Many times as an educator, I was asked to share how I was able to get students to work hard and excel. There were comments about how “respectful” my students were. However, I noticed that the comments were primarily concerning students who had previously displayed challenging behaviors in other learning spaces. It always bewildered me that this was even a topic of conversation. I had high expectations for my students, but FIRST I had built positive relationships.
Relationships are grounded in trust. My students knew that I believed in their greatness. I communicated to them through my words and actions that I believed they could and would learn! I was able to build trust with them and in return we both learned so much about each other. Once this trust was established, students were able to fully engage in the teaching and learning that took place. This helped to transform the learning environment for my students. They could feel free to take risks in their learning. This safety net allowed them to put down any guards or resistance they had to fully participate. I remember a student telling me, “You are the first teacher that expects me to do good!”. That stuck with me for many years. As educators, we must affirm that all students can achieve.
I want to remind people that building relationships doesn’t remove accountability for students or staff. There are still expectations for the work that must be done. However, when strong relationships have been built, educators are better equipped to respond to the needs of students. As the summer comes to a close and a new school year begins, ask yourself the following questions:
On the first day of school, how will I strategically build a culturally responsive learning environment to connect with the students I serve?
In what ways will I work to ensure student voice and agency are an intricate part of the learning environment (classroom and school)?
How might I connect with families and community members to learn more about the students I serve?
As you work through these questions and develop a plan, I encourage you to find an accountability partner. This should be a person that will challenge your thinking as well as provide encouragement. When this strategic planning takes place from the start, powerful connections can be made. Never forget that relationships are the foundation for the work we do!