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Relationships & Marie Kondo

September 7, 2020

The last ten days have me thinking about some basic needs for September. September means the start of a new school year. This September is different. I am not talking about safety protocols or return to school roadmaps or anything specific to the COVID-19 global pandemic. In general, I am referring to the philosophical foundations of how we think about the school year’s start. This school year begins with constraints that no one wants.

Relationships are the foundation of any school. The trust that evolves between teachers and students inspires learners to do their work; it enables teachers to give critical feedback and energizes educators to find ways to unlock student potential. Unless students feel safe and supported, meaning each child has established a relationship with an educator, academic progress slows. Too often, and unfortunately, those relationships take a back seat as prioritizing academic gains takes precedence. This year, perhaps more than any other, building strong connections with students must be at the forefront of all we do. Encouraged by the “Meet and Greet” activities at the elementary schools this week, it is evident that our teachers also realize the importance of establishing critical relationships both safely and early. This year’s challenge is that much of the early relationship-building begins through distance learning.

Since March 13, when the schools closed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, students (and staff!) have missed school-based social, emotional, and academic opportunities. The research is definitive that, “When kids spend their daytime hours in safe, supportive schools where adults work every day to build strong relationships with every student, they are simply better, more engaged learners.” (Gonser, Edutopia 2020) With little effort, one can glean numerous resources suggesting activities that teachers can employ remotely. A quick look at Twitter and Instagram feeds shows teachers experimenting and implementing relationship-building using technology. When in-person instruction ceases, then technology and some old-school methods will help educators foster relationships and connect with each child in a meaningful way.

This list, from Edutopia, is good, but certainly not exhaustive. Something as simple as sending a postcard through the US Postal Service is as meaningful as that first in-person Meet and Greet. What child doesn’t feel honored when receiving mail addressed personally to that child? We learned many things during the Spring about remote learning. How we take that knowledge and further adapt it to focus on forging relationships is a work in progress. “We’re in the middle of a grand experiment here,” said Mike Magee, the CEO of Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit whose members lead education systems serving 14,000 schools. “We’re going to find out a lot about the degree to which relationships can be built online between teachers and students.” (Rauf, Education Week 2020) I am confident that the educators in Saline will prioritize this aspect of the virtual classroom and find ways to make every child feel welcome, acknowledged, and supported.

Next, it’s important to acknowledge that we are experiencing events that will shape and define us. We are conscious of the pandemic’s hardships on students, staff, families, and businesses. To that end, the degree to which we “Marie Kondo” the start of the school year will ultimately determine our success. Marie Kondo rose to fame in the US in 2019, touting organizational methods and techniques to minimize clutter and actualize the human experience. She advocates removing from one’s life things that do not spark joy. This mantra simplifies the education system, yet the premise is germane. In approaching the 2020-2021 school year, staff and community members must share priorities essential to student well-being (first) and student achievement. In so doing, the human connection becomes paramount. 

Gonser, Sarah. “7 Ways to Maintain Relationships During Your School Closure.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, March 25. 2020,

Rauf, David Saleh. “Nurturing Teacher-Student Connections in a Virtual World.” Education Week, July 30, 2020,

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