Friday, August 8, 2008

Focusing on Relationships

I recently led my faculty in a wonderful and moving exercise. During our first faculty meeting of the year, I emphasized the importance of building relationships with students. I proposed the single most effective way to teach and influence high school students and to impact their lives is by building relationships with them. To illustrate my point, I asked each member of the faculty to answer two questions in writing:
1. Which teacher made the greatest impact on your life?
2. Why was this teacher so significant in your life?

After several minutes, I collected the answers and discovered a treasure trove of nostalgic, personal stories about teachers who will be forever remembered by their former students, many of whom became educators because of the teachers about whom they wrote. I expected two or three sentences per answer. What I received, though, were thoughtful and personal half-page and full-page stories of teachers who, in years gone by, touched the lives of my faculty. What follows are actual excerpts from the faculty responses:
  • “noticed my emotional dilemma… pulled me aside and focused on me”
  • “treated us as special individuals”
  • “taught with such a passion”
  • “cared about our lives outside of school”
  • “forced me to be honest with myself… to develop an awareness of myself”
  • “I always felt safe [in … class]”
  • “gave me confidence”
  • “did not care about anything other than the students he was teaching”
  • “hugged every student every day”
  • “took an interest in me”
  • “like a father figure after my dad died”

After reading several excerpts and several entire responses aloud, one thing became perfectly clear to everyone. Not one teacher was remembered for being the smartest, most intelligent, most proficient in a skill or for being an expert in his or her discipline. Rather, the teachers remembered as having the greatest impact on the lives of my faculty were those who cared about, loved, showed interest in, encouraged and believed in students. The teachers who made the greatest impact on my faculty did so by connecting with their students, by building authentic relationships.

If you want to drive home the point that a campus can be transformed by a faculty striving to build relationships with students, start with this simple but effective exercise.

The next generation of educational leaders must never forget this: all the technology in the world, all the policies and procedures on record, all the curriculum ever mapped and all the lesson plans ever written will fail to impact students until a positive relationship exists between teacher and student.

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