The Nature of Relationships

In the continuing rhythm of each school year, August finds administrators planning for the return of faculty and staff, followed quickly by the arrival of students and parents. One of the things I appreciate most about schools is how each academic year feels like (and is) a whole new beginning. We welcome new and returning faculty members, experienced and shy new students, long established and as yet unknown families. We distribute fresh schedules and next level courses, open page one of textbooks and novels, and embark once more upon the adventure of teaching and learning, a blank slate of attendance and grade sheets before us. The anticipation of a spanking new year fills us with hope and excites us with possibilities. IBM and Proctor and Gamble wish they could experience the unique joy of this annual renewal time.

In many ways, the early days of faculty work week set the tone for the entire year. These pre-opening adult days set the foundation upon which the new school year is built. In thinking about the best use of this most precious time, I am always inspired by the wisdom of Roland Barth, the educator who founded the Harvard Principals’ Center. He wrote eloquently about how best to effectuate student achievement:

One incontrovertible finding emerges from my career spent working in and around schools: The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else. If the relationships between administrators and teachers are trusting, generous, helpful, and cooperative, then the relationships between teachers and students, between students and students, and between teachers and parents are likely to be trusting, generous, helpful, and cooperative. If, on the other hand, relationships between administrators and teachers are fearful, competitive, suspicious, and corrosive, then these qualities will disseminate throughout the school community.

In your experience, have you found Barth’s statement to be true? If so, how might his philosophy inform plans for the opening days with faculty and staff? What activities and programs further the creation of trusting, cooperative relationships between the adults within your school? I welcome your thoughts and comments.