Almost all educators believe in the importance of relationships in the teaching and learning processes. Moreover, most every study of educational success—particularly for students of color and low-income students—finds that relationships with teachers and peers significantly influence how well students do in school. As master educator Rita Pierson notes in her TED Talk Every Child Needs a Champion, “children don’t learn from people they don’t like.” And yet, too often there is not adequate time, space, or opportunity to build the kinds of relationships we know matter for students, particularly in secondary schools where teachers see so many students throughout the day. In turn, in an effort to be more intentional and strategic in providing time and opportunity to build relationships we have created the Relationship Initiative Handbook—a document that provides two weeks of ice-breakers, activities, and closing circles for educators to use district-wide.
The activities outlined may be used as proposed—in full day sequences, or they may be used differently. For example, you may want to do an ice-breaker OR a main activity each day and spend four rather than two weeks on this project. Or, you may want to do the first four days and then one day once a week for the remainder of the semester. You may also want to re-order the days—this will be especially likely if you decide not to do the two weeks consecutively. For example, it might make more sense to do “What Should Our Norms Be?” in the first week of school if you do not plan to get to the second week until later in the semester.
There are no limits to how this document can be used. Be as creative as possible! If you have better ideas for how to address similar content, do them! And don’t just do them, share them with your colleagues, your administrators, the superintendent, and district consultants. It is not the intention of this initiative to make everyone do the same thing in the exact same way. Rather, the goal is to provide enough resources that everyone will do something deep and meaningful with their students and to make it as simple as possible for educators to implement. If you do decide to do something different with your students or to tweak what is here, remember to ask yourself, “Am I taking my students on a RIDE?” Is this lesson:
R elevant to their lives?
I nteresting to my students and taught in ways that are pedagogically engaging?
D iverse in reflecting our school, community and the broader world?
E mpowering of student voice?
Finally, to the extent possible, educators should participate in all of the activities their students will be participating in. Relationships go two ways. You cannot have connections with students who do not have connections with you. It is not fair or appropriate to ask students to share about their lives, experiences, hopes and dreams if you are not willing to do the same.