Call me a curmudgeon, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. I do think it’s important to celebrate and honor relationships, especially with the people to whom we are closest. But for me, I think a demonstration of caring, affection, and commitment is better found in everyday actions. My aunt gave me great wedding advice, which I’ll paraphrase: Every day, both of us should work to find one kind thing that we can do for the other person. It can be as easy as taking out the trash because you know the other person doesn’t like doing it. The important thing is that it’s not done out of hoping it’ll be noticed or trying to head off a reminder. These are actions you take to make someone else’s day a little easier or brighter. I think this advice has served me and my husband quite well, and it sometimes means he makes me biscuits and sausage gravy, which is an excellent start to any weekend. This approach takes a huge load off of days that are otherwise filled with hard-to-live-up-to expectations. Because I feel seen, heard, and valued regularly, Valentine’s Day is just one more day, like any day, where I get to do something kind for my husband and where he’ll probably do something kind for me. I really like going out to eat, I enjoy getting flowers (less so now that our cats try to eat any plant we bring into the house), and chocolate is part of my love language. But I don’t wait for big gestures on certain occasions to make me feel any particular way about the solidity of my relationship. I think there’s an important correlation to make here with the relationships we maintain in schools.
Making sure your kids are seen, heard, and valued doesn’t happen on one day of the year. It’s impossible to listen to your students just a few times and then expect them to believe that you prioritize their voice. Really cool lessons are great, but what’s more important is anchoring them in solid relationships that are built over time so that students deeply trust you. In short, it’s the everyday noticing of students that matters. I’d argue that if Valentine’s Day is the day of grand gesture for romantic relationships, it’s the first few days of school that are an equivalent for the teacher-student dynamic. I know I worked hard in those first days to develop a positive rapport, and I do think beginning well is important. But what you’re doing on day 80 of the school year is, in many ways, much more important than what you did on day 1. The stance you take on power and authority, your beliefs about what any student is capable of, and the feel of your classroom are abundantly clear. Your students have learned through explicit and, maybe more importantly, implicit lessons who you are and what you believe. They may remember opening activities from those first few days, but they undoubtedly know who you choose to be in relationship to them. It’s our job to cultivate strong relationships with all constituents in school communities, and this work needs to be done daily, leaving traces of our care on a consistent basis. So maybe take this Valentine’s Day to assess whether your routines and daily actions tell your students you see, hear, and value them. Leave us a comment, and let us know what relationship-building work you’ve integrated into your teacher life! Image courtesy of Wix.com