When I walked into my first education class during the first semester of my freshman year at Wittenberg University, in the middle of the expansive black chalkboard was a large white post-it paper was the following quote: No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” -Dr. James Comer
His words pierced my heart. Instantly I was certain about my career choice. His words made everything so clear for me. I understood why I connected with some teachers and coaches and not others. It all made sense, and those words clearly and concisely described why I wanted to become an educator. I wanted to be relational so that I could positively change lives and impact others’ futures.
To be relational describes how two or more people are connected. Relational is an action word indicating that it’s an ongoing process that requires intentionality. It’s a service, and for some, it’s a way of life. Meaningful relationships are transformational, not transactional. In a transactional relationship, one party is seeking to gain from another at a cost. Someone is giving up something with the expectation of getting something in return. While this relates to a monetary/service exchange, it often exists with an actual product being sold. It’s a balance of power and may be an uneven exchange. One of the people involved is acting out of self-interest, and little value is placed on the relationship.
It is no secret that creating and maintaining positive relationships contributes to overall success and growth. Our work’s foundation has little to do with content knowledge, pedagogy, and understanding of assessment. Those things are important to becoming a better and effective educator. Still, without having positive relationships, you can be the best technical educator and have no significant impact on your students and colleagues. Our work’s foundation is the types of relationships between educators, students, families, and communities. You show me a school with toxic or negative relationships; I guarantee it is not a successful school. While we often focus on relationships and connections with others, we cannot neglect the relationships we have with ourselves.
The most important relationship we have is the relationship with ourselves. How we treat ourselves can lead to success or sabotage. There is a growing body of research about the importance of self-care, primarily because our culture has glorified busyness and glamorized “the grind.” We wear busyness as a badge of honor and work ourselves to the point of exhaustion. We engage in conversations about how busy we are and “story top” to ensure we are the busiest in our group. We equate busyness with productivity and develop a martyr mindset. It’s self-destructive and models to our students, family members, and communities that what we do is arduous, burdensome work. Is that the message we want to send? Do we want to work ourselves to exhaustion and eventually burnout?
We often say that students are the most important people in the building. We also say that we must always do what is best for students, especially when making decisions about curriculum, instruction, assessment, and culture. Our students are why we do what we do, but they are not the most important people in the building. We are.
Our attitude and mental well-being affect the climate and culture of our schools. There’s so much pressure to be the best, and we can sabotage ourselves because of self-destructive thoughts. Sometimes our greatest enemy or barrier to success is ourselves. Past experiences, negative emotions, or even replaying others’ negative words that have been spoken to us can sabotage our ideas, goals, and dreams.
If you neglect yourself for the sake of your work, consider this: you cannot give your best if you have very little to give. Consider ways to make your health a priority. Start by making small, subtle changes like going to bed earlier just one night this week. Turn off all notifications on your phone when you get home. Do not send or respond to emails after a specific time that is relevant to you. For example, make 6:00 or 7:00 pm when you shut down email until you get to school the next day. Write down a few positive experiences about your day and reflect on how they made you feel. Share some good news with someone close to you. Move your body by going for a walk, run, or ride. Review and re-establish boundaries around work so you can protect yourself and be your best. Know when to say when and call it a day. You deserve it.