Big Ideas
Chapter: The Trust to Try

(2) Relationships

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-6-38-26-amThe most transformational classrooms across our network demonstrate that true commitment to our mission, our core values, and our students’ authentic fulfillment as leaders calls for relationships to be at the center of our daily work.  Every element of those classrooms—the vision to which efforts are oriented, the trust that allows students to fail and grow, the energy needed to push through difficult work—flows from and through authentic relationships among teachers, students, families, and communities.

And yet, often our classroom leadership models and resources approach relationship-building as (a) a means to some near-term end (like classroom management) or (b) a nice side-effect of working as teachers. 

Our studies of transformational classrooms are revealing and important challenge to that way of thinking about relationships:  Our strongest teachers do not see relationships with students and families as a way to invest them in what the teacher wants to do but rather as a foundation of trust, for determining the ultimate aims of education and as a step toward genuine collective effort.

A Powerful Indicator of the Centrality of Relationships


In collaboration with learning-organizations guru Jim Collins, our “Good to Great” study examined pairs of teachers, one of whom led students to dramatic progress and one of whom did not.  Teachers and students were surveyed, interviewed, tested on dozens of questions, seeking insights into why and how some teachers grow significantly while others in similarly contexts do not.  Six Teach For All partner organizations helped evaluate the data. 

Of the thousands of data points gathered in those studies, one thing stands out as among the very best predictors of growth in teacher effectiveness: the quality of the relationship that the teacher builds with their students, and as measured on questions such as, “I love the students I teach” and “My students are people I would like my own children to get to know.”

We Hear About the Centrality of Relationships from Classrooms Around the World

While the degree to which training and support programs allow time and space to build meaningful relationships varies significantly around the Teach For All network, the theme that relationships are central is consistently demonstrated in our strongest classrooms.

“Once I started to visit the Roma neighborhood, I noticed unprecedented educational outcomes. Students began waiting for my lesson each week with anticipation and passion,” Devan Petrov, a teacher with Teach For Bulgaria,  said.  “Their academic success greatly increased, and I noticed progress in their motivation for learning. I am continuing to work actively with the community by implementing several projects covering civil rights and including Bulgarians and Roma children.”   [ ]

Chris Fairbairn, an exceptional veteran teacher and alumnus of Teach First in the UK, builds relationships to the point that he imagines and feels the connection that he would have with his own children, and those relationships change the focus, urgency, and expectations he brings to the classroom:

You have to think to yourself, ‘what is the situation if your students don’t succeed?’ That’s one of my most motivating thoughts. I think of them as if they were my own sons or daughters. I won’t accept failure for them. And, I find that when I set a high expectation for them, they meet it.

How could our respective classroom and system leadership models and training/support programs better embrace this idea that relationships among teachers, students, families, and community are central to transformational leadership?

Some Resources to Further Explore The Theme of Relationships

  • Unpacking Love”—a exploration of relationships through the eyes of Saurabh Taneja,
  • Remember the “orientation to vision” story about Ivy Martinez in the previous section.  Take a virtual visit to Ivy’s classroom and learn how she grounds her classroom in deep relationships: 


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