The Power of Relationship


People are by nature relational. This is easily observable in our day to day lives, but also well established by countless bodies of research. I think we can also see this when we examine people’s fears.

If you go online and search for top fears, you will find lots of lists compiled by various researchers. Fear is something we all understand, so it makes sense that lots of people have studied it. Here’s one list I found; and most of the survey results were similar.

# 10. Fear of the dentist

# 9.  Fear of dogs

# 8.  Fear of flying

# 7.  Fear of failure

# 6.  Fear of the dark

# 5.  Fear of heights

# 4.  Fear of death

# 3.  Fear of public speaking

# 2.  Fear of Spiders / insects

# 1.  Fear of snakes

The interesting thing though is this, when researchers took away the option to choose things, objects, animals, etc; the list changed significantly:

# 10.  Fear of losing freedom

# 9.  Fear of the unknown

# 8.  Fear of pain

# 7.  Fear of disappointment

# 6.  Fear of misery

# 5.  Fear of loneliness

# 4.  Fear of ridicule

# 3.  Fear of rejection

# 2.  Fear of death

# 1.  Fear of failure

Isn’t it interesting that 4 of the top 5 answers on this second list (loneliness, ridicule, rejection, failure) are relational fears.  You know what I think? I think this speaks to the fact that our deepest fear is actually the fear that we might not matter; the fear that our lives lack purpose and meaning; the fear that we are unlovely or unloved, or that we will not be accepted by our peers. Perhaps that’s why we fear speaking in public more than death, because death accepts everybody, but our peers might reject us. The fear of rejection, the fear that we might not matter – It’s seen in the fact that our greatest fears revolve around being accepted by others.

What we all really want is to matter to somebody.   Whenever we feel rejected it strikes at our deepest fear, the fear that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t matter. When you want to play ball, and no one wants you on their team, when you give that audition your best, and you aren’t selected to perform, when you apply to that college and your application is rejected, When you work your hardest and your boss doesn’t seem to think it’s good enough, when you ask out that special girl or guy and they say no, when you study all night and still don’t pass the test, when no matter how hard you try – your parent is never satisfied. The deep heart of our fear screams at us in the silence of our souls: “What if I am not lovely? What if no one truly cares about me? Do I even matter to anyone at all?

This is why relationship is such a powerful, inseparable part of education. If we are to make a difference in the lives of our students, we cannot ignore the power of building positive, supportive relationships with them. Most educators I have known get this on some level. But I have also met a fair number of educators who are so in love with their content area, or enamoured with the technology tools now available, or focused on instructional methodology, etc. that they don’t make time to build relationships with the very students they are seeking to serve through all of these things. Indeed, a few I have met are arguably experts in their field of study, technologically on the cutting edge, and demonstrate deep understanding of best practices in instruction, but are failing miserably as educators because they can’t connect on the most basic level of relationship with their students or colleagues.

I have often listened to teachers complain that they don’t have time to deal with the students’ baggage from home if they are going to cover the standards of their courses. I would argue that the issue is these teachers are focusing on their coverage rather than the students’ growth or learning. It would be like having a student come to reading class wearing eyeglasses that are all covered in mud and saying, “I have all this reading the student needs to get done, I don’t have time to stop and help him clean his glasses.” You could assign all the reading you want, but the student won’t be able to get much from it until his glasses are clean enough to read.

Teaching is an inherently human endeavor. It necessitates attention to things like curriculum, instructional practice, assessment, materials and supplies, etc., but at the core, our focus must always be on the human element. Over my 24 years as an educator, the bulk of teachers, support staff, and administrators I have met or worked alongside understand this and keep it in the central position as much as possible. It is a challenge, however, in an age of increasing attention to quantifiable assessment data, exponential increase in pace of change, and an overwhelming access to information and educational tools to lose focus on this human element and spend the majority of our time as educators on all these things rather than keeping students at the center of all we do. After all, our highest calling as educators is not to build schools, it is to build well adjusted, intelligent, and academically and socially competent human beings. Let’s not forget the power of building relationships in order to achieve these goals.

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