Relationships > Everything Else in Education

By AJ Juliani, 22 comments

My grandmom is wise. And at 91 years old, she’s still as curious as ever. Yesterday we were having a discussion about the work we are doing in my school district right now, and my thoughts on where education and learning are going in the future.

The questions were fascinating, but even more so was the dialogue. She asked me whether or not I thought the increasing use of devices was taking away from face-to-face conversations like the one we were having. We engaged in a back-and-forth on the “pros and cons” of having so much attention put on our phones and technology.

But, this was not a one-sided debate where I was trying to convince her of the benefits of technology. My grandmom is still as active as ever, working in both the US and England throughout the year, while often traveling to Spain (and sometimes India) to do mission work. Medical issues have tried to slow her down over the years, but she keeps moving, talking, and traveling more than most of us do!

She built an email list over the years (way before it was cool to build an email list) and regularly communicates with her friends, family, and those interested in the work she is doing. She has seen the power of technology to connect people but also realizes that it is often a “starting place” for relationships or a “continuing” place for information.

Then she hit me with the quote that I was thinking about all night:

“It all comes back to relationships. Whether you use technology or have face-to-face conversations, it has to be about building that relationship if anything different is going to happen.”

Boom. Drop the mic grandmom!

Great Schools and Great Teachers Focus on Relationships

I’ve been lucky enough to be in some amazing schools and teacher classrooms over the past few years. Without fail, the #1 trait I see in each of these places is a focus on relationships. The relationships come from having opportunities for inquiry, challenging students, solving problems together, and doing work that is meaningful. But they also come from small side conversations, moments in the hallway, supporting outside of the classroom, and taking longer than expected to talk about an issue in class.

There has been a tremendous amount of pressure put on teachers and administrators to focus on everything else in education. The focus has been ramped up on data, differentiation, and individualized instruction.

Yet, we can talk about all the data we want, but it won’t make a difference if you don’t have relationships with those teachers, and if those teachers don’t have relationships with their students.

We can differentiate instruction all we want, but as the late great Rita Pierson said:

A colleague said to me, ‘They don’t pay me to like the kids. They pay me to teach a lesson. I should teach it. They should learn it. Case closed.’

Well, I said to her, ‘You know, kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.’

She said, ‘That’s a bunch of hooey.’

And I said to her, ‘Well, your year is going to be long and arduous dear.’

It’s not only the kids where relationships matter. It’s all of us. Think of the best teachers you’ve had. Think of the best leaders you’ve had. Think of the best colleagues you’ve had.

In my case, they all put the focus on relationships first, and everything else second.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “future of learning” and miss out on what has always worked when it comes to learning: relationships.

Yet, in 2016 relationships can look very different. The human and social lens of learning has never been more important, but there has also never been more ways to build, sustain, and cultivate a relationship around learning.

Gary Vaynerchuck put this into perfect perspective today when talking about relationships built with technology:
How are you building relationships?

Are you using today’s technology to build learning relationships? Are you meeting kids where they are? Are you meeting teachers where they are? Are you meeting parents where they are?

The future of learning is a lot like the past of learning, it centers around the human/social side of curiosity, creativity, and adaptation.

But the one thing that is very different is how many avenues we have for reaching and growing the human/social side of learning. My grandma said it right: The focus on relationships never should change, even if the way to build those relationships does change.

Kids don't learn from people they don't like

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