Written by: Andrew Sherman
We seek out and are motivated by positive social interactions. We are social by nature and want to connect with others and feel affiliated to groups, organizations and communities beyond our individual existence. When we navigate interpersonal relationships well we find happiness and personal success. The construction of positive relationships is work we must dedicate ourselves to on a continuous basis. And, as educators, we must help young people make good decisions to build positive and healthy relationships with the people they interact with. The opposite, negative and destructive relationships in schools, is often referred to as one actor in the relationship “bullying” the other and we then set up policies focused on labeling behaviors and creating disciplinary consequences. However, schools should be a place where we help young people learn to maximize positive relationships and minimize negative relationships as an essential part of living a productive life. Why teach students about creating and sustaining positive relationships instead of focusing on negative behaviors or failing relationships?
Positive relationships encourage each participant to grow as individuals. We learn to enjoy the success of others. We begin to see how we can help others achieve their goals. When we interact with each other considering the other’s growth, we can provide support in tough times. In bad moments, we have had quite a few during the pandemic, it is important to count on support from others to stay strong.
The focus on positive relationships creates opportunities for productive collaboration, working together to create something better than we can create on our own. This collaboration has the potential to make life more enjoyable, strengthen friendships and produce positive moments of sharing. Relationships focused on sharing produce meaningful experiences providing a sense of purpose in life. We realize we can make a difference in the life of others and we feel good about this. And, by feeling good, we fill our need to belong, to be connected and strengthen an understanding of who we are.
“Bullying” does not end because we state we have a “Zero Tolerance Policy,” Negative relationships will be addressed when we realize that working to create a positive relationship produces more positive relationships. When we work to create strong connections with someone else, this in turn will have a multiplier effect and motivate positive connections between other people. In other words. students will take learning on relationships with them and begin to recognize their actions and relationships can influence others in positive ways. There is a great study* that demonstrates this phenomena; when an individual commits an act of kindness, the recipient of this kindness is likely to repeat an act of kindness towards another person. Thus, supporting the development of positive relationships will produce a school community where each student can be comfortable with themselves and help others to flourish.