and advisor which bolsters and supports their academic and behavioral performance. 

I have worked at a few schools in my more than twenty years of teaching, and I can say without a doubt that Gooden stands out in this area. We use a restorative approach to discipline where students feel heard. We empower them to be able to learn from their mistakes and talk through their struggles. The touchpoints that our students have with their teachers and advisors throughout their time at Gooden gives them the skills to be successful not just in high school, but also in life. 

Laurie Tortell started teaching at Gooden in 2008 as the Middle School science and math teacher. With over twenty years teaching experience in middle and high schools, she holds a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and her teaching credential with a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) from the University of California, San Diego. Originally from Louisiana, she likes to spend time outdoors: gardening, walking, going to the beach, and swimming. A resident of Sierra Madre, she is married with two children in college. 

Mrs. Tortell feels that it is a privilege to be a teacher, that her work is being a trustee of the future. Teachers help lead students to a wider, more exciting, more meaningful world by helping them to understand themselves, their classmates, and their environment. Her  goal for students is that they will become thoughtful citizens, independent, and lifelong thinkers and leaders who will contribute positively to their communities. She has a particular interest in middle school education and knows that for that age group, as a teacher and Gooden's Middle School director, it is not enough to know the periodic table or scientific process if you don’t really care that your students are unhappy or overwhelmed by the stresses of adolescence. She feels the best teachers teach the content of their curriculum, but they also teach life skills, from organization and planning to getting along with others, to taking care of themselves and the world in which they live.