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Reflections of an Educational Leader: Embracing the Avanti Teacher Toolkit: Habit 1 - Building Positive Relationships

Mark Nichols

English Subject Lead @ The Avanti Grange Secondary School | Inspiring Student Success

Throughout my career in education, I've discovered that teaching goes way beyond textbooks, lesson plans, and striving for academic excellence. At its heart, education is about the connections we make with our students and fellow teachers. Emphasising positive relationships, a principle I've always held dear, is not just part of my job; it's the core of my approach to teaching and leading. This belief has steered me through the often-turbulent waters of modern education.

In today's world, our students face a barrage of challenges, navigating through personal and societal storms in search of their identities. As educators, our role shifts; we become steady beacons of hope and positivity in their lives, guiding them to realise their potential and seek their higher purpose in life. A simple smile as they walk into the classroom might seem small, but it's huge in its impact. It tells them they're seen, safe, and valued. It's our promise to be there for them, a constant in the whirlwind that is 21st century life.

So it is clear that building positive relationships with our students is fundamental, especially for those who seem closed off. These students, in particular, are often the ones most in need of empathy, care, and acceptance. Ignoring the significance of these connections means missing out on the true power of education. Something as basic as remembering and using a student's name can dramatically change the dynamics, creating an environment of mutual respect and openness that fosters learning and growth.

Despite the multiple students that have left an imprint on me, there is one student who springs to mind. For the purpose of this article, let’s call him James. By year 11, he was almost written off by the education system, known more for his behaviour issues, than his potential. Although he had given up on himself, I refused to give up on him, focusing on his success in English Literature and Language. Despite his poor attendance and defiance, I saw in James a bright, though disillusioned, young mind. Our journey was fraught with challenges, but in the end, James managed to secure a grade 5 in English. This achievement was more than a grade; it was a victory for his resilience and a proof of the potential within him, waiting to be acknowledged and nurtured. When asked by his HOY how he achieved this grade, where all other grades were 1’s and 2’s – he retorted, “Well it’s Mr. Nichols – he was alright weren’t he”.

The above example, rooted in my past, was set in a completely different context to where I find myself today. Currently, I'm privileged to teach some of the most vibrant and incredible young minds today, each of them adding their own colour to our educational community. My commitment to them is unwavering because I know the invaluable contributions they bring to our collective journey. I feel that I reached a point in my career where I am learning more from my students as they learn from me, and this is something to both cherish and share with them.

But how do we nurture these relationships? Through a combination of professional wisdom, experience and educational research, pulled together through a collective effort, the Avanti Schools Trust have collated just some ways to help guide teachers, both young and old, into this most important habit. Check out the diagram below for a glance of what this looks like, or click the caption to gain full details and insight into the processes and methods mentioned. 

But the importance of fostering positive relationships doesn't stop at the classroom door. It also includes the bonds we share with our colleagues, forming a support network that sustains us through the challenges of our profession. These connections provide a much-needed haven, filled with support, laughter, and a shared passion for teaching that greatly enriches our lives.

In a time of great change and uncertainty, the role of educators as mentors, allies, and champions for their students is more important than ever. We strive to create a space where everyone feels valued, understood, and connected, nurturing a community that thrives on respect and a sense of belonging, extending into the digital world where every voice can be heard. Reflecting on my role in this noble pursuit, I'm reminded that our true impact is measured by the strength of our relationships—the shared smiles, trust, and unwavering belief in each other's potential. Through these connections, education becomes more than just learning; it's a journey of discovery, inspiration, and hope.

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