Starting the New Year Connected: Strategies for Connecting With and Engaging All Students

Asian female teacher smiles at a young dark-haired female student smiling up at the teacher.

Building relationships with students is by far the most important thing a teacher can do. Without a solid foundation and relationships built on trust and respect, no quality learning will happen.

– Timothy Hilton


  • Pair students and have them ask about each other, at least including What is your hidden talent?
  • Then have them share with the class: What is your partner’s hidden talent?

“The idea of interdependence is that we can meet each other’s needs in a variety of ways, that we can truly lean on others and they can lean on us.” – Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy

What does interdependence look like in your community? How do you as a leader facilitate interdependence?

  • One leader uses Strengthsfinder to learn about people’s strengths. This builds bridges across teams
  • Intention is key: Interdependence doesn’t just happen, you have to be intentional about it. A side effect of the pandemic has been the loss of connection, especially with families and the larger community. It is important to use every opportunity to reestablish and rebuild connection.
    • For example, one leader has an advisory council that goes beyond just a single leader, and it helps to have a team also emphasizing the need for interdependence.
  • Reconnect the Who and the Why
  • Reestablish interconnection: Relationships have been frayed during the pandemic, and they need to be intentionally repaired/rewoven

“Ultimately, the People Positive leader believes that when it comes to human beings, we show up the way we are expected to show up—the way we are treated.” – Aaron Dignan, Brave New Work

How does your community facilitate a People Positive environment? Identify members of your community who are people positive (staff, students, families, members of the community). What makes them People Positive leaders? How do their actions display this?

  • Intentionally placing people where their strengths are creates people positive leaders
    • An example is when empathy was at the bottom of a leader’s Strengthsfinder list, so they surround themselves with people who are strongly empathetic: “for every person, if you put them in the right place, they have the opportunity to be people-positive.”
  • Leaders must use aspirational talk instead of deficit talk. How we interact with students and staff reveals much about our beliefs and our belief in the person in front of us
    • “Talk to students as if they are the person you want them to be or believe they can be, rather than where they are. Then they can walk away from the conversation knowing that you believe in them, rather than wondering if you do.”

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During a Crowdsource Coffee on November 9, 2022, Portico leaders, coaches, and facilitators shared their experiences and discussed new ideas for how we can better address educator exhaustion and work toward preventing this issue in the first place.