The Power of Relationships

Think about your relationship with a good friend or a close colleague; you may push each other to do better, seek comfort when you are struggling or simply share a good laugh. As social beings, human relationships are at the core of a healthy development. This is true for all—children, youth and adults. From the infant who is starting to develop a bond with their caregiver to the elderly person, nurturing our human capacity to form and maintain relationships is essential to developing a positive sense of wellbeing.

In Teaching with the Heart in Mind, the new SEL book that I am writing, I discuss how relationships influence our development. As you know, I have discussed this topic in the past (here and here). According to the latest research in developmental science, positive relationships create the developmental pathways for learning and integration of social, emotional, and cognitive skills. But that’s not all. Positive relationships can also make qualitative changes to a child’s genetic makeup, reducing their vulnerability and the impact that negative factors may have on their development. Stable and responsive relationships can serve to develop protective factors in children.

In the book, I also discuss a few strategies to help you develop positive relationships in the classroom. As promised, here’s a snippet from chapter 2 – A champion for every child. If you want to receive these excerpts directly in your email, sign up for updates at the bottom of the page or send me a message. I love hearing from you!

As an educator, you may dream of starting the school year with a positive and supportive classroom environment already built. Wouldn’t that be nice? The reality is, however, that supportive environments conducive to learning and healthy development don’t just appear; teachers build them over time through consistent and critical teaching practices. The same is true for developing positive relationships with students. It requires that we pay attention to our own social and emotional skills, and use them to build trust, ensuring the physical and emotional safety of our students, and enabling them to belong and have a sense of purpose in our classroom.

The latest studies that investigate teacher-student relationships identify several elements that influence this relationship. One of them is teachers’ capacity to establish an emotional connection with their students.

Creating an emotional connection refers to our capacity to connect with our students, and establish a bond. It does not mean that we need to carry home our students’ challenges, but that we are able to relate to their feelings and what they bring to the classroom. We show this emotional connection through our facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice; the way we listen to our students (not only the words they say, but the meaning of what they say) is also an expression of this connection.  Having an emotional connection with students will help us understand their behavior from a place of care; this is especially important for students who have experienced trauma (for more information, read chapter 3) or those students we perceive as more challenging. As with other aspects of SEL implementation, establishing an emotional connection with students starts with educators’ ability to connect with their own feelings.

Update: The book is out! You can find it on paperback, ebook and now audiobook.

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