Relationships, Relationships, Relationships… how many times do we hear this phrase as educators? While most educators would acknowledge the importance of relationships, I think there is often a lack of understanding as to the power relationship creates. Being in the classroom with the same students on a continual basis can sometimes dull the edge of innovation. This is especially true with relationships. Think back to the first week of school each year, and the excitement that is created by new faces, new possibilities, and new relationships. As weeks turn into months, excitement and possibility tend to wear off, and they are replaced by comfortable routine. Being comfortable, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. However, being comfortable can lead to routine, and routine can lead to complacency. A complacent educator is the antithesis of an innovative educator, and this is especially true when developing and maintaining relationships.
UNDERSTANDING WE ARE IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS
If being an innovative educator means finding the better, then being an innovative relationship builder is this times ten. How do you build innovative relationships with students or staff? Simply put, you find the method that works. As educational leaders, we are in the people business. This is an important distinction that you have to make early on. As a teacher, the environment you create for students within your classroom is the single greatest tool you have for engagement, empowerment, and growth. Too many times, teachers are caught up in content delivery, grades, and other routines that we establish and place before the relationships we build. Relationships are the key to learning, and they are something teachers have to work at daily to build, develop, and maintain.
A game has developed between myself and a couple of students at my school that we play each day. Simply put, it’s a race all day to see who can say “hi” first each time we see each other. In the hall, at lunch, in class, in the gym… the only rule seems to be that we have to be out of sight with each other before it starts over. I say “seems to be”, because this is something that is kid driven, and important to them. Whether I think it’s silly or not is irrelevant, because it is extremely relevant to those students.
Students remember teachers, not content. It is imperative that teachers leverage this truth and use it to create environments that students WANT to be in. Teachers are not in the content business, the lesson plan business, or the testing business. We are around students all day, with opportunities to make profound impacts. Student achievement is a result of learning enjoyment, which is directly related to the relationships we build as leaders. The moment a teacher forgets they are in the people business is the moment they stop being an effective leader
How can we be innovative in our approach to building relationships with students? Here are some things that I try to do on a regular basis:
ABSENCE OF RELATIONSHIP CANNOT BE AN OPTION
In order to build innovative, effective relationship in your school or classroom, I really believe teachers have to understand a fundamental change taking place in education. The primary role of the teacher is no longer to deliver content, but rather provide students with opportunities to use the knowledge they are gaining. The truth is that students no longer view teachers as a deliverer of content. There is no disrespect in that, but rather it is the reality of the age and a result of what we have at our fingertips. Just as this shift has made our classrooms more innovative, it has also made the need for positive and innovative relationships with student more important and vital than ever before. In the digital classroom, where information is essentially free-flowing and rampant, teachers have to figure out how to use the power of relationship to create engagement, which will lead to empowerment and growth. We have to build relationships that encourage students to take risks and use new information in meaningful ways. The teacher who still views their role as “delivering content” because they are the “professional educator” is in danger of fracturing relationships with students that cannot afford to be fractured.
Developing a culture of innovative relationship building often times requires a change of mindset. The possibility that a teacher's pedagogy can lead to fractured relationships can be offensive to some, especially to experienced teachers. This goes back to a fundamental questions that every teacher should ask themselves: “Do students WANT to come to my classroom?” If the answer is no, for whatever reason, the ability to reach that student in order to foster meaningful growth is significantly compromised.
People, and I would argue especially young people, have an inherent need, and a place reserved, for relationship. It's important to realize that, in the absence of relationship, something else settles into a student’s life. There is never “empty space” with young people. In the absence of meaningful relationships, apathy, indifference, and distrust can all find a place in students lives. This cannot be an acceptable alternative in our classrooms and schools. Avoiding this is going to mean changing our mindset, and becoming innovative in our approach to building relationships with students. At the end of the day, students don't learn from teachers they don't like.
Joe Robison is a Middle School Science Teacher in Valdez, Alaska. He is passionate about his family, his faith, and his job. His desire is to be a leader for his family, and an innovator in the workplace. He enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife, Wylie, and their five small children. You can follow Joe on Twitter @joerobison907.