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February 2, 2024
ASCD Blog

Podcast: Making Every Connection Matter in Schools

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Nita and Michael Creekmore shed light on the transformative potential of relationships in education.
School CultureEngagement
Making Every Connection Matter in Schools
“We are stronger in community,” say Nita and Michael Creekmore, authors of the new ASCD book, Every Connection Matters. Drawing on their time in schools, conversations with each other and with colleagues, and even dialogues with their own children, the Creekmores set out to unpack why relationships are core to education, as well as to identify barriers and misperceptions around relationship-building that persist in schools.
In a recent ASCD podcast episode, Anthony Rebora spoke with the Creekmores about the many facets of building, maintaining, and restoring relationships in schools—not just between teachers and students, but also among teachers, administrators, and other staff members.
“There’s a lot out there about teacher-to-student relationships,” Michael Creekmore explains in the episode. “But not a lot about teacher to teacher, teacher to admin.”
Nita, a former teacher turned instructional coach and inclusive literacy advocate, and Michael, a licensed professional counselor, observed a disconnect among educators when it comes to relationship-building.
“In my teacher prep program, we talked about relationships, but we feel like there should be a class on relationship-building,” Nita says. “Some people it comes very naturally to, some people not so much.” Relationships are foundational to school success and resilience, yet there’s little emphasis on “intentionally teaching the skills” for building, maintaining, and restoring them.
Educators don’t even agree on the value of relationship-building. The Creekmores acknowledge the skepticism they’ve encountered from some educators who believe too much emphasis is placed on relationships, especially when relationships are misused as part of a toxic-positivity culture or considered a cure-all to the very real challenges of managing student behavior.
“Behaviors were illuminated in students after the pandemic,” Nita Creekmore says. “We often heard educators say: ‘Relationships are important, but they’re not going to cure [student’s] behavior.’” While she understands these responses, she stresses the importance of taking a “yes, and” approach: “We say ‘yes, and’—relationship-building may not ‘cure’ the behavior, but you can’t have one without the other. You can’t help to [manage behaviors] without having relationships.” 
Moreover, understanding and connecting with students on a personal level contributes significantly to learning gains. “Your students come with so many stories about their lives, cultures, how they identify,” says Nita. “Some teachers don’t tap into that. Some have a philosophy of, ‘I’m there to teach them, not build relationships.’ [In that mindset] you’re missing out on a whole host of learning, almost like there’s a wall in place.”
Yet, even when educators are on board with relationship-building, there can be barriers to breaking down “walls.” In both the podcast and in their book, the Creekmores share insights on how educators can be more conscious about creating meaningful connections among a school community. They highlight the importance of authenticity, transparency, and trust in all types of relationship-building, urging educators to be intentional in their efforts to know and understand their colleagues and their students.
One first step is to slow down and be more deliberate about day-to-day interactions, Nita advises: “I think not knowing your students and who they are, your teachers and who they are [is a barrier]. Taking that time to slow down and learn about their past experiences is important: Who are they as a person? Who am I working with on my team?
Michael adds that it can be difficult to authentically get to know people in your school community when you don’t know if you can trust them. Authenticity, trust, and transparency, he explained, are all connected.
“Not knowing, and not trusting: Once you trust someone, you’re able to be more open, transparent, and share more about yourself. That’s something that’s really important,” said Michael.
Such value systems around relationship-building start at the top. When it comes to school leadership, Michael explains, “I appreciate honesty and transparency. I need [leaders] to be forthcoming so, whatever it is, I can brace myself and prepare for it or fully enjoy it. As a leader, trying to be as transparent as possible, doing the best you can, being open and honest is a step in the right direction.”
To learn more about Nita and Michael Creekmore’s book and the power of relationship-building in schools, explore the book or listen to the full podcast episode:

Jessica Comola is an editor with Educational Leadership magazine.

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