“The strength of our student relationships makes the difference in translating our passion for teaching into their passion for learning.” –Beth Morrow
As schools and districts are attempting to transform classrooms, teaching practices and opportunities for collaboration, there is a historical danger in the way that this process is being undertaken all across North America. Millions of dollars are being spent on buying technology, on new furniture for classrooms and on professional learning networks that focus on math, literacy and standardized testing results. New leaders promise society that this time around, the policies they will develop and implement, will help better prepare students for today’s world.
In all these undertakings, there is one fundamental issue that is never addressed by leaders: relationships. Research tells us that the emotional relationship that is created between students and teachers has a great impact on the learning in the classroom. For anyone who studied Maslow, this comes as no surprise. Yet if we reflect on how we support teachers, schools and districts on the capacity to build and maintain such relationships, we quickly realize that it is simply not a priority. It apparently does not matter what research tells us, if politically it doesn’t fit, no attention will be given.
Relationships are the cornerstone of our communities. From the dawn of time, man has searched to build relationships to survive, to create, to live. Yet our schools are the anti-thesis to such dialogue. If we study current PLNs, district priorities or mandatory lesson plans (implemented in various states and districts), we quickly see that our system does not want to foster healthy and important relationships between learners. (Yes, teachers are learners too.) When was the last time you saw a school or district mission or vision promote healthy relationships as a key foundation to learning? When have you seen scheduling or time allotted for teachers to get to create relationships and build on them to allow for authentic and deeper learning? The answer is unfortunately both easy and scary: we just don’t see it.
I have been fortunate enough to have built key relationships in my career. I pride myself on the importance I give to building relationships with my high school students. I could still name my students, stop and talk to them at the grocery store, congratulate them on their wedding or birth of their third child. I take the time to ask how college is going, their job hunt or even their troubled relationship. They do not stop being important because they left my school with a diploma.
I have also build amazing relationships with incredible educators on social media. From the #kidsdeserveit co-author and Principal in Texas, to a school leader in New Mexico, to a novice teacher in Missouri, an elementary school pioneer in Ottawa and even a teacher in a small community in Australia. Relationships take time to build, time to maintain and time to grow. However, the relationships that I have been blessed enough to create have been life-changing. From book studies, to tweets to multiple daily texts. I am growing exponentially as an educator because of them.
I have never been a person who believed in himself. I never thought that I was capable of making a huge difference in education. Many of my friends feel the same way; like if what we do is not valued and has little impact. If we feel like this, imagine how our kids feel! I try to keep reminding m y PLN of how amazing they are. Of how much we really have in common and how much we heir leadership is making a difference. You see, I know a leader who is definitely a game changer yet sees no power in what he does. Yet I would write a book about his many accomplishments as teacher and leader.
Teachers need time to build relationships with their students if they really want to have an impact on students. Principals need to foster relationships with teachers to have a meaningful impact on their practice and overall assessment. Admin and senior leaders need to forge collaborative relationships with principals and teachers. School personnel need to forge relationships with the community and with parents. Government employees and policy makers need to build relationships with districts and system leaders. It is these relationships that will spark the true transformation in our schools and within our learners.
As a challenge this coming week, i invite educators to reach out and build their relationships with others. Because our #kidsdeserveit and we, as educators, deserve it just as much as them.