It’s All About the Relationship: All Together for Our Students

September 1st, 2009: MACCRAY School District

Amicus recently conducted a training for the Maccray school district entitled: “It’s All About the Relationship.” Although the training was originally designed for professionals in corrections, the Amicus Training Academy was more than happy to customize a relationship-building training for the school district.

The Maccray school district has been on a mission recently: to make their school climate less restrictive and more supportive. Staff believe it is important that children who struggle have opportunities to grow from their mistakes, and many educators feel that a nurturing and supportive environment is crucial to ensuring no students get left behind. Student surveys, which revealed that many students perceive low levels of support from their teachers, only confirmed to administrators that what the school needed was to focus on relationship-building – first amongst the staff, and second between staff and students.

During the first half of the day, Amicus helped more than 130 school district staff, including educators, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, principals, cooks and custodians, rethink ways to strengthen the relationships they had forged with each other. A number of participants voiced concerns about feeling alienated in the teacher’s lounge, and our exercises encouraged staff members to view their relationships with one another through the lens of restorative culture.

By the end of the morning, district staff realized that unhealthy relationships in places such as the teacher’s lounge not only fostered a hostile learning environment but also set a bad example for the students. After the training, one teacher realized that “we’re on the same team.” The superintendant of the school district noted that “talking about restorative measures…and how we interact with each other is invaluable.”

The second half of the day focused on staff-student relationships and was centered on giving educators a concrete set of tools, techniques and perspectives to use in their classroom. The goal was not create new “work” for the teachers but to find ways for teachers to incorporate relationship-building techniques and restorative practices into their day-to-day activities. Participants learned how to “keep a circle” and were encouraged to re-conceptualize how they viewed their students. One participant noted that this part of the day was “really enlightening,” and many educators were eager to try the circle technique when they left the training.

Additionally, district employees who generally have fewer opportunities to forge relationships with students – such as janitors, bus drivers and cooks – were challenged to find new ways to connect to students.

Already, the training has helped district employees make inroads in relationship-building.

“I think the training went really well,” a district employee remarked recently. “Just today I asked a custodian who has a good bond with one of our students to help mentor the student with their educational goals and pursuits. I thought: how nice that we spent the day discussing relationship building and how now this staff member was very willing to help out when called upon.”

Although the training was only one-day long, it is expected to have a lasting impact on the lives of both students and educators in the McCray school district. According to Superintendant Greg Schmidt, “the day is one that staff will remember for the rest of their professional careers.”