Whenever people talk about what is the most important thing in education you always hear relationships. Relationships matter. The three R’s. Relationships. Relationships. Relationships. Everyone agrees relationships are important.
The value of relationships to me cannot be overstated. It would be like trying to describe how great pizza is. How underrated putting mayonnaise on the outside of a grilled cheese sandwich is. (Thanks Christina Torres Cawdery) Or just how much fun Wordle is. We simply can’t exaggerate how powerful each of those things really are.
Once I realized how important relationships are I wanted to become better at them. The first way I worked on this was by using my assertive listening skills.
“Active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening – otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener. Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this ‘feedback’ the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly.Read more at: https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/active-listening.html
Once I realized how important active listening was, I tried to be aware of each interaction I have with others. I have ADD so one of the hardest things for me is to not interrupt others when they speak. My struggles also lie in listening to understand instead of listening to respond. If you have interacted with me via face-to-face or phone call I am sure this is no surprise to you. I still fail at waiting to respond, or listening to understand sometimes; however, I am much better at it now. I work hard to improve because I know that listening is vital to creating and maintaining positive healthy relationships.
The next part of relationships I learned was important was via Dr. Angela Dye (@ejuc8or) author of Empowerment Starts Here. She taught me to understand how power is displayed in relationships. Due to her podcast, I started looking at who I had power over, under, and within my life. Every middle of the trimester I send out surveys to my students to see what I can do better and how I am being received by them.
The good Dr. also made me think about how all of my majority identities impact the power I have. My identities as a white, cis-gender, hetero, able-bodied male give me a power that is never identified outright yet has as much control as a honey badger fighting the snake. Understanding my power allowed me to see how others who are not in the majority groups are treated. I can now be a much better ally, comrade, supporter, or whatever name is given to those that share power and elevate others.
The biggest part of relationships that I have worked on is the art of restorative practices and justice.
Restorative practices is a social science that studies how to improve and repair relationships between people and communities. The purpose is to build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behavior, repair harm and restore relationships.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_practices#:~:text=Restorative%20practices%20is%20a%20social,repair%20harm%20and%20restore%20relationships.
As an educator, I work with people all day. I have bosses, co-workers, students, guardians, bus drivers, and a plethora of other people I come into contact with. The most important thing I do is create a relationship with those people. If there is a conflict with any of those people I cannot restore a relationship that has never been built.
To create a relationship with anyone, you must validate their humanity. The first and most important way to go about that is simply saying hello or good day. That simple act points out to them that you see them and acknowledge them. I say hello at least 300 times a day. I am not kidding when I say that. There are times when I say hello to 20 kids in a row in the hallway. Every adult I see gets a quick interaction. This goes for secretaries, custodians, administrators, parents, the UPS guy, or the resource officer. Every one of them has value and deserves to be seen and acknowledged. My job is no less and no more important than theirs.
Unfortunately, I harm people all the time. My mouth runs quicker than my brain. When I harm a relationship with anyone and I know that harm has occurred I apologize and work on restoring that relationship. This includes the people I have power over. (my students) I am not above saying I was wrong to them or their guardians. I will say I am sorry in front of the class or my boss. Shoot I am one of the first people to tell on myself when I mess up. I have no expectation of perfection (thanks ADD) nor do I expect those I have power over, under, or with to be perfect either. When people interact there will always be conflict. We all have different wants and needs. This is why conflict is inevitable. All we can do is work on our communication and address conflict when it arises.
If you want to learn more about restorative justice I highly recommend Victor Small Jr. and his resources which can be found here.
We should all value our relationships. Rita Pierson summed this up on her Ted Talk when she stated, “You know, kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” We can extrapolate that. “People don’t go out of their way for people they don’t like”. Or maybe, “People don’t find joy in places where they aren’t loved.”
I am writing this on the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nationally recognized holiday. He is quoted as saying, “Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is the heartbeat of the moral cosmos.” Love is a verb. It is an action, something we do. If we truly love people then we have to work on creating relationships with them. Active listening, understanding power, and restorative practices are three ways we can love each other. I am sure there are more. If you truly value relationships what are you doing to learn about them, create them, and maintain them?
Thank you, Justin, for articulating exactly what you’ve worked on and how that has played out. So often we hear the first part, but lack evidence or concrete steps we can take to do and be better at the things we say matter. Talking specifically about power and recognizing it in relationships and interactions is a balm on my soul. I appreciate you and your undying willingness to learn and share.
Another great post, Justin. Working on active listening and understanding power myself. Thank you for writing.