September is quickly coming to a close, and teachers have been busy assessing students’ current knowledge to personalize instruction in order to go deep into the curriculum. But the first part of any school year or the teaching of a new course must have a focus on fostering effective relationships with students. While connecting is important for all students, it is essential to those students who have or are experiencing trauma in their life. Unfortunately, the percentage of students in schools who have adverse childhood experiences is increasing dramatically. In the recent article, “Why Schools Should Be Organized to Prioritize Relationships” author Katrina Schwartz writes about the importance of strong relationships with students and how they can mitigate some of the negatives caused by trauma.
In every school, every student needs to have a “go to” person. And while that is most often the teacher, it can be anybody in the school (or the bus) and that is why I’ve titled this blog post, Adult Relationships Matter to Students.” I was reminded of that importance through a story of a custodian in one of our buildings. She was that “go to” person for a little girl who just happened to come to school a little earlier than other children. There was no family situation or trauma, just a little girl who was dropped off at the school and who bonded with a custodian because she took the time and gave attention. Years later, that same little girl, now grown invited that custodian to her baby shower. Adult relationships with students really do matter and what may seem to be almost trivial (like crafting) can mean so much to a child.
We all have the responsibility to make a child/student feel valued and cared for and most times it just requires a little bit of time and attention. In my role as Superintendent of Schools, I don’t have the same opportunities to engage with students that I did when I was a teacher, principal or coach. But I’m fortunate through children of staff members or families that I know better to be able spend time and pay attention with them. Whether I see them in the hallways of the school, in the mall or they just come in with their parents because they know I have chocolate in my office, I recognize the importance of the adult relationship with students.
While we can never minimize the importance of academic goals in schools, they can never supersede the critical nature of relationships. For kids, whether experiencing adverse childhood experiences or not, that connection with an adult in the school is crucial. When we know that a strong adult relationship can prime learning, then we need to ensure that relationship building is always a priority!