Relationships Matter

November 1st, 2023

Hello Selwyn Families,
In this month’s Thoughts on Teaching and Learning series, I’ve asked Selwyn’s Head of Lower School—and third grade teacher—Mrs. Melissa Sayler to share her thoughts on relationship-first teaching and how our Lower School teachers, especially, use this strategy to build bonds with students and make investments in individual student learning. I hope you enjoy!

One of my favorite educators to follow on social media, Dwayne Reed (@teachmrreed on Instagram), speaks often of the importance of building relationships with students. Prioritizing this, he says, is the single most important thing teachers can do to make an educational impact on the kids in teachers’ classes. It’s not fancy, perfect lesson plans; not rigorous homework each night; not brand-new flashy gadgets or cutting-edge tech. While those things may sometimes have their place, he asserts that simply taking the time to truly get to know each student and show them that they are valued and celebrated for who they are, is what matters most. He’s not the only teacher who believes this. Spend enough time reading articles, magazines, and blog posts about education and you will see that this concept is making the rounds all over. “We teach people, not content,” they remind us.
I enjoy posts like Mr. Reed’s about relationship-first teaching, both because I wholeheartedly agree with that philosophy and because it makes me proud to teach at Selwyn, a place where I see teachers build and maintain strong, positive, caring relationships with our students every day. In fact, I feel it is what we do best and that it is one of the things that sets us apart from other schools. From everyday interactions in the classroom to sharing a meal together at lunch, our small class sizes and structure allow for tons of opportunities to really get to know our kids.
Students love to share their lives with their teachers, and at Selwyn, we welcome and make time for this. We know which of our students love narwhals, which student visits Disney World each year with his family (and what his favorite rides are!), and which student only likes the color orange. We know the names of baby siblings, pets, and favorite songs. We know who prefers a fist-bump to a hug. We know hopes, dreams, goals, and fears. We know our students in the way that can only happen by taking an active interest, and by caring about them as the unique people they are.
And they can definitely feel this care! Justin Tarte, the Director of Teaching and Learning in the Union RXI School District in Union, MO says, “Teachers who put relationships first don’t just have students for one year; they have students who view them as ‘their’ teacher for life.” At Selwyn, we are lucky to have built so many of these “for life” student-teacher bonds. I love that middle schoolers who were once in my class sometimes stop by just to say hi and ask how my year is going or reminisce with me about a project they enjoyed. Of all the students I’ve taught the past 13 years at Selwyn, I am still in touch with most of them and their families. Our high school graduates occasionally come back to campus to visit and catch up with their teachers. Even former Unicorns who have moved far away still show up for Pumpkin Fest and International Night. That says a lot about Selwyn, I think.
Bringing it back to Dwayne Reed, his most frequently used hashtag on social media is #RelationshipsMatter. Short, but powerful. Relationships do matter, and in education they matter the most. At Selwyn, we exemplify that.
-Melissa Sayler

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