Prior to the pandemic, people knew that making connections with others are powerful. People often want to be known. Really known. While many are afraid of rejection over the parts they don’t like about themselves, we still crave connection and true, unconditional understanding. From the first time a baby comes into the world and reacts to a loving touch or look, we all keep looking for genuine relationships with others.
As a teacher, it’s been hard in many ways. We’ve been in remote, in hybrid and soon, in-person. Making connections with our students, for most of us, is one of the biggest joys of our careers. We love what we teach, but we love who we teach much more.
Making those genuine relationships that make our students shine and grow knowing they are safe, are understood and are able to grow in the environment of that teacher’s classroom is magical. As this school year approached, so many of us educators worried about how we might make true, deep connections in a world that had shifted dramatically, no matter what might come next.
I love getting to know others and making connections that are real, whether they are momentary moments with a stranger in a store or ones that last for decades. As a teacher, it is a huge part of how I learn about my students, earn their trust and help them through the rollercoaster rides of going through the middle school years.
I love being real with them, and in turn, they all reciprocate in so many wondrous ways.
For example, a student who I had last year, could barely speak to me. Extremely shy, I never witnessed them even talk to other students. It was so hard to build a relationship with this student and know if I was connecting. Then, this very student took my creative writing class again this year.
Guess what? The student has been talking to me!
After I shared how very thrilled I was to take my class again after not knowing if I had any sort of impact on him, the response was, “You did. You definitely did. You never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up.” Not only has the talking continued, but this amazing person shares more and more of themself through the writing we do.
Whew! That’s the power of connection.
Another student I have had the pleasure to know and teach this year, through one of my remote classes, was one with whom I have a great relationship. However, while trying to hide it, I saw subtle shifts lately. The work ethic didn’t change, but something was wrong.
When I saw that they had missed some days this week, which rarely happen, I sent an email to connect.
My Subject: EVERYTHING OK?
My simply message was, “I know you’ve missed classes this week. Is everything okay?”
Not only did a response arrive rather quickly, but it was followed by sharing all that caused the absences and what I probably noticed when in class this week. Then, at the end, “I will be at school tomorrow! I really appreciate you and everything you done for me!! I look forward to seeing you and thank you for trying to make that connection. It means a lot. ”
In remote, during a pandemic, this student has still thrived in huge ways and is even entering my student leadership training program. Relationships are not just maintained when we are with each other but also when we are not able to be together. What we do through the harder moments often speaks far greater to another’s heart, when they need it most.
Over my twenty years of teaching, I have seen a huge rise in mental health issues among more and more of our young people. For anyone to trust and share about this, it can be extremely difficult and sometimes, tragic.
Year after year, these students often confide in me verbally, through their assignments or in emails. While I always do what I need to do to make sure they get the help needed, from the right people, it is those connections that helps them to still become their best selves in the midst of their middle school years. More importantly, having those connections mean they are seen, heard, understood and they still matter.
One of the biggest examples with a student who doesn’t see much worth in school, but is extremely intelligent and capable, happened today. While yes, my job is to help my students learn. Yet, as a human who knows that together we are better, we must look to help one another whenever possible.
I squatted down next to this student and simply asked, “Are you okay? You haven’t looked happy in a while.” For the first time, this student was the most real I’ve ever seen. They shared what they were struggling with the assignment. My response was from what I have noticed about this student, so I used that to provide the help needed. Not only did that shift his countenance in a good way, but he asked me for additional help. This, from a human who clearly doesn’t like being vulnerable, became so and even thanked me as the class left.
Whether our positive, genuine connections with others is small or large, they matter.
Whether our positive, genuine connections with others is in person, through a phone, a computer, or other virtual way, they matter.
Whether our positive, genuine connections with others lead to long lasting relationships or the two parties never see one another again, they matter.
We don’t need to always see the impacts of these moments.
If we learn how to connect in ways that are true, honest, fair, pure and meant for the good of those we encounter within the journeys of our lives, that most definitely MATTERS.
Know that you matter! There are others who see you, hear you, understand you and want to embrace you. Better yet, these people want to help you become the best YOU.
Trust isn’t easy, but when earned, it is an extremely powerful force in this world . . . before the pandemic, during and always will be.