It’s All About Relationships

“Culture exists whether we are intentional about creating it or not, but it’s a positive culture that is essential to making the necessary changes within our school.” -Jay Billy  #TLAP

“People ask me all the time-’What’s the next big thing coming in education? This is what I tell them.  Relationships relationships relationships relationships relationships relationships relationships-those never go out of style!”  -Adam Welcome #KidsDeserveIt

“The best teachers know that it comes down to this one thing- relationships.” -Michele Hill

Recently on social media, I’ve noticed some buzz about “Relationships” in education. Even if you aren’t on social media, you’d have to live under a rock to not understand that relationships are the bedrock of any organization.  Schools included. Unfortunately, building and maintaining positive relationships is a lot easier said than done. Changes in staff, administration, and transient students make sustaining positive relationships a daunting challenge.  I know this from personal experience. Throughout my 21 years of teaching, I have seen both positive and negative shifts in the culture based on healthy vs. unhealthy relationships in the building. And it DOES affect the culture of the school. Regie states, “Trusting relationships are necessary for students and teachers to engage in serious learning and for all learners in a school to flourish.” (9)  This…   This is truth.

But rather than just “talk” about the importance of relationships, Regie offers scaffolding to create healthy and positive relationships.  She says, “When we feel personally and professionally valued, we are apt to be happier, more productive, and more likely to take risks as teachers and learners.” (10)  Do teachers actually perform better when they feel valued by their administration? My response… Absolutely-100%. It honestly makes all the difference. There isn’t a doubt in my mind.  Regie then goes on in her Take Action section to offer those scaffolding pieces:

  • Get to know students, teachers, and community members, and greet them by name.
  • Express appreciation specifically and often.
  • Remember colleagues birthdays’, special occasions, and individual accomplishments.
  • Invite all staff members to attend professional development meetings.
  • Publicly acknowledge a colleague’s achievement in a staff meeting.
  • Provide families with a welcoming school culture.
  • Treat secretaries, office staff, volunteers, and custodians as valued players in a schools success.
  • Perform acts of kindness each day.

All of the bullet points are important steps to consider when building relationships, but two stick out for me.  When I think about the first bullet point, “Get to know students, teachers, and community members and greet them by name,”  I’m reminded of a time when a new staff member was publicly introducing students at an induction ceremony. She hadn’t had the opportunity to learn each student’s last name and I remember being embarrassed for her, and also ashamed of not having had the forward thinking to have prepared her in advance on how to pronounce the names of those students.  It may seem insignificant to us, but it isn’t for the kids. They remember things like that.

When I was a child, I frequented horse shows quite a bit. Inevitably, when I was on deck to enter the arena, my name was always pronounced “Ryan”. It infuriated me, not only because I was a girl, not a boy, but because I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult for the announcer to read and pronounce my name, “Ryanne”.   Names are important, and greeting fellow staff, students, and parents by name go a long way in building relationships and letting others know we value them enough to call them by the correct name.

The other; “Treat secretaries, office staff, volunteers, and custodians as valued players in a school success,” really resonates with me.  Each and every member of the school is a contributing member, whether or not the school is a success or a failure. The playing field should be level, with everyone pulling their weight and working together for the betterment of the students we serve.  It’s difficult when even one person on the team doesn’t value this mindset. “Everything meaningful that happens in a classroom, a school, and a district depends on a bedrock foundation of mutual respect, trust, collaboration, fairness, and physical and emotional safety.” (9)  It involves ALL stakeholders in the district.

I believe we can all be leaders in the ongoing quest to instill positive, healthy relationships in our schools. It isn’t just the responsibility of the administration. Each and every stakeholder has the choice every day to choose kindness and build one another up instead of down.  Yes, some days are harder than others, and often I too miss the mark, succumbing to negativity and gossip, rather than shining the light. Becoming more consciously aware of my responses to others, and more intentional about seeking out positives, especially with fellow staff members is my inherent responsibility and one that I aim to get more resilient at.

Check out all of the posts from this book study by going to the Literacy Essentials webpage. There, you can select different articles to read and respond to and continue the conversation in the comments. In addition, consider joining our new Google+ Community to extend these discussions and connect with other literacy leaders.

Author: deschane

Ryanne Deschane is from Northern Wisconsin. Currently a first-grade teacher, but has been an elementary school teacher in the same school for the past 21 years. She has taught kindergarten, first, second and third grade. She has also taught multi-age in a k/1, 1/2, and 2/3 combination. She just acquired her Rdg. 316 license through the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, and is continuing to pursue her passion for literacy learning by taking courses for the Rdg.317 specialist license.

5 thoughts on “It’s All About Relationships”

  1. Ryanne, I love your post! I love that you focused on positive Relationships, which are the foundation of any healthy, thriving culture, in or out of school. I also like that you focused on names and gave examples of why they are so important. I couldn’t agree more. I emphasize respecting and correctly pronouncing students names in Literacy Essentials, pp. 284-285. I also like that you found treating office staff so important. I’ll never forget that the head of a small company once said never hires anyone until he introduces the potential candidate to his secretary and other team members to discern how the candidate treats ALL people. Congratulations on another very thoughtful blog! With admiration, Regie

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  2. Regie, this book is truly a gift. So many wonderful nuggets of wisdom and carefully thought out actions steps to gently guide and nudge educators forward. I so appreciate you taking the time to read and respond to my posts and value your insight immensely. I agree wholeheartedly that it’s about how ALL people are treated. 🙂

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  3. I have so many notes in this book labeled ‘culture’ and I love how we’re reminded that culture of the entire building is key! In college, the awesome book Learning to Trust by Marilyn Watson was assigned, and I revisted it often in my first years of teaching because I learned through first hand experience the importance of a trusting classroom & team of colleagues. I recently read Regie’s sections about developing shared literacy beliefs as a school, and making this a priority along with culture. I love this leadership step and agree it’s the foundation to pave the way towards growth. But I wonder what to do when the school’s culture is broken & not quite there? Do it anyway? Bring the others along and hope they see the light? I need to read more and reread this section again! What do you think?

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    1. Hi Jamie, thanks so much for your feedback. My district is in a state of trying to “heal” the culture that was broken. I’d say we aren’t “broken” anymore, but are still in the healing process and therefore the trust isn’t where it needs to be in order for the staff to perform at their highest capability. I’ve been reading a ton about relationships myself, trying to figure out ways to help rebuild the culture. At the end of the school year I brought in Stories from Webb by Todd Nesloney as a “Feel Good” book to end the school year. Todd is an elem. principal in Navasota, Tx and he wrote the book with his staff. It’s all about telling your story, connecting with others, and being real. He even talks about not having everyone on board, and that being ok. There is a lot of sage advice in Regie’s book, and I too need to reread and reflect. I also listened to a podcast recently where Dave Burgess (DBC Inc.) was talking about how you can’t force change and relationships. He used the analogy of building a snowball. You start small, pack it tightly and slowly start to roll it into a bigger version of itself. Take the few people who are ready and work tightly together, building on one another’s strengths and then slowly incorporate others as they see the value in what you are doing. I certainly do not have all the answers, but I am taking to read and listen to as much as I can so that the next school year can be the best school year yet!

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      1. I will have to check out that book by Todd Nesloney, sounds good! I was thinking more about how storytelling and true listening build trust, and that’s where to start. I also like the snowball analogy and considering starting with a district literacy committee of those interested, and that group could start with identifying shared beliefs of the group. Cheers to our best year yet!!

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