I’ve been reflecting lately on relationships and how they are fundamental to everything in education. Students with students, students with teachers, teachers with teachers, teachers with parents, teachers with administrators — every relationship in a school contributes to the overall health of a school. I recall Ken Robinson saying in one of his TED talks, “Education is a human system.” To believe it is anything but that is, at best, problematic.
Kindergarten is typically a time of great social growth in children. With teacher support, they challenge each other’s assumptions and beliefs, learn how to negotiate situations fairly, and come to understand that compassion, collaboration, and communication form the foundation of the relationships they will have in school. They leave kindergarten with friends, allies, and groups to which they belong: their friends, their class, their school.
Students also form relationships with teachers and other adults in the school. They ask themselves: Can I trust this person? Will this person protect me? Does this person have my best interests at heart? Some students enter school with a certain degree of trust in adults already and others need us to continuously build and reinforce a level of trust. Without this sense of security, they will undoubtedly struggle to complete tasks that require a lot of mental effort. Sadly, if dysregulation and unsupportive relationships are at the core of a child’s school experience, learning becomes nearly impossible. Schools are pretty demanding places for students. Regular, positive, connections between students and teachers are the glue that holds the relationship together even when it has a constant barrage of demands being placed on it.
Relationships between teachers haven’t always made it onto my daily to-do list, if I am being completely honest. Often, the work of maintaining relationships with students, along with the work of helping students maintain relationships with each other, leaves little mental effort for chatting with colleagues. Sadly, disengagement often leads to mistrust, and it requires far more effort to repair a damaged relationship than to maintain a positive one. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way and relationships with colleagues will be on my to-do list for next year every day. A wise friend once told me, “People will be more likely to listen to you if they trust you.” Positive personal relationships with colleagues provide a fertile environment for professional collaboration.
The relationship between teachers and parents is typically undervalued in schools. Teachers can hold unconscious biases that can advantage some students and disadvantage others and parents are often all too aware that these biases exist. Actively supporting the unique qualities of each family is important. Research continues to identify the positive correlation between parent involvement in their child’s education and a child’s success in school. Teachers are the bridge between home and school. Parents and teachers alike bring their past experiences to the parent-teacher relationship and some relationships will require more attention than others. Equity for parents, as for children, means that some parent-teacher relationships may look different than others.
Lastly, teacher’s relationships with administrators. Good ones can be liberating and lead to motivation, professional growth, and greater self-efficacy in teachers. Bad ones can be debilitating and lead to burnout, apathy, and a school culture of mistrust. Teacher well-being is so closely connected to student well-being that these relationships need to be nurtured and cared for. Teachers, like students, grow in fertile environments where they feel safe, where they feel a sense of belonging and where positivity, engagement, and meaningful experiences are the threads that make up the fabric of the school’s culture.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Social and emotional learning isn’t one more thing to be added to the plate. It IS the plate.” I’m going to take that one a little further and say that relationships are the cupboard where the plates are kept. If the cupboard is closed and locked, the plates are inaccessible and invisible. Open the door and what’s inside becomes both accessible and visible. Take a plate out and see if it’s chipped or damaged. Notice the patterns, the details, where it was made. What you see might surprise you.
Relationships and connections all bring a sense of meaning to our lives. Whether it’s a student, a parent, a teacher, or an administrator — we are all looking to connect ourselves to others in meaningful ways. We want to know we are valued, cherished, and cared for.
Since education is a human system, shouldn’t we focus on the humans in it, first and foremost?
Dedicated teacher for the past 18 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy