Successful learning isn't a stagnant activity. It's dynamic and fluid, a continuously evolving process. It requires movement, thought, interaction, and the ability to recognize and move on from mistakes. Successful learning depends on a student's willingness to learn and a teacher's willingness to guide the process. It requires communication and the ability to create and sustain relationships.
Gordon College sophomore Tucker Van Brunt knows first-hand what it means to have a successful educational experience -- it means developing positive relationships with his teachers. Let's meet him.
Tucker exudes excitement and joy for everything he does -- from organizing the school's mascot program to switching majors. He credits all of it to his ability to work independently and develop relationships with his teachers; skills that take a lot to learn and perfect.
Tucker explains that having that relationship with his first teachers was easy. His parents homeschooled him for 12 years, so getting to know them wasn't a problem. When he got to high school and supplemented his education with a variety of courses from the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, or VLACS, things got interesting.
He says that even though he "learned the art of studying independently at a rather young age" as a homeschool student, he didn't understand what it meant to fully engage with his teachers, at least not until VLACS.
Tucker explains that being homeschooled and studying with VLACS taught him "the importance of building relationships and not taking them for granted."
From homeschool to college
When he first started at Gordon College two years ago, "sitting in a lecture hall was foreign," as was being able to talk to a professor after a lecture. VLACS, he says, prepared him to engage with his professors. Now, he says, he regularly has coffee with his professors, and sometimes even lunch with the college president.
He says, "Homeschool and [VLACS] prepared me. I did not take those relationships for granted."
Not taking those relationships for granted has led to some interesting on-campus work, too. Tucker currently helps out in the Gordon College alumni office and has the unique distinction of being Gordon College's Mascot Coordinator. He hires, trains, and manages his fellow students to act as the Gordon College mascot -- a fighting Scot -- at frequent campus events.
What does it take to do that work? A willingness and desire to reach across social and academic boundaries to create a stronger, more coherent school culture. Why is that important? Not only does Tucker have to have high levels of academic achievement for these activities, but he also needs high levels of social and emotional intelligence, too. Tucker has that. Building strong relationships helped get him there.
That 2011 University of Virginia study from the American Psychological Association that we highlighted in our post on welcome calls is just as relevant here. The takeaway? “Solely improving students’ relationships with their teachers will not produce gains in achievement. However, those students who have close, positive and supportive relationships with their teachers will attain higher levels of achievement than those students with more conflict in their relationships.”
Tucker knows all about gaining those higher levels of achievement by developing and nurturing positive relationships with his VLACS teachers. Let's meet a few.
Relationship-building with teachers
Sharon Moores: French
Tucker credits VLACS with preparing him for some of his success. He specifically credits his VLACS French teacher, Sharon Moores.
Tucker says that "VLACS helped prepare me in the sense of receiving the syllabus, assignments, and expectations" but that it was Mme. Moores who "really took the time to go over the material with me." He explains that this relationship building led not just to succeed in the class, but an outlook and openness that allowed him to pursue future success in college.
He says, "I’m a very, very detailed person so for me being able to go through all the details and having her recognize that I didn’t want to breeze through the course was something absolutely beautiful. I got to know her as a friend more than a professor."
Relationships go both ways though, right? Indeed they do. Mme. Moores explains that part of Tucker's success was not just her reaching out to him. Tucker reached out to her, too.
She says, "Tucker is a well-organized student, incredibly hard-working, and a proactive communicator, always keeping me in the loop on his activities both educationally and personally. I think that is what was most special about working with Tucker and his family -- they were a team and I got to be part of that team while he was my student. What an honor!"
Tucker and Mme. Moores created a successful learning relationship that allowed both of them to have positive learning experiences.
Christie Dunlavey: Science
Christie Dunlavey, currently the VLACS HR Program Manager and Adult Education Coordinator andTucker's science instructor in 2016 says, "I always admired the ownership he took over his Discussion Based Assessments [verbal exams]. He really ran the show and frequently asked me questions that enriched our conversation. With Tucker, our relationship was a 2-way street. He wanted to know about my family and my likes as well. He would share about his life as a Mascot or preparing to transition to college and I would tell him about our latest puzzle or trouble [my son] was getting into. I miss working with him!"
Tucker misses working with them, too.
VLACS and beyond
Of VLACS, Tucker says, "I loved the school, the format, Zoom, instant chat, the instant communication sitting in my living room."
HIs favorite thing about VLACS? "I loved the interpersonal relationships that I built."
Tucker's successes as a VLACS student allowed him to have the confidence, drive, and grit to pursue the future he dreams of. When he graduates college in a couple of years, he wants to apply all that he's learned about relationships and communication in the corporate world -- he wants to work for corporate Disney. He's confident that he can get there. We are, too.
Learn more about VLACS.