The Importance of Building Relationships…and Repairing Them

March 8, 2022

So this happened.  Generally, I am relatively easy to get along with – people like me. Not so much last week when a confrontation with a student escalated to a point where I lost my cool. It happens – in the classroom, in my office, in any work environment, and in relationships. The problem in this particular case was that there was no relationship with this student…yet.

The incident. I was called to another location in the school building because a student was refusing to move from that location and becoming increasingly oppositional. Some background information:  new student about whom I know relatively little. I step into the situation believing that I can persuade said student to relocate either by returning to the assigned classroom, moving to an alternate setting, or coming with me to my office to chat. My gentle persuasion did not work. I moved onto a more aggressive tone and posture which may have included language that the student interpreted as threatening. That was the threshold for him. The next thing out of his mouth was “Don’t threaten me, b***h” which was accompanied by a very chilling glare.

What happened next? The language and response caused me to reach my threshold at that moment. In my 32 years as an educator, I don’t recall being called a b***h. I know that such things happen and one should not take it personally. I feel privileged to have relationships with students that are generally positive to the point that I didn’t have to hear myself called that name. But there it was. And I had to call for back-up and remove myself from the situation. I call it my “retreat, rethink, retry” cycle.

And then what? It was a Thursday I think. A lot was happening. I did not return to that student on that day. However, bright and early Friday morning, the student walked by me on his way to homeroom. I called out his name. He did not stop. I foolishly followed the student in a rapid gait as the “click, click, click” echoed in the hallway. Finally he turns around and looks at me with a piercing gaze and mumbled something under his mask. I am still uncertain as to what he said.

What did I say? I said, “Hey, that situation on Thursday did not go quite the way that I wanted it to and escalated. We don’t know each other and I should have taken the time to get to know you before having that conversation.” He looked up at me quizzically. I went on to say “I simply wanted to apologize but more importantly, I wanted to ask for your forgiveness so that we could repair our relationship. I should have taken time to get to know you. You do not have to respond right now but think about it. Think about whether you can accept my apology but more importantly, grant me your forgiveness.”

He looked even more puzzled beneath his mask. But then he said this, “I will forgive you if you will forgive me.”  I am not going to lie – I got a little choked up and then more choked up as I saw the hostility dissipate from his gaze, replaced with a little twinkle. It was a Fresh Start Friday for us. I said so and we went on our way.

Relationships first.  We all know the importance of spending time on relationships. Not only do we understand and empathize with each other when we make that time but it allows the formation of a foundation. Understanding others doesn’t mean the rules change or bend, but our approach, words, actions, and assigned consequences may. The consistency with respect to rules and regulations does not change. Oftentimes, students in distress need that more than anyone else. However, when a relationship is formed, dialogues can occur that are more impactful and transformative.

The moral of the story. Relationships require that foundations be formed before we can have difficult conversations. Simple stuff – foundations then conversations. Try it – it does work. And sometimes relationships suffer damage because of our actions. Take time to repair and restore them.

Yolanda Harman, NBCT

Yolanda Michelle Harman presently serves as Assistant Principal of Northern Garrett High School for the Garrett County Public School system. She taught at NHS and served as science chairperson from 1990 - 2013. She was also the Supervisor of College and Career Readiness for GCPS (2013 - 2017) and Supervisor of Science and Mathematics for WCPS (2017-2019). This is her 32nd year in the state of Maryland educational system, her 30th year @ NHS and her 3rd as Assistant Principal. Dr. Harman earned her B.S. in biology from Gannon University and her teaching certification from Frostburg State University where she also obtained her M.Ed. in Administrative and Supervision and a Doctor of Education as a member of the 1st Inaugural Cohort of the program. In 2000, Dr. Harman achieved National Board for Professional Teaching Certification which she successfully renewed in 2010. She is in the renewal cycle again with a December 11, 2021 determination of achievement of this credential. Dr. Harman was a former MD Biology Teacher of the Year (2001), Garrett County Teacher of the Year (2005), MD Teacher of the Year finalist (2005), Christa McAuliffe Fellow (2002), and USA Today Teacher of the Year (2001). She has served as an AP Biology reader and table leader since 2000 (-present), MD and AP Assessment Question Writer (various), Toshiba Exploravision Judge (1990 - present, and has reviewed/edited Modern Biology textbook for Holt, Rinehart and Winston (in the 2000s)In 2013-2015, Dr. Harman served on the Governor's Task Force for Senate Bill 740. She currently serves as the Past President for the Maryland Science Supervisors Association, a Board Member for Western MD AHEC, and a MASSP Board Member.