Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture

“To inspire meaningful change, you must make a connection to the heart before you can make a connection to the mind.” 
via George Couros

#EdWriteNow 2018
This July, I took part in what has become an annual educational event and a highlight of my year. Along with nine respected friends and colleagues, I gathered in Chicago prior to the National Principals’ Conference and wrote a collaborative book in just over 48 hours. This is the second year we have undertaken this project called #EdWriteNow (Officially, Education Write Now). This year, we wrote about connections, relationships, and school culture, resulting in the upcoming book: Education Write Now: Top Strategies for Improving Relationships and Culture.

As I approached Year 2 of #EdWriteNow, I assumed there was little chance of matching the work (Here is a link to that book) of the inaugural team, which included Tony Sinanis, Thomas C. Murray, Sanee Bell, Kayla Delzer, Joe Sanfelippo, Bob Dillon, Amber Teamann, Starr Sackstein, and Joe Mazza as contributing authors. I was wrong. This year’s crew was just as awesome and I believe our final product
#EdWriteNow 2017
will be a book that stands as a positive contribution to the education community.

Once everyone arrived at the hotel, we met as a writing team. First on the agenda was sharing information about the Will to Live Foundation, a non-profit foundation to which we donate all proceeds from book sales of each #EdWriteNow edition. Will to Live is an organization dedicated to preventing teen suicide by improving the lives and the “Will To Live” of teenagers everywhere through education about mental health and encouraging them to recognize the love and hope that exists in each other. You can learn more about their work by watching this compelling video that our team watched to kick off our own work.

Our next task was to decide what to write about and how to turn ten individual 5,000 word essays on education into a single cohesive book. We quickly decided on an overarching theme of “Relationships.” As we began writing, we realized we were focusing on the connections we make within the schoolhouse as well as overall school culture and how relationships and connections impact the culture. Each author wrote about a specific topic related to these broad themes. My own contribution was to write the opening chapter, a piece focusing on how we can create “cultures of connectedness” in our schools that I titled, “Connecting the Dots,” a nod to something Seth Godin mentioned several years ago that has always stuck with me. Each subsequent chapter focuses on a specific aspect of education and how we can impact it in a positive way through relationship building. For example, Dr. Randy Ziegenfuss authored the second chapter titled, “Relationships: The Foundation of Learner-Centered Environments.” Learn about Randy’s insights in his own blog post next week (access Randy’s blog, Working at the Edge, here).

Once we determined our writing topics, the rest of our time was spent writing alone, coming back together as a whole team to share our work, meeting with writing partners to provide critical feedback, and gathering "after hours" for great food, conversation, and much laughter. When we came together as a whole group, we actually read parts of our chapters aloud. It was a bit scary, reading our work aloud to nine friends we all respected not only as amazing educators, but also as excellent writers. However, when we did so, we were thrilled to learn that our individual efforts were coming together nicely as a unified book, with our voices sounding much more alike than different from chapter to chapter.

For my chapter on connections, I wrote that the more we can do to get our students to connect to school and investing in their own learning, the more likely it is that we will fulfill our purpose of creating schools that are for students. Here is a short excerpt from that part of the book:

“...Students, teachers, and administrators who not only have, but are on, a mission are invested, committed, and future focused. They are also connected: to the school, to each other, to networks of people on social media, and to the world around them. School connection increases when those in the school believe that others in the school care about about them as individuals. Students are more likely to succeed when they feel connected to school. As educators, perhaps our top priority today should be to ensure that our students feel connected to our schools. Our students follow the lead of their teachers in so many things, even when we suspect they have tuned us out. And, teachers often follow the lead of their administrators. If administrators feel they are truly connected to the school community and, especially, the teachers they lead, teachers, in turn, will feel more connected to the school. In schools where teachers feel authentically connected to the school, including their administrators and their students, students will also feel more connected to the school. 
        Schools in which students and staff feel connected are schools that succeed. They succeed by connecting what they are doing today to something they will do tomorrow. They aspire to something grand and connect with others who can help them achieve their goals and dreams. They connect what they are learning to what they are doing. They connect academic learning to a purpose. They connect attendance and behavior expectations to group norms and citizenship. They connect social emotional learning to lifelong learning. They connect students and staff members to other students and staff members, both within the school and schools around the world. They connect science, literature, fine arts, physical education, mathematics, and history to current world events. Educators connect with the parents whose children attend the schools--not because they see it as their duty, but because they know connecting with parents increases the likelihood that students will feel connected.”

Next week, please look for Randy Ziegenfuss’s thoughts on our writing process, as well as an excerpt from his chapter. I was honored beyond words to partner with Randy and eight other amazing writers and thinkers on the Education Write Now project. Of course, we could not have hosted this education writing retreat without the support of our sponsor, Routledge, who will publish this book, due out in December.

I am already looking forward to next year’s retreat, which will be Year 3; Sanee Bell and I will continue to lead the work as co-editors and we will invite eight different educational writers to join us next summer. Please let me know if you would like to be considered as a participant. 

As Onica Mayers often reminds us, "Relationships matter, People!" Writing about education issues that matter right now is another way we Teach, Learn, and Lead with Passion!

Final Note: Huge thanks to the second Education Write Now team for donating their time and energy to this project. They are all outstanding and passionate educators. More importantly, they are just about the nicest friends a person could ever hope to have and I am humbled to have had this opportunity to work with them:

Sanee Bell
Randy Ziegenfuss
Rosa Isiah
Elisabeth Bostwick
Laura Gilchrist
Onica Mayers
Winston Sakurai
Sean Gaillard
Danny Bauer

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