Effective teachers form authentic, caring relationships with their students. In the best of times, forming these relationships can be a challenge; in a post-pandemic world, where many teachers are engaging with students remotely, building relationships can feel impossible. Fortunately, says trained counselor and educator Megan Marcus, educators can learn the skills necessary to build strong relationships, both in person and online.
Marcus is the founder of FuelEd, a Houston-based nonprofit committed to teaching these skills to educators around the country. By providing teachers with access to one-on-one counseling, group workshops, and educator training, FuelEd hopes to close what it perceives to be a gap in educator preparation: the space between what an educator is expected to do — build strong, secure relationships with students, families, and coworkers — and the level of social and emotional support educators actually receive. Inspired by Marcus’ background in human psychology, Fuel Ed leads with the belief that teachers cannot effectively care for their students unless they care for themselves first.
“Just one relationship with a caregiver throughout a lifespan can actually change the brain’s development, heal trauma, and promote learning. Educators have the potential to utilize this power. Many do organically, through naturally forming secure relationships. But we could do so much more if educators were equipped with the skills and self-awareness to systematically do this work,” explains Marcus.
Here, Marcus offers four steps educators can take to promote emotional intelligence and build relationship-driven schools, both in-person and online.
1. Learn the science behind strong relationships.
Research shows that the way a person relates to caregivers early in life can impact that person’s relationships later on. For example, explains Marcus, “if you had insecure relationships in your childhood, you’re more likely to build relationships with others that aren’t secure.” The good news? Once identified, a person’s relationship patterns can change. That means educators can learn the skills behind secure relationship-building — and they can teach them. This gives educators the opportunity to, within their daily interactions, strengthen the ways their students relate to others throughout life.
2. Embrace the power of empathic listening.
Empathic listening means listening to what a student has to say — a student’s “strong emotions and painful experiences,” says Marcus — and not responding. No reassuring, no offering advice. Just listening. While deceptively simple, this type of listening can help a student build self-regulation skills. That’s because it kicks off a powerful interpersonal cycle. “Someone comes to you, they share their feelings, and instead of jumping in to problem solve, you listen. That’s very trust-building. Now, not only is this person calmer and better able to solve their own problems, but they want to come back to you again, share more. And the more you can learn about them and their needs, the more you, as the administrator and the teacher, can be respond to their needs,” explains Marcus.