The Value of Relationships in Promoting Resilience

Guest Correspondence

Image courtesy Pixabay

In an age of automation, an age of screens, search engines, and now even artificial intelligence chatbots, some have begun to wonder about the future of teachers. Could classrooms become completely digital? Could robots teach our children?

Change and innovation are certainly essential in education, but equally so are human relationships and face-to-face engagement. Countless studies have shown positive relationships between teachers and students dramatically increase learning gains and student wellbeing. The studies illuminate why each and every student deserves exceptional, caring teachers to help them thrive.

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County invites students to be part of its board of directors because their voices and their lived experiences in and out of the classroom are essential in guiding our work. This year, Karolina Paulus, a senior at Riverview High School, and Aubrianna Hobbs, a senior at North Port High School, serve on our board. Their unique journeys and experiences with great teachers highlight the value of relationships in promoting resilience. 

In ninth grade, Karolina moved to America from Poland and enrolled at Riverview High School. While she spoke conversational English, she had to adjust to a new country and school system, and more complex language. At times, it felt overwhelming for a young woman who struggles with anxiety.
Teachers played a vital role in her adjustment and in her ability to overcome obstacles. She credits teachers such as Park Carrier and Rebecca Miles for making her feel welcome and safe. She met the challenges of learning new mathematical terms and English grammar because of the care and kindness they showed. 

Karolina found her teachers in Poland were far more reserved and formal. They were less inclined to nurture relationships. Now in her last semester at Riverview and college-bound in the fall, Karolina has developed many positive relationships with her teachers, fueling her love of learning and helping her through difficult years. 

She is grateful for teachers such as Jason Means, Jessica Bies, Amy Conner and Jennifer Eastman-Miller. These teachers are approachable, funny and passionate about their subjects. Of Eastman-Miller, Karolina said, “She is so wonderful and loves her students so much. She makes us feel safe.”

Like Karolina, Aubrianna has navigated difficult times with the help of teachers, particularly French teacher Cheryl Williamson. For four years, Aubrianna studied French with Williamson and cannot speak highly enough of her. As Aubrianna said, “She’s the first person I go to when I need to talk to someone.”

Aubrianna noted school counselors today are so busy, and many students turn to teachers. These trusting, caring adults are, as Williamson is for Aubrianna, “a source of light.”

Growing up, Aubrianna moved frequently because her father is in the Army, and at times her homelife felt unstable. She always found refuge in libraries and planned to pursue a degree in library sciences. But that has changed. She now plans to pursue a degree in education and teach at an elementary school. 

This year, Aubrianna began a new job on the elementary school campus of Imagine Schools North Port, helping with aftercare. She cares for 15 kindergarten and first-grade students, accompanying them as they spend time in the cafeteria and on the playground. She loves being there for these children. 

Being a caring adult for young learners illuminated the power of relationships. Aubrianna looks forward to providing stability and support to young students as they embark on the early stages of their K–12 journeys. She understands how much her French teacher helped her overcome and wants to help mold resilient kids who are better equipped to adapt to change.

When students know they are valued and cared for, that their teachers want to lift them up, they recover more easily when they face struggles. They are also more likely to engage with the material and find meaning in school. With caring teachers, “even the problematic students want to learn,” Karolina said. 

Amid the mental health crisis facing students today, teacher relationships are so vital. “When I have a bad day,” Karolina said, “I know there are teachers I can ask a hug from. It even helps my anxiety.”

Great teachers—or mentors or coaches—are indeed sources of light for students, especially those most in need of stable, caring support. Hope is an essential ingredient to overcoming setbacks and persisting to succeed.

As remarkable as technological advances have been in making information accessible for people around the world, as exciting as they are, they can’t replace the power of human relationships to build resilience and inspire the next generation to thrive. Thanks to bonds they have formed with their teachers, Karolina and Aubrianna are approaching their graduation with excitement for the future, confident they are prepared to succeed.

Jennifer Vigne is president and CEO of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

Image courtesy Pixabay

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