Keystone’s strong relationships build a first-class education

Sep 08 2023

Keystone’s strong relationships build a first-class education

“In a relationship each person should support the other; they should lift each other up.”
— Taylor Swift

Walk through the main campus on any given day, and you will hear conversations and interactions that demonstrate the importance of relationships in schools. Stop by an Upper School teacher’s classroom during lunch, and you will hear students share stories with peers and adults on topics ranging from last summer’s Keystone Travel Society Trip to France to the assigning of chores in their households. Enter an art room during a free period and you’re bound to find students working on projects and laughing with friends. Talk with Lower School children and they will point to the beautiful pictures they are drawing or explain what they are learning in class that day. Visit with seniors during the last period on a Friday and they will discuss their upcoming SAT test the next morning, while 9th graders in the quad will describe their first weeks in the Upper School.

Similarly, when students return from their outdoor ed trips, as the 8th graders recently did from Yellowstone, they will regale you with tales of hikes up the side of mountains, s’mores by the campfire, and bison they saw. Keystone 9th graders leave for their outdoor ed excursion to the Olympic Peninsula this Sunday, and we know that they will have plenty of adventures to tell when they return.

Both formal and informal activities like these affirm a simple fact. Beyond the content and skills that schools teach children, we are really helping them learn how to form relationships.

Most obviously, they learn how to relate to their peers at all ages. This is why one of the core values in the Cobra Code is empathy. If we can put ourselves in someone else’s place, we can relate to them more effectively and form a bond with them. Teaching children and young adults how to create relationships will look very different in the Little and Lower Schools versus the Middle and Upper Schools; however, walking in another person’s shoes as Atticus Finch reminds Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is fundamental.

Secondarily, children in schools learn how to form relationships with adults, whether that’s with a teacher, a coach, an administrator or staff member. A teacher new to Keystone and I recently concurred on the necessity of building relationships before teaching content. We agreed that it’s much easier and more effective to challenge students once they know we care about them as people in addition to their being pupils in our classes. Starting in the Little School, teachers and staff members can be the first non-familial grownups children forge a relationship with, so part of our job is helping them learn how to do this appropriately. Building relationships is also one of the main goals behind our Back to School Nights. We want to get to know parents early in the year, so parents build a rapport with teachers and administrators before any concerns arise.

Lastly, children in schools figure out how to relate to the material they are studying and the skills they are learning. Perhaps this is why it can be so exciting to hear a child who is on fire with a book they are reading or a concept they have discovered. I recently spent time at lunch talking with juniors about the book they are studying in Advanced Placement English; their passion for the book and the topics it addresses was reaffirming and inspiring. You can see the light in students’ eyes and hear the enthusiasm in their voices as they describe what they have come to understand. Their world has been rocked, and all their senses are in a state of high alert as they move to a higher level of learning in their educational journey.

When students do well in schools, it’s in part due to their forming relationships in all of these areas. In fact, they can be tied together. They develop bonds with their teachers and classmates as their eyes are opened to new concepts. Their friendships are strengthened and they come to appreciate teachers in an entirely different way. (They may even come to value their parents!) There’s an energy in and out of the classroom as they see their world anew.

The creation of relationships is also one of the reasons why working in a school is so much fun. It can be sheer joy observing children and young adults form bonds with peers and teachers and become excited about something they discovered in class. As the word “discover” would indicate, it’s as if they lifted a blanket and found an exhilarating surprise underneath. And it’s even more heartwarming that in a school whose students range in age from 3 to senior year, we get to see it again and again.

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