Using FIELD Goals to Improve Teacher-Student Relationships

Teachers learn about a student’s FIELD—family, interests, experiences, and love and desires—to build relationships that solicit the highest level of performance from their students.

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.

Building Relationships

As principal of Gray Court-Owings (K-8) School in Laurens County, South Carolina, I encouraged my staff to work just as hard in building relationships as they do with improving academic achievement and test scores. Recently, I used a unique approach for helping his staff realize the value of students’ experiences and lifestyles.

The activity, “Learning a Student’s FIELD,” created by Tawio J. Barksdale, Ed.D., 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, and love and desires. Each educator is provided a sheet of paper that they split into fourths. Put “Family” at the top of the first quadrant, “Interests” at the top of the second quadrant, “Experiences” at the top of the third quadrant, and “Love and Desires,” which identifies goals and ambitions, 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 a minute for each section to list in each quadrant as many things as they know about the student’s family, interests, experiences, and love and desires.


The FIELD activity has three essential goals.

  1. Goal 1: To aggregate as much qualitative and empirical data as possible about these students because much of the data from the activity can be used to make day-to-day decisions for interacting with these students (personally and instructionally).
  2. Goal 2: To provoke educators to spend more intentional time with getting to know specific aspects about their students and families, as well as their experiences.
  3. Goal 3: To engage teachers and staff in authentic reflection in exploring potential strategies for how to learn more about their students and 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.

Start With the Staff

In a creative twist, I customized the FIELD activity at Gray Court-Owings to relay to my staff the importance of getting to know each other in addition to the students and 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 heard this saying and I’ve 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.

Farrell Thomas Sr. is principal of Gray Court-Owings (K-8) School in Laurens County, South Carolina.

Tawio J. Barksdale, who leads District Behavior Intervention and Recruiting in the Laurens County School District, contributed to this article.