#208 – Educator Voices: Relational Capacity

Unpacking Education August 9, 2023 37 min

This episode is Part I of a four-part series featuring educator voices from the 2022 AVID National Conference. Each episode features interviews with teachers and school leaders. In this episode, our educator guests share strategies and rationale for creating relational capacity in their classrooms and schools.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.

Rita F. Pierson, lifelong educator and TED Talk speaker


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

Building Relationships: A Consistent Theme

As Rena, Winston, and Paul interviewed teachers and school leaders at this past year’s AVID National Conference, they were continually struck by how often the theme of relational capacity came up. Nearly every educator commented in some way about the importance of developing relationships with students. It became immediately clear how important these connections are to nearly everything that happens in a classroom.

The following are some highlights from our interviews with educators from across the nation:

  • Stacie Sollars, Principal, Mark Denman Elementary School, Danville School District 118, IL: Stacie talked about how her school sets up AVID Buddy Rooms and how her school fills those experiences with collaborative strategies. She explains, “Every Friday, we have classrooms that pair up with each other.” For example, she says, fourth-graders pair up with kindergarten classrooms. “They go in, and they work on binders. They work on organization strategies, but they also help with one-pagers. You know, our kiddos who are in kindergarten may be drawing pictures, and our older kids are labeling them or writing out the sentences for them. They do all kinds of mentoring-type programs with them, and some of them are also just grade-level partners.” She adds, “We really like to talk about that collaboration piece with the kiddos, and then have them kind of do some of those Give One, Get One, maybe analyzing each other’s work, that sort of thing, and giving each other some extra tips and support.”
  • Angela Murr, Information Literacy Specialist, Mendez Elementary School, San Marcos Consolidated ISD, TX: “I feel like all of our teachers and our principal have built a culture at our school where our kids, we know, come first, and we know that we’re not going to get any learning done or teaching done if they don’t feel empowered, and cared for, and loved, so we always put that at the forefront.”
  • Janice Warren: Assistant Superintendent and AVID District Director, Pulaski County Special School District, AR: Janice says, “We are all about relationships. . . . The kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” She points out that commitment to relationship-building leads to a decline in disciplinary referrals. She says, “When students are engaged, that eliminates the kind of disciplinary problems . . . because of our student engagement, we have seen a drastic decline in our discipline referrals across the district.”
  • Whitney Moore, AVID Site Coordinator, Hickman High School, Columbia Public Schools, MO: Whitney talks about injecting fun as a way to build connections. “Humor is something we rely on a lot,” she says. “Our Fun Fridays is kind of what gets us started and allows students to relax a little bit. In the beginning of the school year, we do a lot of team building, a lot of get-to-know-yous.”
  • Suzanne Thomas, AVID/ELD Coordinator, Desert Ridge Academy, Desert Sands Unified School District, CA: Suzanne explains that once you create relationships with students, “they are willing to take some risks in the classroom.” She adds, “I never just put them out there. I always provide language frames for them.” With this strategy, she models a response first and lets the students do it next. “They become the teachers of the classrooms, which I love, and we celebrate our kids. We’re always saying, ‘Great job.’ We do a lot of AVID cheers, so my kids want to be the leaders of the classroom and be those risk-takers.”
  • Victor Upchurch, Home/School Coordinator, Gibson Elementary School, Riverview Gardens School District, MO: Victor uses networks between families and schools to build relationships. For example, they use back-to-school dances and block parties to connect people. Victor says, “We just try to keep that rapport built with the parents and let them know how important school really is and that every day is important.”
  • Karlonda Favors, AVID Teacher, Fossil Ridge High School, Keller Independent School District, TX: Karlonda describes a new program at her school called the AVID Leadership Council. She says, “It gives an opportunity for our seniors to take leadership roles, such as president, vice president, secretary, etc., and it also gives opportunity for underclassmen . . . to elect representatives for their class.”
  • Dasia Greer, Assistant Principal, Walter L. Cohen High School, New Orleans College Prep, LA: Dasia says, “I really think it’s important to allow students to see themselves in you and to be able to create relevant connections between relevant curriculum as well as the social aspects of teaching.” She adds, “I always want my students to feel valued in a way that I care about you outside of school, so doing check-ins in regards to ‘How’s life outside of school? Is there anything you need assistance with?’ Because when you create those connections and bridge the gaps, you get more student buy-in, and students are willing to jump through a wall for you—do anything you ask them to because they know you truly value them.” To make this happen, she says, “We strive to give those students voices.” One of the ways they do this is through Cultural Heritage Month activities. She points out the benefit of events like this: “Children are generally loving and accepting. Once they understand and once they know, they love everybody. They accept everybody. We need to hold ourselves as educators and as adults to make sure that we are being intentional and diligent about bridging the gaps and facilitating an accepting environment for all.”
  • Celia Irizarry, AVID District Director, Manor Independent School District, TX: “Our students need to feel comfortable in their space, to be able to speak and advocate for themselves in any situation. . . . Feeling family pride would empower them to feel powerful in any situation.”
  • Amanda Fredrickson, Assistant Principal, Virginia Beach Middle School, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, VA: “We are really focused on the whole child, and it is our mission to really know our students. And I think that is half the battle. They don’t engage if they don’t think you care, so how do you let them know? And the only way you can do that is by really getting to know them, getting to know their likes and interests, getting to know their family dynamics,  ways in which they love to learn.”
  • Roy Jackson, Assistant Principal, Daisy Bates Elementary School, Pulaski County Special School District, AR: “We always use different media outlets through social media and stuff like that to get the community involved.”
  • Theresa Guy, Academic Intervention Specialist, King Middle School, Santa Rosa County Schools, FL: “Relationship building is building confidence and being able to speak their mind—and know that if they make a mistake, they’re not going to be judged.”
  • Cameron Inouye-Ng, Teacher, Makalapa Elementary School, Aiea-Moanalua-Radford Complex Area, HI: Cameron talks about the importance of helping students transition back into face-to-face environments after COVID and to regain skills in how to be a leader and friend.
  • Kevin Walden, Assistant Principal, Sugarloaf School, Monroe County School District, FL: Kevin uses strategies like the “Shark Shout-Out” to reward students for positive behavior. He explains his school’s approach, saying, “We build relationships and do different things in order to encourage students to feel like they have a voice in the classroom, have a voice in their academics. And I think it helps them to understand that people respect them. They’re always told to respect the teachers, but they want to feel respected as well.” He adds, “A lot of times, with some of the kids that are having struggles academically or behaviorally, it’s because of some of the foundations of support that they don’t have at home. So, we have to realize that, and break down the barriers, and not be like, ‘I’m just going to discipline you because you did something wrong.’ I’m going to think about why did you do it, and then have them for the next time, know that they have someone they can come to before they might act out.”
  • Dr. Bruce Eschler, Principal, Jordan High School, Canyons School District, UT: Bruce talks about the importance of “not just focusing on the curriculum but connecting it to their interests.” He points out, “We gotta hook ’em.  . . . If we use their interests to connect them, then we can get ’em.”
  • Kelley Zulueta, Program Specialist, Teaching and Learning, AVID Center: Kelley sums up the incredible importance of today’s topic: “Relationships matter. Relationships matter.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • Why do you believe that relationships matter in education?
  • What strategies did you hear in this episode that you may try in your school or classroom?
  • What strategies did you hear that were new to you?
  • Which comment stood out most to you?
  • How will you continue to build community and relational capacity with your students?