By Tracey Smith and Jeff Waller, Authors of Ridiculously Amazing Schools, Creating a Culture Where Everyone Thrives

The relationship is not everything in education, it is the only thing. As educators we must begin to intentionally see and compel the greatness in each other to overcome the current challenges and uncertainty we will all face in the fall. If we are going to survive and thrive, it will only happen if we do it with, for, and through each other.

Connection is the key to moving forward into the new world. It is through each other that we will heal ourselves, our schools, our communities, and our world. When we connect with others, we mend and grow collectively and as individuals. It is often said that the only way out is through, but we must go through it together. What if the current pandemic is just what we need to rediscover one another?

Education is only as good as its educators and it takes the “whole” educator to teach the “whole” child. We are approaching a very uncertain fall when many students will return after 5 months of unstructured time. To focus on our students, we need to first focus on the relationships with the adults in the building. We are not saying we all have to be best friends, but we must unite behind a common mission. We have to respect each other, and we need to invest in each other’s well-being. These investments will grow and reflect back on us as educators and schools.

The last nine years, we researched extraordinary teams of educators that built great school cultures that stand the test of time. It culminated in the publishing of our book “Ridiculously Amazing Schools, Creating a Culture Where Everyone Thrives.” The study uncovered three assets we must cultivate to make every educator their most authentic and powerful self. It is how we will bond through this pandemic together and move forward into next fall. They provide the foundation on which educators consistently transform student lives and make the future a better and kinder place for all of us.

Trust – There is nothing more important than trust. Without trust, it is difficult to take on new challenges, tap into your creative energy, and grow individually or collectively. Trust invites collaboration over comparison, and empathy and understanding over judgement. We are only the sum of our parts if we trust one another.

This world of virtual learning is new for everyone. Our situations might look different, but we are in the same boat. What if it is the current circumstances that reunite all of us around the common mission of education, that allow us to put aside petty differences and form the bonds of trust that we all know are so critical?

Trust is precious and it must be earned; however, it can be intentionally cultivated. It’s when we recognize that our strength lies in our differences and is our primary source of growth. Teachers have had to become vulnerable which has led to deeper levels of trust and true relationships. We can weather this storm together.

Significance – A sense of significance is very important. It builds comfort and confidence and allows us to become authentic and powerful with our voice. It is how we look back at the end of the day and feel good about what we have done and proud of what we do. More importantly, it allows us to connect our lives to something that matters and reinforces a strong sense of purpose which drives intrinsic motivation.

This has been difficult for many during this time of quarantine. We have lost our routine and daily schedules. It’s hard to find that sense of significance when you are tied to a computer all day or worried about your student’s wellbeing. It’s difficult when we don’t see our colleagues and have those daily conversations that lift us or push us to think deeper.

We need to recognize and celebrate each other. We need to put every educator in a position to do the most essential thing, build relationships. We need to give everyone the greatest possible gift, that feeling of significance we experience every day we leave the hallway or classroom.

Belonging – How many times do we need to learn the lesson that united we stand and divided we fall?  Divisiveness has never allowed any group to truly solve a problem and evolve to a better situation. It is distracting, counterproductive, and a cancer among teams in all professions.

We can disagree, but it is how we disagree that makes all the difference. Constructive discourse is at the core of great relationships and innovation. A sense of belonging builds trust and a greater foundation for significance. It allows us to be comfortable, to free our energies towards growth, and to fail forward in a constant effort to do more for our team members and students.

There has never been a better time for us to rediscover one another. We need to support each other and hold ourselves and each other for individual and collective growth. When people truly feel a sense of belonging, they find the courage to be creative which is essential as we move into a very different world.

Our book “Ridiculously Amazing Schools,” is the culmination of the experiences, hearts, and minds of great educators choosing to make a difference. At its core, the blueprint lies in our ability to have every educator feel a sense of trust, significance, and belonging. We can have the courage to be ridiculously amazing, even as we’re uncertain of what is to come. If we can nurture these three conditions, there is no challenge we can’t face head on and overcome together.


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