The 3 R’s Re-defined…

The 3 R's

The 3 R’s are educational classics: Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmatic. They’ve been the foundation of education for as long as I can remember and there’s no arguing the value of each of them.  When our students graduate from high school I sincerely hope they can read, write and are mathematically proficient. But isn’t there more to education than that?  I think there is.  I want my students to graduate with a more profound knowledge than the basics and this is why I am proposing that we re-define the 3 R’s:  Relationships, Risk-taking and Reflection



Learning how to build and maintain relationships is one of the fundamental cornerstones of life.  Back some 40+ years ago when I first entered school this was one of the primary goals of kindergarten. Learn how to make friends, learn how to share and be nice, learn how to get along with others, even if they aren’t your friends, learn how to work with others; basically learn the skills essential to building and fostering relationships.

In the current educational times that we now live it is often hard for teachers, even at the primary level, to spend the time needed to help students learn the give and take of successful relationship building.  The priorities in education have seemed to shift further and further away from “people” skills.  To me this is quite ironic since, in the US at least, we are hearing from employers that students lack the “soft skills” needed to become successful employees.  There is much talk about teaching students 21st Century Skills which, in theory, include “soft skills” such as communication and collaboration.  We recognize that these skills are essential yet we no longer provide dedicated time to help students learn these skills.

What I propose:

At the Primary Level:  Let’s start by taking back kindergarten and the early grades.  Allow 5 year olds to be 5 year olds.  Allow teachers the freedom to focus on the basic fundamental skills that these children will need in order to be successful not only in school but in life as well.  Allow teachers to help their students learn the importance of relationships.

At the Secondary Level:  Let’s continue to place emphasis on building and maintaining relationships.  The first weeks of each school year should be spent modeling and practicing the “soft skills” that students will need to be successful in life.  Let’s create and foster relationships with our students that are built on trust.

Once those relationships are established we can then move on to the next of the 3 R’s:  Risk-Taking.


In my almost 20 years of teaching I have found that risk-taking does not come naturally for most students.  They may enter school curious and willing to take risks but we usually squash that natural curiosity out of them by the early primary years.  For most of their school careers the focus has been on getting the right answer, not making mistakes, earning passing grades-basically conforming to the traditional rigid definition of school.  When students take risks they are bound to fail and they may fail a lot.  In most classes failure is not an acceptable outcome for students.  But we know that stretching our brains and trying new things is one of the most authentic ways to learn.  So how do we encourage students take more risks with their learning?  How do we teach them that failing isn’t really failing, it’s actually a learning opportunity?

What I propose:

Be a Risk-Taker Yourself:  No matter what the grade level, you must create and foster trusting relationships with your students.  Your classroom culture must be “safe” and students must feel valued. Once this has been established then you can move on to modeling risk-taking.  As a teacher you must be willing to try new things and let your students see you fail.  Modeling a growth-mindset response to failure is a critical component when encouraging your students to take risks with their learning.

Don’t grade everything:  One of my biggest take-a-ways from this school year has been to not grade all of my students work.  I found that the less I formally graded work the more willing my students were to take risks and try new things with their learning.  This was especially true for my students with academic and learning disabilities.  When the work flow process was based on feedback & revision versus right & wrong students were no longer comparing themselves to each other, they were focused on improving their own product. They were willing to take risks.

From risk-taking we flow naturally in to the last of the 3 R’s:  Reflection


According to Oxford Dictionaries, reflection can be defined as giving something “serious thought or consideration.”  I am a naturally reflective person by  nature and so assumed that most people were.  What I’ve discovered is that most students have a tough time reflecting.  They have been so indoctrinated by schools to spit out the correct answers that they have great difficulty thinking on their own.  It seems our schools have forgotten the value of promoting deep thinking as a means of learning and we must change this!

Being true to my word about modeling risk-taking I had my students complete a digital portfolio as part of their final assessment. This topic could be another whole post in itself (talk about a learning experience!) but for the purpose of this post I bring it up because one of the components of the portfolio was for students to reflect upon their learning.  I thought this would be the easiest part of the portfolio for them.  Boy was I wrong! They struggled immensely with the reflections. These were some of the comments I heard:  “What should I write?”  “I don’t know what I think, can’t you just tell me?” “This is really hard!”

So how can we promote reflection in our classrooms?

What I propose:

Start in the primary grades:  Most young children are curious and about this wonderful world they live in and have little trouble asking questions, thinking and reflecting.  We need to foster this deeper thinking and reflection in our young students on a daily basis.  We need to give it value and make it a priority

Continue in the upper grades:  Teachers need to make reflection an integral part of their classroom culture.  We need to encourage our older students to think deeply and ponder, we need to provide them a safe place to share their thoughts and feelings, even if they are different than our own.  We need to promote reflection as part of daily life.  We can do this in many ways including classroom discussions,  teacher conferences with students to reflect on student work, blogging, group debates on controversial subjects within our field and so on.  Ultimately we need to provide our students a platform to be heard whether privately within or classrooms or more publicly in a blog or on social media.  We need to encourage them to think and listen critically as they assess their own and others work. It is only when this reflection occurs that true learning will occur.

So in closing I ask you to ponder the 3 R’s: Relationships, Risk-taking & Reflection.  I truly believe they are the foundational skills students need to be successful not only in school but in life as well. As you begin to wrap up this school year and plan for next I challenge you to find new and innovative ways to incorporate the 3 R’s in to your daily classroom life.  I look forward to hearing your ideas!

The Optimistic Educator…




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