The Cornerstone of Connections
Relationships are the cornerstone of the meaningful connections we make throughout our lives. They are the bridge between who we are, how we can meaningfully impact others, and make a difference. When I look back on the best learning experiences I have had throughout the course of my life, I remember the people who encouraged and empowered me to develop and reach my social, emotional, academic potential. I remember the people who took the time to get to know me as a person, who listened and cared deeply about my thoughts. I remember the people who celebrated my successes but also embraced my failures and inspired me to try again. I remember the people who showed humility and embraced humanness in every interaction, big or small. In the book Innovate Inside the Box by George Couros and Katie Novak, Couros said, “Caring is what is most essential to the work we do every single day. Caring is what enables us to develop relationships with students and colleagues even when it is difficult to find common ground.” Being intentional with opportunities to connect with others and making sure people feel valued is an investment in the work we do every single day. Very often when we are in the moment, we don’t always recognize the connections we are making with others that will positively influence their future.
Influencing Hearts and Minds
Recently I wrote a blog titled Leaving Footprints in the Hearts of Students. I shared a story about how I was knee-deep in work during the pandemic, learning various digital tools and platforms so I could better support teachers and students. This is when a surprising email notification from my former student Ben (who I had in my 2nd-grade class 11 years ago) came into my work email inbox. He wanted to update me on his college choice and how he would have loved to invite me to his graduation party, but couldn’t because of COVID-19 circumstances. This was a welcome distraction from work because it made me pause and reflect on how important the relationships we cultivate with our students and colleagues truly are. Our influence on students can certainly live on in their hearts and minds, creating legacies that have the potential to withstand the test of time. 2009…That was the year I had Ben in my class. It was a challenging year for me. I was a fairly new teacher. I was starting a new school. I just had my first son Drew (who is now 11 years old). I didn’t know my colleagues. I wasn’t familiar with the school culture or community. I wasn’t familiar with the curriculum. I wasn’t fond of leaving my 2 ½ month baby at home. I was tired. I lacked sleep. I was working in overdrive. With all of that being said, there was one thing I was adamant about; getting to know my students. I knew that if I could make the strongest connections with them and developed a learning environment that would positively impact their social, emotional well being, I would be naturally creating a roadmap to academic success. In George Couros’ most recent #InnovatorsMindset podcast, Ten Tips for New Teachers he addresses that we may have some hard moments in our professional lives; there will be tough days, so we must give ourselves grace and not lose ourselves despite the challenges we may face. He goes on to say how valuable developing connections with parents are. Making positive contact and interactions with parents from the very beginning of the school year will show them how much their child is valued. I recommend that both new and veteran teachers watch this podcast as there are many suggestions about how to build connections and navigate the school year keeping relationships at the core of the work.
Strong Connections Last a Lifetime
After receiving the email from Ben, I felt compelled to send him a response immediately. Not only did I write him back, but I sent him a video message, hoping that he would not only be able to see me but feel the sense of love and care I still had for him after all this time. I also began thinking about his wonderful family who I had a special and strong connection to. Our relationship was authentically reciprocal. His devoted mother Stacey would constantly give me loving recognition for being a support to her son, while I expressed how much I adored everything about him. Throughout the years, she continued to send me wonderful updates about Ben, send me good wishes around the holidays and funny Memes she thought I’d enjoy (they always did make me smile). The connection that was made years ago flooded my heart and put me right back into where I was and how I felt during my first few years of teaching. See my video response to Ben below.
A Welcomed Response
About a month after I sent Ben my video response, an email from him appeared in my email inbox, once again. Only this time, he had written his own blog in response to mine (along with some pictures and a video of me sending him a message in 2009 during a class parade)!
7-year-old Ben reading his writing in class-2009 17-year-old Ben- 2020
A Class Video from 2009- A Message to Ben
As time went on in my life, I realized that I couldn’t remember all that much about years past. But that doesn’t mean that the teachers in my life that truly cared for me faded into the back of my mind. Ms. Kaufman was my 2nd-grade teacher, which was a pretty long time ago considering I just got accepted to college. Terrible year to graduate btw, I’m gonna be in a cap and gown sitting at home for my graduation ceremony. But this isn’t the time to complain about Coronavirus, this is my chance to thank one of the people that got me here today. Reading her article on me gave me flashes of memories I haven’t thought of in almost a decade, which was truly mind-blowing to me. It even reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading as a child, something I haven’t done much in 2 or 3 years due to school, work, and everything in between. To pass the time during quarantine, my mom and I are now reading daily, and its some of the nicest bonding experiences I’ve had with her in a long time. And if anyone is wondering, yes my mom is still just as involved even in high school, and she is one of the main reasons my school is doing anything for my graduation at all. As much as every single kid says that they hate school every day to their parents, friends and themselves, I think that teachers like Ms. Kaufman can mold and refine a student without them even realizing that they enjoy sitting in a classroom, learning about multiplication without a care in the world. I wanted to personally thank Ms. Kaufman for being there for me, as a teacher, as a role model and as an insight into someone who truly loves their job with all their heart. Thank you for not telling me to shut up as much as everyone else did (I was a bit sensitive back then), and thank you for writing this about one of your thousands of students. I can only imagine how proud everyone is to have you as their teacher if you can write something so emotional about one student so long ago.
I also found this collage I made for Mother’s Day in your class a while back, thought you would like to see it!
Ben’s Mother’s Day Collage-2009
A Powerful Investment of Time
The investment in developing strong relationships is a powerful time spent. School is more than academics. It’s about knowing that your contributions have benefited every learner who you’ve had the honor of crossing paths with. It’s about knowing that you have empowered students to make the world a better place. It’s about giving to the relationship but also receiving feedback. It’s truly a cyclical, beautiful process. When we make meaningful connections with people, we show them how to build on their strengths and talents, we show them that there are multiple pathways to reaching their potential, we celebrate who they are, and we show them that we care!