When people walk into my school I want them to notice the positive feeling of community right away. As intangible as this seems, I really do sense the difference between the schools that have the “vibe” and those that don’t. It’s like when you’re invited to someone’s home and the warmth and happiness of its occupants is so strong that it spreads to you. That warmth comes from the positive relationships within the family.
How do we go about establishing this kind of culture within our schools? In the same way; that is, I believe that positive relationships formed within the school community are the building blocks for creating the kind of culture to which I am referring. Thus, my vision for my school begins with and depends on forging positive relationships. Building trusting connections where community members feel valued and cared for is essential.
My fundamental belief is that students learn best when they are immersed in a positive culture where relationship building forms the cornerstone of learning. Martin Krovetz sums it up well for me in his book, “Fostering Resiliency” when he writes:
Human relationships are at the heart of schooling. The interactions that take place between students and teachers and among students are more central to student success than any method of teaching literacy, or science, or math.
It has been my experience that a teacher’s greatest tool is his/her ability to establish a trusting relationship with the student. Students often will try harder to achieve for teachers with whom they have a positive relationship. I also firmly believe that, generally, the more connected a student is to his/her school community, the more successful and motivated the student will be. In the same way, teachers who feel connected to the community and have positive relationships at school will also be more motivated and will often go the extra mile, striving towards excellence. Students, teachers, staff and parents will be engaged and inspired as a result of these caring relationships. Success naturally follows.
Once people taste success in an environment where they feel safe and valued, they will be more willing to take risks. This risk-taking will enable the community to strive towards continuous improvement.
As the community is working together to improve, the positive culture is reinforced which also serves to further strengthen the bonds and relationships already established. The caring connected culture feeds upon itself.
When these caring relationships are established, it becomes increasingly possible for everyone (students, teachers, and parents) in the building to feel a sense of belonging and ownership. It’s like the “Cheers” effect – you want to go to a place where everybody knows your name (as well as your story). To be a part of something is a fundamental human urge, and school is a great place to nurture this sense of belonging. My vision is that the stakeholders all feel that it’s their school and their community; each member feels valued and wants to contribute to nurturing the warm and inclusive culture of excellence within the school.