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PREEMPTIVE RELATIONSHIPS


emotional energy to accomplish more and more objectives” (Reeves, 2009, p. 15). Often times, there is a collective groan when new ideas are announced at faculty meetings or pre-week retreats when educators are working so hard to meet increasing demands.


However, today’s teachers are in a powerful position to grow as innovators and leaders and have a remarkable impact on their school and on their students. As Reeves (2009) notes, “teachers not only exert significant influence on the performance of students, but they also influence the performance of other teachers and school leaders” (p. 2). By taking initiative on an issue such as improving school climate through building healthy relationships, teachers have made a significant impact on at least one elementary school.


Despite the myriad challenges, the importance of building a strong school community cannot be understated. Students must be engaged in the learning process. Parents must be assured that their students are safe, appropriately challenged, and succeeding. Staff must know that they are making a positive difference and growing as professionals. None of this is possible without a supportive school community that fosters growth, reflection, and empowerment. Despite numerous mandates, measures, and initiatives, the work of today’s educator is crucial to making a critical impact in our school communities.


A Need for Preemptive Relationships At our Title I elementary school of 330 diverse students, we realized that our discipline data showed that our learning community was endangered by disruptions and inconsistency. We had worked very hard to effectively instill a learning climate in which students were empowered to take responsibility for their actions and in which staff worked to maintain a responsive, learner-centered focus (Sterrett and JohnBull, 2009, p. 1). However, we realized that there was an important piece missing from our equation.


Educators are the independent variable that shapes the outcome of the learning experience. One enduring, basic fact of teaching is that “teachers, working alone or in concert, are able to construct and shape learning communities” (Charney, 2002, p. 5). Two teachers, one in the primary grades and one in the upper elementary wing, approached the principal with an idea. Each of our students needed a reliable mentor, one with whom they could build a relationship with that would not only strengthen their learning but also provide them with confidence and security. Though we had support staff (from local social work agencies) that actively worked with a select few students, these teachers felt there were many more students who needed a consistent relationship. Students need to be held accountable, the teachers argued, but “Wouldn’t it be incredible for each student to know that a particular staff member was looking after them?”


18 Virginia Educational Leadership Vol. 8 No. 1 Spring 2011


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