THE HUB - Feature Article

  • As School Year Begins, We Must Build Relationships

    Posted by Melvin Edwards on 9/6/2018

    Over the last year much has been written and said, both inside and outside of our schoolhouses, about the value of relationships.

    Relationships between students. Relationships between staff members. Relationships between students and staff members. Relationships between schools and the communities they serve, particularly as they pertain to parents and guardians.

    The value of relationships is not lost in the Strategic Plan adopted by our Board of Education last February. Our road map to help every student achieve his or her full potential has, in fact, been best characterized in three words – “Relationships. Rigor. Readiness.” – with relationships very purposefully being the first.

    To be sure, parents and communities play a large role when it comes to imparting in children the ability and willingness to build relationships. Our school system, however, can’t adequately prepare our children to be successful in their careers or in college without doing what we can to help further the building of those sound relationships as well. It is with that in mind that we have spent a good part of the summer designing activities that are aimed at helping staff and students get to know each other better.

    Teachers and other school-based staff who have been back at work for more than a week have been introduced to a menu of activities from which they have chosen to engage in the days before students arrive. Beginning tomorrow and over the course of the next week or so, students will engage in some of the same or similar activities, adapted for different grade levels to achieve maximum impact.

    For example, students or staff may take part in a “What’s In A Name?” activity in which each person discusses their name, its particular meaning, and perhaps its derivation. In another activity, students or staff members may bring in some artifact that is important to their lives and discuss its meaning.

    By making conscious and concerted efforts to generate discussion and understanding – to help individuals know and understand each other’s stories – we can create the awareness and respect necessary to break down walls that can otherwise become barriers not only to instruction, but to equity, cultural acceptance, and harmony. Our intent is to use purposeful dialogue to help create bonds that will reduce, if not eradicate, defamatory, disparaging, and demeaning words and actions that threaten to tear apart the fabric of schools and communities. We urge our parents and community and business partners to continue these conversations at home and elsewhere.

    There are sure to be those who will say that we can’t afford to sacrifice a single second of instruction to this endeavor. In my view, we can’t afford not to do so.

    The research is clear: Building better relationships between students and teachers has a long-lasting and positive impact not only in the academic arena, but in the social one as well. Further, there is no question that students do better when they know that the adults with whom they interact – both in school and in the community – are involved in their lives and truly understand them as people and not just as names on a grade sheet or team or club roster.

    If our small investment of time in September yields fewer distractions, fewer discipline issues, and less classroom disruption in December or February or May, the return we realize will be seen in greater mastery of content by students across our school system and a greater understanding between human beings in general. If our September investment leads to fewer of the divisive incidents like those we saw last year both inside and outside of our school system, our entire community will win.

    As we seek to develop young men and women who will be leaders in our communities, we must continue to acknowledge that they need more qualities and attributes than can be gleaned from a textbook. Our schools – along with our parents and our communities – must lead in that effort. We plan to start doing just that as soon as classes resume.

    The writer is Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. He can be reached at

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