Build connection and relationship in small moments
A colleague recently shared this article about unconditional positive regard written by Alex Shevrin Venet. In it, she talks about the stance she takes with her students being “I care about you. You have value. You don’t have to do anything to prove it to me, and nothing’s going to change my mind.” That is a game changing-attitude. Just imagine if every student felt that when they walked in the door of the building. Scratch that–imagine if you felt that way every time you walked into work? How would that change how you view your job? How would that impact what you do each day? Would you show up a little differently? Try a little harder? Feel happier about going to work each day?
It got me thinking about this school year we are about to embark on. And about all the conversations I have had with colleagues and clients about what to expect from students when they return to buildings full time. So many fear that students will have mental health challenges, will be behind academically, will have been traumatized by exposure to racial violence and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color, and on the list goes. We fear, we anticipate, we worry. Rightly so – many of those worries are likely to be founded. And, what occurs to me is that facing each other with unconditional positive regard could be a really good starting point for coming back together in a way that creates safety and belonging.
Shevrin Venet gives an example of how she treats students who come in late to class. Rather than being angry or making a sarcastic comment like “nice of you to show up” she says “Hey! It’s great to see you today. Settle in a minute and then I’ll catch you up.” I was immediately abashed to remember that the last time I walked into my daughter’s room I said something along the lines of “so glad to see you cleaned your room like I asked.” Had I greeted her instead with “Hi! How is your day is going so far? Show me what you are working on” and then later reminded her about room cleaning, she might have been in a better state of mind to actually complete the task. What if every student who is struggling to get used to an early routine again is given that grace when they are late to school? What if every student who is having trouble participating in class is told “your voice matters here. I’d love to hear what you have to say.” Imagine if you were having a really hard time managing all the change and a colleague said “This is hard isn’t it? I’ll watch your class for 5 minutes. Go grab a quick break.”
As this year gets started, I encourage everyone to remember what it feels like to be viewed with unconditional positive regard. To think about ways to build connection and relationship in small moments. To offer grace and love to your colleagues and your students and to welcome it in when it is offered to you. We are in for another roller coaster and relationships may just be the key to surviving it.