Connections Matter

Jenning Prevatte, M. Ed.

Scrolling through LinkedIn one day, a quote from Dr. Brad Johnson captured my attention. It stated, “Teachers, your students may not remember everything about your class this class, but they will remember you cared, showed grace, made them feel valued, and encouraged them to be their best. They will remember that forever.” (Brad Johnson, LinkedIn @DrBradJohnson)

This post was so timely since I had recently taken my middle schooler out for lunch the day before, and the topic she wanted to discuss (or process with me) was how she felt her teachers felt about her the past year. She had just finished her first year in middle school, and it was her first experience with having multiple teachers. Some she had all year, such as her math and science teachers. While others, her elective teachers, she had a new teacher every trimester. She named which ones she felt “liked” her during lunch and which didn’t. She mentioned that this was an unusual feeling for her to have teachers “not like” her since she has always been “liked” (or I’d say LOVED) by her ECE and elementary school teachers. This was not the first time we’ve had this conversation this year. She has processed this awareness of her connection with her teachers several times yearly.

As many of you who have been reading my blog know, I am a BIG advocate for building relationships with all learners at all education levels. Relationships are the critical foundation for learning. They are what trust and belonging are made from. There has been an abundance of evidence that speaks to this in research. Meaningful human connections in the classroom are critical to learning success. As stated in the book Relationship-Rich Education How Human Connections Drive Success in College by Peter Felten and Leo M. Lambert, “We know from experience and a growing body of research that students’ sense of belonging and connectedness in higher education institutions is tied to essential outcomes, including their academic achievement, their well-being, motivation, and retention.” (Felten & Lambert, 2020) 

This fact is no different in secondary, elementary, or early childhood education. Positive connections = trust and belongingness!

Let’s consider for a moment Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There are five essential human needs according to Maslow’s theory. Each human condition must be met for human development. If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid, you will notice that the foundational needs for human development are physiological, safety, and social needs. If these needs aren’t met, motivation declines and becomes deficient. If these needs are met, humans can continue to grow, develop, and reach the upper tiers of the pyramid, esteem, and self-actualization. As educators, it is essential to understand that deep learning happens in the upper tiers. Therefore, building positive relationships with learners, families, and communities is a foundational requirement for learning. Connections in the classroom matter! As educators, we need to take time to get to know each learner on an individual level beyond academics and support them in developing connections with peers, regardless of age and education level. When humans are in new environments, the brain spends significant time identifying if they are safe. As educators, we are the leaders in the classroom, and it is our responsibility to create psychologically safe learning environments for learners. That way, learners can get to the job of learning.

Back to my middle schooler, since she was questioning if some of her teachers “liked” her and didn’t feel valued in those classes, she ultimately lacked the motivation to learn that topic and seek connections elsewhere. Is this what we want for our learners? I think not. I love that building connections with learners doesn’t cost us a thing. It is free and priceless to the learning experience. It only takes our time, compassion, and awareness. I’ve often said children measure love in T-I-M-E. Those children grow up, enter secondary and higher education settings, and seek that same level of engagement with educators. 

Let’s not fail them.

Always remember!

You are talented! You are brilliant!

You connect, engage, and inspire the future!