Friday afternoon… 3.30pm… and my school puts on a ‘social’ event. Friday afternoon-you know the time when you just want to go home. It’s been a big week! But isn’t it always? There’s always something-staff meetings, excursions, parent conferences, reports, assessments, marking, book week, grandparents', father’s or mother’s day. And then there's the arts program-dancing, drama, sports, musicals. The list goes on but kudos to my school. They understand that ‘relationships’ are key.
Last week I listened (on my way to and from school) to my #satchat Voxer group give advice to new administrators. Everyone repeated the same sentiment. 'Relationships, relationships, relationships!’ Take time to get to know your staff. Make the effort to connect. You will not build trust if you don’t create a relationship and this takes time. Interesting to hear it from the experienced administrators' point of view. I know this is important from a new teacher’s point of view. And when I say ‘new’ teacher, I mean beginning teachers or teachers to a new school. Relationships are the key to a successful school and to the student’s education.
But I have to question: Do universities highlight the importance of relationships? Do education ministers appreciate the importance of establishing relationships with students, parents/care givers and colleagues? Do schools allocate time to build and sustain these relationships? Do our National Teaching Standards value relationships? Well, yes the National Standards do. And they do so quite explicitly!
1.4 Strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
Develop teaching programs that support equitable and ongoing participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by engaging in collaborative relationships with community representatives and parents/carers.
6.2 Engage in professional learning and improve practice
Initiate collaborative relationships to expand professional learning opportunities, engage in research, and provide quality opportunities and placements for pre-service teacher
7.3 Engage with the parents/carers
Establish and maintain respectful collaborative relationships with parents/ carers regarding their children’s learning and wellbeing
When I worked in Marin County, California, there were times when I noticed colleagues needed a ‘pick me up’. When a parent had spoken abruptly to them - I gave them flowers. When they had supported me - I gave them flowers. When they had ‘a lot on their plate’ - I gave them flowers. I don't think it was the flowers that boosted their morale. I believe it was that I recognised and related to them.
When we returned to Australia, I worked in a Catholic School in NSW, and on occasion I brought flowers for my team members. Once I placed a chocolate in every teacher’s top drawer. You know the chocolates that pop in your mouth and always seem to make you smile. No one knew who it was, because I got one too!
When I moved schools, I spent the first 6 months in my classroom working. If I wasn’t on duty, I was usually in my classroom marking or preparing for the next lesson. And then I realised what I was missing. You cannot work with people if you do not connect with them. Yes, work is important but so is building relationships. Relationships are why we come to work and why we teach. We have relationships with students, colleagues and administrators. These are the five elements Seligman found essential to human well-being:
The last few years have taught me the importance of relationships in education. When we moved back to Australia, I had to start all over again-both professionally and personally. I have my wonderful family (who totally get my passion for teaching) but most of my friends were back in the US. It was Twitter that opened my new social circle. My mentor in the US once stated, “You will find that most of your friends will be teachers because they just get it." How right she was.
Although I haven’t shared my relationships with my students or parents, just know that they are why I go to work (sometimes the drive is over an hour). I would say that the majority if not all of my parents have witnessed my passion, and trust that I have their child’s best interests at heart. While we don’t seek acknowledgement, nothing beats a positive comment from your students, parents or colleagues. I have to be honest and tell you that I have saved emails and placed them in my feedback folder. These are great for those times when you need a little motivation or reassurance in your ability.
Relationships are vital in education. You cannot place a value on them. You cannot think that they just miraculously occur. You cannot believe that the skill of relationship building can be explicitly taught. I believe one learns through experience and it takes work, tenacity, compromise and time. But when relationships work, it brings an experience that is immeasurable. What are the 3 Rs in education? Relationships, relationships, relationships.