In 2010, I made the move from public to independent school education. At that time, I attended a meeting with Bernie Noe, the Head of the Lakeside School, and something he said resonated deeply with me. To paraphrase: “It is not our job to continue to perpetuate students having privilege. It’s our job to educate them in a way that they recognize their privilege to impact the world positively.” Bernie’s words continue to inform my philosophy as an independent school leader, where I work to prioritize relationships, promote deep inquiry, and build community. In this post I will explain why relationships matter.
Relationships matter. Researchers in the areas of neuroscience and psychology have discovered a tremendous amount about the way our brains work. As the adolescent brain continues to develop in middle school and high school, the research is clear: the positive relationships students have with adults matter. Feeling cared for allows students to be their authentic self and to know that they are appreciated for reasons beyond their academic performance.
In my career, relationships are paramount to being a part of an educational community with students, staff, and families. Whether it is my daily five-minute check in with Tim, our Operations Specialist, to hear how his cat, Edna, is doing, or a deeper conversation with a family about a student in crisis, relationship is essential to partnership—which is vital to impacting students positively.
If you look at my current weekly schedule you will see time set aside for meetings with students, with groups of staff members, one-on-one times with staff members, as well as time to connect with families. This year I have enjoyed working in partnership with the PSCS Family Association—whether attending our weekly Morning Coffees or our monthly book club, these have been important times for me to connect with the school community outside of my typical role. I have been known to show up at Mushroomball in the gym (a game created by students and staff) to have fun with the students and give us all a chance to see each other outside the walls of PSCS. I do these small acts to establish a foundation of care and interest—a foundation which I hope makes a difference when those bigger somethings comes up.
Positive relationships are what I prioritize above all else. Authentic connection with students means that some adults in their lives might know them so well that we can discern the right moments to challenge them and the right moments to support them—both academically and as a human being. Looking back at the former school reports from my student days, it is easy to see which teachers I felt connected to and which ones I did not. The subject didn’t matter. The relationship with the teacher did. When I felt like a teacher understood me and cared about who I was as a person, I performed better.