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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Relationships Matter

By Peter DeWitt — April 01, 2012 4 min read
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The relationships we create with others are vitally important to who we are and who we want to become.

When I was younger I hated the word “networking” because I thought it sounded like a word shallow guys used to describe how they worked to build business connections. They attended “networking” lunches and “networking” cocktail parties. I put myself through college, wanted to do everything on my own and not count on influential people in my life to help me out. In my immaturity I neglected to realize two very important things.

The first is that I didn’t have any influential (in the business sense) people in my life. There were certainly people who had great influence over me because they were family, teachers or coaches. However, I did not have any names I could “drop” to impress those around me. Secondly, I failed to realize how important it was to network and make connections.

Making connections should be a very important part our lives. The relationships we create with others enrich our lives and make them better. Those people I “networked” with when I was young became friends over the past twenty years. We grew together, both personally and professionally.

Our students, at a very young age, need to understand why building social connections (i.e. friendships) are so important. Through center based learning and other cooperative grouping they learn, at an age appropriate level, what it is like to connect with other peers.

Some of our student population does not fit in with other peers. This is where bullying may begin, but just as bad as bullying is, being excluded is just as harmful because these children are not allowed to make connections with others and may not see their true gifts. Teaching students about diversity, unique traits, and getting along with those who are different is a life skill that has great benefits, especially for those children who are often excluded.

Relationships take work. When students are sent to my office I often talk with them about the fact that some students that they may be fighting with now may end up being their best friends in the future. Through these bumps along the way where they have arguments they can really learn how to resolve differences. There is so much anger in the world; we need to be teaching students how to resolve conflict instead of starting it.

Our Networks
Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at NAESP in Seattle and ASCD in Philadelphia. As much as I was excited to present to educators I was more excited about meeting people I have Tweeted with (couldn’t say that five years ago!) or those who I have e-mailed back and forth with for the past few years.

The world we live in is pretty amazing when it comes to connections. I have been talking with Arnis, my editor from Corwin Press for four years, working professionally with him for one and we finally met in person last week. In addition, I have been talking with Sean Slade, Director of Healthy School Communities from ASCD for about a year and met for the first time over the weekend. Or Chris Wjer, a great principal from Vancouver, British Columbia who I have Tweeted with and have learned from over the past few months. And finally Carol Burris, the Principal of Rockville Centre which has one of the most impressive inclusive school communities that I have ever seen.

These are all examples of authentic relationships that started through social networking. Long ago that may have seemed impersonal but now it is considered practical and socially acceptable.

We have countless ways to connect with others and should teach our students how to do the same thing. Unfortunately, some of the very ways that we connect at home are outlawed in school. This means that our students are missing out on creating relationships with other students in communities close by or in nations far away.

There are so many important relationships in our lives that matter and the following are just a few.

Family - if you’re fortunate enough to come from a supportive family and have a supportive partner or spouse, you understand how important these relationships are to you when you negotiate your way through life.

Friends/Peers - some people have had the same group of friends from elementary, middle or high school. Others met their best friends in college or at work. These relationships help support individuals through the good times and the bad. A good friend knows your life story and is there whenever you need them.

Teachers/Coaches - the relationships that teachers (classroom, theater, drama, music, etc.) and coaches have with their students are vitally important to the social and emotional growth of their students. Great teachers and coaches have a lasting impact on students and teach them so much more than about a game or a subject, they teach them about life.

Professional Learning Network (PLN) - this is a relatively new phenomenon in the way that it is presently done. Through Facebook, Twitter and other social media we have the ability to connect with educators from all over the world. We can share our thoughts and frustrations with them, but most importantly we can learn new and innovative ways to connect with our students.

In the End
The relationships we create with others are vitally important to who we are and who we want to become. Networking, for many of us, has turned into making connections with others who have an impact on our lives.

As we negotiate our way through these times we are seeing in education it is vitally important that we connect with our educators. We need to show that we are a profession that doesn’t only mind change, we encourage it, especially if it is good for kids. Our connections with others are what inspire us to do better or keep us going through difficult times. I encourage you to make connections with others because it may just change your life.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.