I had a colleague point out to me once that the words ‘connection’ and ‘relationship’ aren’t really meant to be used interchangeably. Taken literally I do see his point: one can connect all sorts of things together but that doesn’t necessarily imply any sort of relationship is formed – think telemarketers or the need for ‘unsubscribe’ links and you see what I mean.
As a teacher with a few years’ experience teaching Electronics to Middle School students I can personally vouch for the basic truth that connecting things together does not always lead to a productive relationship, and it is here that this little monologue dovetails with the subject of classrooms and teaching.
Most of us are aware that ‘building relationships’ with children in our care is one of the fundamentals of good teaching, but I wonder how often this is treated as a throwaway phrase?
As though it is somehow really straightforward, or something that a child simply must experience in absolutely every aspect of his or her School life. Any counsellor will tell you that relationships take time and effort to build and maintain; they are the product of conscious choice and the active commitment to strengthen and maintain the links between individuals.
Personally, I think it is a bit of a fantasy to think that a single teacher can form a meaningful ‘relationship’ with every single member of their (sometimes several) classes, but perhaps this is because the term is not fit for purpose; rather than wonder what might have gone wrong when we don’t seem to deeply relate to everyone we cross paths with in a School day, perhaps we should instead consider the fundamental importance of really good connections.
It is basically true that even the world’s worst teachers will ‘connect’ with their students several times each week – the timetable pretty much guarantees that.
However, I think what has been proven across the world in 2020 is that the classroom is far more than just a location where students ‘plug in’ to learning resources.
Teaching is a tricky activity and schools are complex places. At one point in the murk of the Term 1 period of online learning, I came to the firm conclusion that we were unlikely to stumble across the Future Of Schooling through Zoom conferences and Screencast-O-Matic; to be sure, these were fantastic tools which served us well in a time of dire need, but to me they really did show that classroom learning and school communities are so much more than simply a means of connecting students with learning materials.
Speaking further with colleagues it was remarkable how many spoke about common things they were missing about the classroom; the sense of theatre and ‘grip’ one has with a class, the banter and anecdotes and Dad jokes, smiles and frowns, loaded pauses and thinking time.
And – most importantly to me – the five-minute unplanned cul-de-sac where the discussion turns to critical learning that is only tangentially joined to the lesson at hand.
Why do we miss these things so much when they are absent? Probably because they are all true connection points for students and teachers. I have experienced the same with my family when away at conferences or workshops; it does not take long to notice just how many connections we make with the people we are with every day, and how much we miss them when it becomes more of a challenge. That network of incidental connections forms a child’s community; some connections will be transient, some permanent. Some will happen immediately and others might take years to nurture and grow.
We probably underestimate just how important it is for us as parents and teachers to connect constantly with the children in our care.
So, this weekend, I shall make a deliberate effort to cook and tinker, play music and chess, run and rest and lots of other things, but I will do them with others – and on Monday morning I will ask some of your children not what they did on the weekend, but who they did it with – and hopefully we can each talk about the really strong connections we made this week.
Leader of Learning & Curriculum