Why it’s important to build connections this semester

By Susan Menkel

Before I joined Gradient Learning and the Along Team, I was a longtime classroom teacher. Over the years I taught all subjects in multiple grade level configurations. I came to realize that, no matter the subject I was teaching, it was the students who kept me coming back for more. 

I used the commute home to reflect on my day. I can see myself now, driving home and going through my list. What had I not gotten to? Was there a student, or a group of students, who needed additional support? Had I already built time for that in the plan for the next day or did I need to shift some things around? But the most important question I asked myself was the one I was always struggling with: did I even speak to every student today? I taught them, so of course I spoke to my students, but did I speak with EACH student? Did I show them I cared? Did I learn something about their story? Did I share something about mine?

We all have stories to tell. Some stories are humorous. Some are lessons to ourselves and others. Some are sad. Some can be hard to hear. But they are all important. Our stories shape us into who we are, who we become, how we see the world, how we interact with others,and  how we show up. Knowing a student’s story helps educators understand students as individuals so we can support them to learn and grow. 

That’s what Along is for. Along is for taking a dedicated moment to connect and learn a little more about each other, to share the stories that make us who we are. I’ve never spoken to an educator who didn’t know the importance of connecting with students, who didn’t want to be able to form those connections and know their students’ stories. What they struggle with—what I struggled with—is finding the time. There are so many competing priorities and one-on-one conversations with each and every student feels impossible.  

Along makes it possible. Imagine you have 30 minutes. How many students could you talk with, one-one-one, with no interruptions in that time? Maybe three or four. What if, instead, you could record your response to a question—each designed to learn a little more about our stories— and share it with your students in about a minute? Then, you invite them to respond and share about themselves—audio, video, or text. You review their responses and share a quick reply when you have a few minutes. You learn about their stories, and share yours, one question at a time. Imagine the impact that would have on you and your students.

Teachers often look to launch new things at the “right” time. If we have learned anything from the last few years, it’s how precious time really is. Any time is the right time to build connections and learn the stories of those around us. 

As you kick off a new year, why not kick off Along with your students? It’s provided at no cost to schools and our Along Team is here for any support you may need. If you have questions or you are interested in trying Along at your school, connect with us at support@along.org. You can also refer your school leaders to learn more about Along.