I have been reflecting a lot lately on the role of relationships in schools. I have not been able to stop thinking about this topic because it seems educators everywhere are talking about the importance of relationships when it comes to ensuring student success, supporting others in their professional growth, cultivating a positive school culture, or building a successful and credible organization. Unquestionably, relationships matter….they matter a lot. I think most people would agree that one key factor for determining success for any child or organization is rooted in the personal relationships that have been established. But are relationships the most important factor? I acknowledge that personal relationships play a significant role. In fact, I praised the comment by the late Rita Pierson when she adamantly stated, “kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like!”
How right she was, I applauded. Or was she? So this is where my conflict lies.
Personally, her words not only struck a chord with me, they inspired me. They also caused me to reflect on the role relationships have played in my own educational experience, whether that be as a student, a teacher or a building principal. But the question I keep asking myself today is this.
What role does skill set have in ensuring student success, supporting others in their professional growth, cultivating a positive school culture, or building a successful and credible organization? I would argue that skill set is just as important as relationships when it comes to determining key factors for success. Consider for example the following:
- Have you ever approached a speaker after a keynote or a presentation and shared with that individual how you were inspired and moved by their words to make immediate personal change for the better?
- Have you ever done a school site visit and met a teacher, staff member, or administrator who shared something with you that immediately helped shape and improve your practices?
- Have you ever encountered a teacher who was well-liked by students only to find out that the achievement level of students in the classroom was not consistently at the same level as their peers due to a lack of high expectations and effective teaching strategies?
- Have you ever had a supervisor who everyone thought was a “great person” and was well-liked, but the majority of employees did not have the confidence in or believe this person could lead your school, program, office, organization, etc. forward in an efficient and effective manner?
- Have you ever experienced a coach or music director that truly cared about his/her players/performers, but it was evident this person did not have the technical skills or the right disposition to help develop and grow their natural talent?
- Have you ever sat through an in-service or training and thought to yourself, “I could give this in-service myself?”
- Have you ever sat in an interview where somewhere during the interview your mind thought, “Wow, this person “gets it” and has what it takes that can help move our organization forward?”
- Have you ever attended a board meeting where others who have never worked in education made decisions that impacted the organization without allowing the very leaders they hired to make these final decisions?
- Have you ever worked with a student whom you had never met prior to the initial meeting and felt like you made significant headway and the student asked to see or work with you again?
- Have you ever met with an angry parent(s) and after the meeting the parent walked out of an office and offered you a heartfelt thank you?
In each example I shared above, one of four things ultimately shapes the final result.
- A relationship has been formed, but the desired impact is not achieved
- A prior relationship has not been established, yet a positive impact is still experienced
- A high skill set is required to help attain the final outcome
- The recognition of what is needed to take a program/school/district to the next level is clear to most
I had never heard of Rita Pierson or even heard her speak. I had no relationship with her whatsoever. But yet her Ted Talk left a significant impression on me. She had a skill set. A tremendously high skill set and coupled I am sure with an ability to cultivate genuine relationships with her students, teachers, and colleagues.
My purpose is not to make a case that one is more important than the other or which factor must come first. To say that there is nothing more important than relationships is short sighted on our part. They are both essential. But if we are all willing to invest more and go deeper in our relationships and those relationships are supported by a credible skill set that is both trusted and respected by all stakeholders, then I believe we will be able to move our organizations forward so that excellence becomes the standard for all schools.
Our goal should be to not only make an impact, but to make the greatest impact possible for all students and schools.
When it comes to the importance of relationships and skill set, where do you stand?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
“Expecting excellence from yourself is a choice.
Striving for excellence each day is a lifestyle.”