As a kindergarten teacher, the block corner was my most and least favorite center in my classroom. I loved to watch the kids create buildings and castles every day. The intricate designs, the risk taking of can we add one more block before it topples over, the endless questions and links to the lessons we had learned together. It was also my least favorite- fingers getting squashed, fights over design and structure, and the clean up-  My co-teachers and I used this center as mini lesson central- lessons on gravity, on design theory, on listening, on Torah stories, on math and most importantly on relationship building and maintenance. If they did not have a shared vision, if they could not listen to one another, if they could not pick up the pieces when the blocks fell together and build it back up together the next day- we could not keep the center open.

In the last month, I have attended 2 amazing conferences. The first was the PJ Library Conference which was held at the Pearlstone Retreat Center. The focus of the conference was for the PJ Professionals and volunteers to come together, share ideas, strategies and stories of how they have and can be resources to each other and their communities on building relationships with Jewish families through the PJ lens of books and activities. The second conference was the Generations ElI conference given by Prizmah and held in Los Angeles. The focus of this conference was building and nurturing endowments in schools participating in the Generations cohort. Participating schools were represented by professionals and lay leaders. Break out sessions and panels all focused on the stories we tell, the relationships we cultivate, the conversations we organize all with the goal of building relationships with people who will share the joy and journey of the school.

Although the audiences, locations and methodologies were different, the role of relationship nurturing and supporting was the common theme. Taking the time to learn about your target audience, listening actively to them as they share their stories, being empathetic to their visions, wishes and needs, listening for what interests them, where their curiosities lie and what their passions are. No matter who you are targeting in your planning and in your work, the connecting tools and strategies are the building blocks that are essential when creating and nurturing relationships.

As the weather heats up, and the school year winds down, can you look at all the stakeholders in your school and reflect on how you have built or sustained relationships this year? How might you answer the following questions;

  • What have you done to get to know your students’ interests and learning preferences?
  • How have you allowed parents to share the learning goals they have for their children?
  • How have you learned where your teachers’ focuses are in their professional growth?
  • How have you documented the visits you have made to other classrooms?
  • Where can you see parent involvement in the school?
  • What has been your most successful feedback session?
  • When have you brought lay leaders into the school?
  • What have you read this year that has affected your practice?
  • What will you do differently next year?

As we cleaned up the blocks every day, I would ask my students to work with me-take a picture of the structure before we take it apart, make stacks of the same blocks, find the right spaces on the shelves, work together to clean up and as you do, plan what you might do differently the next time, work together because the best, most meaningful and sustainable buildings are those built by a team with a common vision.