Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

Buzzz! It’s happening again! The education world is over-inflating another one-time genuine word. And relationships is buzzing like no other. Just the word relationship implies a two-way street; a heart-to-heart connection; a bridge of some sorts, linking two learners with some thing(s) in common.

But the manner in which we educators are throwing around the R-Word is cause for concern and potential doubt in terms of sincerity, authenticity, and heart. What’s implied is not always what’s inferred. Like the terms growth mindset, personalized learning, and risk-taking, for example, relationships may be slowly becoming a caricature of itself. It’s on the cliff–on the verge of becoming fake news–But it’s not too late to save it! Here are three ways to discern real relationships:

1–Real Relationships Are Reciprocal

I read their book some time ago–It was fantastic–But here I am, with my favorite takeaway on page TWO. Throughout: What Connected Educators Differently, some of my favorite authors: Dr. Todd Whitaker, Dr. Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas, explore the foundations, dynamics, and benefits of educators connecting to larger networks, because:

DISCLAIMER: I’m now applying their quote personally, which may or may not be in a way that the #WCEDD authors originally intended, nor do I intend for my personal applications to be a reflection of them or their work.

Oh, how I LOVE the phrase reciprocal investments. Those two words defined this entire book for me, as well as an entire mindset moving forward in my personal and professional life.

Relationships may be hard at times. At some point, you have to work at them. In order to sustain authentic relationships, YOU have to INVEST. You have to invest your time, attention, and well-being into other people, their interests, their passions, and their lives.


TO DO: Set aside time each week to GIVE. Set aside time to comment on your PLN members’ blogs. Read their latest tweets. Direct Message them. Give them a call. Best yet–Meet face-to-face for a cup of coffee and exchange a high-five, handshake, or hug.

2–Realize Relationship Motives

So many different kinds of relationships ensue throughout our lives. Think of all the different reasons to connect with others. Some connections are closer than others for obvious reasons. Some are more authentic than others. How can you tell?

Pause. Think. Consider the context. Sincerely, assume best intentions. Not everyone is out to get you or take advantage of you. Realize that the world is bigger than your perspective, and others may be acting on a motive unbeknownst to you. Realize that all educators are learning in their own pace, style, interests, and journey. It’s not about you.

TO DO: Your motive is to GIVE. But keep your motives pure: DO NOT give with the intention of receiving; give because it’s the right thing to do. How are YOU proactive in building real relationships? How do YOU make it happen? How do YOU provide opportunities for others to learn and grow their leadership skills? Reach out to at least one person in each of your relationship circles each week. Touch base. Personalize.

3–Invest The Little Extra

What separates an acquaintance from a relationship is The Little Extra. No, we’re not all going to be besties and hang out every weekend. You don’t have to be besties with everyone, but you DO have to collaborate in some kind of way to provide the best possible learning experiences for our students.

TO DO: Strive to remember at least ONE personal and ONE professional thing about each PLN member, especially those with whom you have met face-to-face. Check in with each other frequently. Go ahead—Take a selfie to capture, celebrate, and later recall a moment in time when learners were proactively working to build an authentic relationship together.

No one owes you anything. Seek ways that YOU can GIVE to others. Seek to Reciprocate. Invest The Little Extra. Do it for all the right reasons–because ultimately–Building Real Relationships WILL have a huge impact on our learners and their learning.

One Reply to “3 Ways to Build Real Relationships”

  • I dug this entire bit, Kyle.

    Here’s my favorite quote:

    You have to invest your time, attention, and well-being into other people, their interests, their passions, and their lives.

    That’s something that I think is missing in many of our social spaces today. There are far too many people taking and far too few people giving. Worse yet, the people who are giving often aren’t giving because they care about relationships. They are giving because they want to build a reputation and/or sell an idea.

    None of that is fundamentally evil. Everyone has the right to build a reputation or to sell their ideas.

    But it does change the nature of the spaces where we live and learn from one another. As more people brand build, fewer people even bother to invest in the way that you are describing. The norm for the space becomes, “We don’t invest in each other here. We build up ourselves.” And as those patterns become evident, fewer people push against them.

    That’s why I’m so skeptical about social spaces for educators right now. Ten years ago — before anyone was getting rich off of their social presence — there was more genuine investment happening in our digital spaces. Today, I rarely see it at all. Take blog commenting, for an example: NO ONE does it anymore. Even though it’s a PERFECT example of investing in others.

    Why do we ignore comment sections? Because readers aren’t convinced that writers really WANT a relationship. Some writers, after all, are just pushing out information in an attempt to sell their ideas. And because readers aren’t all that interested in building a relationship anyway. Instead, they are looking for ideas that will make their lives easier — not individuals that they can learn from.

    Literally, we’ve become a stream of ideas. And as great as that may be, we’d be WAY more satisfied and powerful if we stood together as a stream of individuals willing to make reciprocal investments in one another.

    Will it change?

    I don’t think so. And that’s why I’m so much more motivated by the times we get together in person. I feel that reciprocal investment when we are sitting around a table together. I don’t feel it any more in the online spaces that we push as powerful for building networks of colearners.

    Any of this make sense?


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