It’s About Building Relationships

 As always, I have been reading a lot about what to do to make schools better.  Some of what I read lately is just downright ludicrous!  Pay students for grades, put more kids into excellent teacher’s classrooms, hire business leaders to run districts, make yearly tests even more high stakes, and so on.  Where in the world (make that wordle) in this discussion are the students?  Outside of doing something to them, like paying them or testing them, they are left out.  Education reformers have moved the conversation away from talking about making meaningful, nurturing relationships with students.  So many of our kids today do not care about what we say or what we want them to do until they know we care about them.  In other words, rigor and relevance mean little without true nurturing, caring student-teacher relationships.  The most successful teachers I have ever had the privilege to work with or be taught by were ones who took the time, and risk, to get to know their students and build a professional relationship with them.  Good teaching is not just about high test scores, engaging kids with project based learning, using social media and technology to make learning relevant…etc.  None of that means anything to the student who is looking for acceptance in their bewildering search of a self concept they are comfortable with.  More students come to school today without a strong sense of self confidence and/or a feeling of belongingness.  Poverty, family disruption, and other outside factors are derailing many students before they ever hit the school threshold.  I have been in public education now for 20 plus years and have seen some amazing educators and how they build relationships.  These teachers and administrators do little things every day to try to make kids feel good about themselves such as: greeting kids at the door, saying hello to students by name, going to see them participate in extra-curricular activities, or finding something special to do for kids that need a little boost.  Above all, giving the gift of time to a student who needs it.  We have to hold them accountable, we need to make their learning environments rigorous, but without a strong sense of belongingness to a caring learning community, many of our students simply will choose not to buy in.

9 thoughts on “It’s About Building Relationships

  1. Dave – I couldn’t agree more. I just participated in a two day Restorative Justice training session with my school board and two of the most talked about preventative measures were building positive relationships with students and creating a safe community for everyone. I believe that as an administrator we need to model and foster positive relationships with our staff and students which will result in positive teacher/students relationships. A major component of my entry plan to my new position as VP was building authentic, positive relationships with all stakeholders. What concerns me is the teachers who do not see the way they interact with their students as affecting the academic performance of the students. Definitely a challenge to tackle. I enjoyed reading your thoughts!

  2. This is right on- EVERYTHING comes back to relationships. I figured this out awhile ago- everything that becomes an issue can be tracked back to a relationship gone wrong- and everything great that happens can be tracked back to a great relationship.

  3. It’s great to read a post that actually considers the ‘who’ in teaching and learning. Data is a good thing and drives much of our work but I totally agree that without strong solid teacher student relationships none of it means too much. Our schools all over the world are the places of consistency in expectation, routine and nurturing for many of our children. If they don’t feel a sense of comfort and belonging then we have come no where to achieving the greatest goal in education – to help children become wonderful, informed and loving adults.
    Thanks for your post!

  4. Pingback: It is about relationships and balance « It's About Learning

  5. Excellent post Dave! It’s all about building strong relationships to me as well. We need to build trust with our students first. One of my core values as an educator is to “treat every student as they were your own.” I often tell kids, and their parents when necessary, that I wouldn’t treat my own son or daughter any differently- and that I care about them. Some of the best advice I ever received was from a long time track coach I replaced, who told me not to worry “just say something nice to every athlete each day….and mean it!”

  6. You hit a home run, it is all about RELATIONSHIPS. You can have a classroom with everything you might possibly need and more but without knowing your students you have nothing. The time you take getting to know your kids and having them know you is a necessity.

  7. I couldn’t agree more with your post! It is not just true in teaching, but in leadership, business, sales…almost any area of human endeavor. People get so wrapped up in test scores and metrics that they forget the importance of building relationships. When I was teaching I tried my best to build relationships first, because that set the foundation for learning.

  8. Dave,

    We educators need to make this point again and again. It’s so basic but often overlooked!

    Check out my “A Principal’s Principles” at
    Principle #1: “The most important aspect of a school is the quality of the human relationships within that school.” (September 1968)


  9. I like your thoughts about that learning begins with the relationship. I work at an independent school that begins with the teacher/student relationships. These are crucial to our students’ success.



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