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  • Writer's pictureAMISA

Digging Deep: Building Relationships that Support Learning

Dr. April Yetsko, Magen David Academy, Panama (@AYetsko)  and Dr. Tynisha Meidl, Willingham, St. Norbert College, Wisconsin (@TMeidl186)

As educators many of us know that building relationships with students is critical. Relationships are at the foundation of our human existence. As teachers and administrators we have a unique role and charge to support all students. It is our responsibility to support their growth, move their thinking, create the safest conditions for them to grapple with the complexities of life, but ultimately see their assets and encourage them to reach their full potential. 

Relationship building and maintenance is not an easy task. In fact, building relationships across lines of differences presents its own set of challenges. As teachers and leaders, we have to consciously choose to name and acknowledge our blind spots and what may impede us from achieving positive outcomes with students. We also know that some relationships are easy- students who have similar interests or backgrounds with their teachers. Similarly, teachers can easily build relationships with “good students.” At our November Workshop in Panama, Dr. Tynisha Willingham-Meidl, Co-Chair of the Teacher Education Department and Associate Professor at St. Norbert’s College in Wisconsin, helped teachers reflect on archetypes that we use to build mental constructs that can help us connect with our students, but if we are not self -reflective, they may also become barriers for building meaningful relationships.

As a first step, teachers need to reflect on our mental models for students. What is our mental model for a “good student”? While mental models may help us make quick decisions in the classroom about how to react, we need to ensure that we build competencies that sustain positive relationships, especially in the diverse schools that comprise international education.

Dr. Willingham-Meidl focused the educators on 4 core competencies to build positive relationship. She challenged us to apply these to scenarios with students, colleagues, families and administrators. By suspending judgment, using asset-based thinking, considering our locus of control and applying a growth mindset, and having interpersonal awareness, we can challenge our mental models that affect how we form mental models. These 4 competencies are adapted from Carol Dweck’s (2011) work on growth mindset.


Thanks to the AASSA grant, MDA and other teachers from Panama schools. Together we were able to reflect on our own mental models. We believe that the hard work of unpacking what we know and what we do to create space for new knowledge is what will ultimately help our students be their best. It is the various lines of difference that can either keep us from seeing the full potential in students, or it can be the entry point to our lines of similarly that keeps us connected. It is through relationships that we can identify our blind spots and employ these competencies to live out the mission of our schools.


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