Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Caring: A Building Block to Relationships

by Michele Corbat

We all need connections. We all need to feel cared about and beautiful things come when these essential foundations are in place. According to
Abraham Maslow, in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation": humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among their social groups, regardless if these groups are large or small. I find this need to belong, this need to feel cared about is especially important in schools.  Students, teachers, support staff, and yes, even administrators want to feel and know that they belong.  That someone cares. In my opinion, developing healthy relationships is the most important part of an educator’s job.
Photo credit Jack McGee

The topic of relationships has been on my mind for many months.  It seems that everywhere I turn, I am seeing or hearing or reading something about the importance of establishing relationships.  These are some tweets that I have favorited in recent months:

I recently read the book Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess.  You can learn more about the book on his website here. In the book, Dave tells the story of buying a new Honda Odyssey minivan.  On the day he buys it, something amazing happens.  He sees thousands and thousands of Odysseys everywhere.  He writes:

The brain learns to attend to stimuli that it believes are important to you and to delete, or filter out, everything else.  Until we needed a minivan, Odysseys weren't important to me.  I never focused on them, or even gave them a second thought, so they just registered to my brain as "car" in the generic.  Once I had an Odyssey and it was part of my life, my brain automatically attended to them and registered them as something special and different from just any car.


The experience Dave described is much like what I have been experiencing most of this school year except my 'minivan' has been 'relationships'.  I was a classroom teacher for 13 years and made it my mission to make sure my students knew that I cared about them.  I have been out of the classroom for 8 years now and while I still care about students, my role is now more adult-centered.   Relationships are still my number one priority.  I want people to know that I care about them. 

Here is an easy acronym to remember to show others that you care.

Communicate:  Ask your colleagues about their family, their hobbies, their weekend or a special event they attended. Your genuine interest causes people to feel valued and cared about. Don't go too long with no communication. Wherever there is a void in communication, negativity will fill it. Jon Gordon wrote about the importance of communication in his weekly newsletter here.  I know communication is important and still struggle with it.  I struggle  because in our busy lives, I tend to use email for communication more often than face to face conversations.  Emails can be misinterpreted.  Whenever I fear that information could be misunderstood with an email, I will strive to have face to face conversations with people.

Act:  It's one thing to tell someone you care about him/her.  It's completely different to show it.  There are so many ways you can show colleagues you care.  Actions speak louder than words. 
  • Praise something your coworker has done well. Identify the specific actions that you found admirable.
  • Say thank you or write a thank you note. Show your appreciation for their hard work and contributions.
  • Ask "What can I do to help you today?"
  • Admit when you are wrong and apologize
  • Know their interests well enough to present a small gift occasionally
  • Create traditions in your school
Remember:  This one is challenging for me the older I get.  I do my best to remember all sorts of information about my co-workers: stories they share about their family, favorite foods/songs/books/movies, and struggles they have shared with me.  When you can bring up a topic in a future conversation that someone has shared with you in the past, it shows that you listen.  Listening is critical in developing relationships.  As for remembering birthdays, thankfully my district has a cool way of helping us remember.  Every morning at 7:00 an uplifting quote is sent by email to all staff.  Staff birthdays for that day are included.  I enjoy sending a birthday greeting to my colleagues.

Engage: A colleague whom I often go to when I am struggling with life gave me some great advice a few months ago.  She said, "Wherever you are, be all there."  Sometimes we are so wrapped up in the minutiae of daily life that we don't give the people around us the full attention they deserve.  Our minds are in the future or the past.  We spend time on our cell phones or iPads when we could be talking to the people in our presence.  Engaging in the moment is critical to developing healthy relationships and showing others that you care.  

Caring is a building block for developing relationships and a healthy school culture. I want my school to be a place where there is a sense of community, a sense of family.  After all, we are all in this together!


  1. Well said. Building authentic relationships is key. In the classroom with your students and outside the classroom with your students. Same goes for your colleagues, they are your work family. My son recently graduated from high school and almost all of my working family attended or sent cards to congratulate or send a message of praise. Their actions showed they cared and valued our relationship. Those actions speak volumes and Still touch my heart. My grade level partner is my saving grace. We communicate professionally but also make it a priority to sharpen our saw outside of our job. Your insight and positive energy is apparent in your words of wisdom. Your first blog post is a philosophy to live and WORK by. Keep um coming.

  2. Terrific post Michele! I really connected with your "CARE" acronym. The "R" spoke to me! I love your 7am email idea. I may be taking that one : )

    Thanks for posting Michele, you hit the nail on the head, relationships are the key!