There is one truth about which virtually every educator will agree: Schools are more than academic learning. This understanding has been reinforced over the past few months as teachers have struggled to make connections, offer support, and provide guidance to students in a remote environment. It has also played out among adults. Teachers have struggled to remain connected to each other and administrators, and teachers have often felt isolated and unsure of how to connect naturally and authentically while not experiencing physical presence.
The truth is that while academic learning is a focal point for schools, relationships provide the “oil and grease” that make learning work for most students. Sharing a breakthough in understanding, offering encouragement to persist, and weathering a difficult emotional time help to solidify relationships and build confidence for the road ahead.
Adults in schools thrive in response to relationships and ongoing interactions with students and each other. Relationships make schools into vibrant, resilient communities. Consequently, when the work of building and sustaining relationships is interrupted, we share a sense of loss.
Before long the summer will pass, and we will return to some form of school. Admittedly, it may not look and feel like it did before. Still, we must consider and include in return-to-school plans intentional opportunities and supports to renew and rebuild relationships.
We need to start this process with adults. Before students return, we can provide activities and opportunities for adults to reconnect, share stories, and renew relationships. Of course, renewing relationships has always been a part of staff and administrators returning from summer and preparing for the start of school. This process will be even more important this year. What lies ahead in the coming year will not necessarily be easy. We need to be ready to support each other. In fact, now is a good time to connect with key members of the school community and invite them to help identify meaningful, authentic ways to focus on relationships, elevate appreciation for their importance, and commit to keeping relationships a priority in the year ahead.
Teachers will also need time and encouragement to focus on relationships with students. Many young people have been on difficult journeys over the past several months. Stresses at home, difficulty keeping up, and missing friends and agemates are just a few potential examples. Some may have even experienced serious trauma that needs to be recognized and addressed. This process cannot happen without caring, supportive relationships. Consider blocking out time in schedules, especially early in the year, for teachers to build and rebuild relationships with students. You may even need to design specific activities to support this work and communicate its importance to students and staff.
We cannot know what lies ahead in the coming weeks and months, but we know that we all will be more successful if we support each other, can rely on relationships, and are confident that together we will face whatever comes our way. Yet, these connections and reassurances must be formed on the front end, not when times get tough.