I’m not a teacher. Never have been. My mother and wife were teachers so I have a deep appreciation for what they do. I have, however, stepped foot into many classrooms during my 17 years in the Howard County Public School System. Today, for the first time, I realized that I have a lot in common with teachers.
The very best aspects of my job are those in which I have opportunities to engage with others. Not on social media, through press releases, or by email – but face to face personal interactions. Only through these types of interactions can I build genuine connections and effectively fulfill my various roles in public relations and communications.
This morning I visited an English classroom at Long Reach High School where they were just beginning the StoryStrong curriculum. StoryStrong is a two-week unit developed by me and a few of my colleagues in which students develop personal narratives that share an experience or person that has shaped who they are. The purpose is to build closer connections to our peers and colleagues through the sharing of these stories. It’s not an easy task. You must allow yourself to be vulnerable, dig deep and unearth the experiences, people, and feelings that serve as part of your makeup. Layer on top of that complexity the fact that you are completing the task in a class among peers. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Building Trust Through Connections
The classroom that I visited had a dynamic that I have only seen a handful of times in all of my visits. The class was entirely freshmen – yet you would have thought they had known each other forever. These were students that were only together because a class scheduling program put them there. I’m sure they didn’t all run in the same circles – yet there was a noticeable respect and mutual kindness and admiration that they had for one another. There were hugs. There were inside jokes. There were compliments on top of compliments. It was an environment ripe for teaching and learning.
But it extended beyond just the students in the room. They felt the same way for their teacher and she for them. She was part of this 9th grade inner circle of diversity. A circle inclusive of multiple races, cultures, experiences, backgrounds, and income levels. She was one of them – but in an amazing way that brought out the best in them.
They didn’t just like her. They respected her. They wanted to please her. They yearned for her approval. The students in that classroom could talk to her about anything. She was a teacher, counselor, mentor, coach, and probably part mom to many of these children. At the same time, when it was time to work – they worked. They were fully engaged. Why? Because of the connections that she has established with each child in that classroom.
Relationships Make the Difference
She didn’t do that through email or Canvas. She did so by personal interactions. She did so by caring for them and their wellbeing. She engaged them in instruction because she understood them individually. She knew of their interests, their struggles, and their dreams and she leveraged this to be an ultra-effective teacher.
Personal connections. They’re the difference maker whether you’re a teacher, communications professional, real estate agent, nurse, accountant, or an entrepreneur. Unfortunately I fear that impactful personal connections are harder to achieve the more we rely on digital media to communicate.
I enjoyed my time in the StoryStrong classroom today and had to restrain myself from participating as a student. I walked away envious of those students because I know that they are having an enriching experience that will impact them for the rest of their lives. I wonder if they realize it.