Posted by: darcymullin | October 7, 2014

Relationships matter…a lot.

I remember attending a conference when I was a new teacher.  I think it was in my second year and I was teaching Grade 7. The closing keynote asked the crowd why they got into education. He asked how many got into the profession because they loved working with kids. Almost everyone in the crowd put up their hands. Almost everyone in the gym indicated it was one of the main reasons they entered the field. I remember feeling really good, empowered even being surrounded by so many like-minded people.

Then, he knocked the wind out of me.

The presenter said simply, that to love working with kids wasn’t good enough. Teachers needed to have more than an affinity for children. They needed to be strong practitioners and deliver content in an effective manner and that not being effective was paramount to malpractice. It’s been many years, so I may not do the presenter or the presentation justice, but I remember walking away feeling like I was doing a disservice to my students.

I walked away a little

I often think about that presentation. I remember being put off.   Looking back, my pedagogy was not very polished, but I was still a new teacher and my learning curve was steep. What I had was a passion for kids – I loved working with them and developing relationships with them. Over the years I did become a better practitioner as I honed the “craft” of teaching.

I have been thinking more and more about the presentation of late. While I agree that teachers need to be strong in the classroom and need to develop their pedagogy, none of it matters if students don’t think you care about them. More than anything, it’s relationships that matters most in schools. If we as educators build strong trusting relationships with students, they will take risks. They will try because they know they have support if they make a mistake. Taking risks and feeling supported through them are paramount to learning.

When I see young teachers entering the field, I look first for the passion. Those who put kids first tend to become the best teachers. Because they care they tend to be more reflective and willing to try different things to allow kids and uncover their strengths.  People who care about kids also tend to develop strong relationships with their colleagues. Trusting relationships among colleagues are fundamental to a collaborative culture in schools. People who care make schools better places for us all to learn.  When schools create cultures built on care and a passion for kids, you have a culture that supports kids and builds them up, rather than deconstructing them and breaking them down.

I’m sorry, but all those years ago, the presenter had it wrong. Education must start with the relationship first and it should be central to all the things we do. Without it, the other stuff just doesn’t matter.


  1. Thanks Darcy. Love the post. If there is one thing I’ve learned in 30 years of being an educator it’s that relationships trump all else. Much of my writing and work today are built on that premise. I have yet to meet a student who has as little as one solid relationship with an adult at school who disappoints. I have seen it be the root (and route) to a turnaround in the lives of many students.

    • Thanks Tom, I agree. In my years (not quite 30…but pushing 20 😉 I have yet to meet at student who I didn’t reallly enjoy once I took the time to get to know them. It’s not always easy, but I think it makes all the difference in our classrooms and schools.

  2. Every kids needs at least one adult to be their cheer leader, to let them fail in a safe place, to let them grow as a person and applaud their strengths. We need to glance at their weaknesses and gaze at their strengths. I truly believe that relationship is THE key to any successful teacher.

    • I couldn’t agree more. I also see evidence of this in your class every single day.

  3. I am going in to speak to fourth year teachers today at Trinity Western. I asked my son, a kid who learns differently, what he thought would be important for me to tell the students. He said “Some kids are different than others. Make sure you know them well too.” It’s those little things like taking the time to get to know a child that make such a huge difference in their trajectory. Thanks for this post.

  4. Hi Darcy,

    Isn’t it amazing how some thing just stick with us for years and years? We continue to learn different lessons from these things over the years – depending what we need at that particular time. We see things through different lenses depending on our experience at that time or up until that time.

    I agree – without relationships, you really have nothing. You can’t have the positive impact we all want when we don’t take the time to develop those trusting relationships with others. Those trusting relationships need to start first with the adults in an environment. In turn, these relationships will be able to be developed with students and their families.

    Yah, the presenter was “off” back then, Darcy. Sometimes it just takes us awhile to realize it!

    Looking forward to more of your posts!


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