I’m sitting in Olds High School in advance of my presentation on high school redesign. Instead of sitting in the area where we will be having lunch, I chose to sit in a common area with students all around me. As a superintendent I don’t get enough opportunities to be around students so it is nice to see the hustle and bustle of students. It is comfortable for me and I realize that it is one of the greatest drawbacks of entering central office…lack of “kid fix.” But it also reminds me of why I do and love this job.
As I drove here today I connected with a former student of mine. She was a student early in my career and both her and her family became close to my wife and I. I remember being invited to her farewell family gathering just prior to her going to study abroad. Over the many years, she has kept in contact, letting us know about her marriage and the birth of her two children (which of course really makes me feel old) and other major events in her life. We’ve actually only seen each other a couple of times in that time but it seems that when we meet or talk we just pick up from where we left off.
For those that know me well or read my blog, you will know that I’m always pushing the innovation agenda. I believe that we need to do things differently to meet the needs of our students. But talking to Janice reminded me that although the innovation agenda is very important, great teaching always starts with a solid relationship with students. I don’t think I had as big of impact on her life as she remembers- she was a great kid and had a solid family but I know I likely had some influence. And that influence can only come through a strong and trusting relationship.
Although I may have made an impact on Janice, often early in my career I was too immature to understand the importance of building relationships with all students, especially those who walked into my class with a “chip on their shoulders.” I was fortunate to really learn about relationships with all students when I had the opportunity to move and teach in northern Alberta. There, a principal named Dorothy Cowell taught me to love them all and love those that really need it even more. Through her mentoring, I was able to build some of the strongest relationships with the toughest kids. Before they care about “school” they need to know that you care about them.
Often when I speak in public I relay this message, “Educators hold the future of students in their hands…what a great honour and what a great responsibility!” With that reminder in the forefront of our minds, we must know that relationships are critical to influence. We must always understand that developing a strong and trusting relationship with our students is the key building block to everything else along the innovation path. Sometimes the gratitude may be never expressed; I’m fortunate for the students like Janice and others who still reconnect and provide me with that positive feedback. Regardless of gratitude or not, we must remember that strong relationships will always influence the students in our lives and that must always be our first step!