Designing Relationships to Bring Forth Positive Outcomes-- Part 1, Schools

Were your elementary school days as uninspired as mine?  Except for my first-grade and seventh-grade experiences, which were out of country, my elementary school classes were traditionally designed, meaning that everyone was supposed to do the same things together at the same level.  This boring and unimaginative style guaranteed that teachers and students had a distant relationship to each other. 

          That made it easier for our teachers to hold a win-lose perspective that assumed some students wouldn’t or couldn’t learn and would probably fail.  This, in turn, set up a losing dynamic for these kids that followed them all the way through high school. 

            The difference in classes I attended in Portugal and Japan was huge!  The teachers at these schools were, as you might expect, curious and interested about the world.  They were creative in setting up relationships with each student-- and were genuinely excited about motivating all of us to learn and explore-- a new culture, the parameters of science, the connections between history and literature.  In some way, each of us in these classes were encouraged to make contributions and discoveries that led to incredible group bonding and connection.  These teachers knew the value of giving student “an A” (see my earlier blog posts on this topic) right at the start by holding the positive attitude that each of us could and would learn if we were inspired to do so. 

            This encouraging educational experience may well have fueled an ambition of mine in my early 20’s to create inspiring learning opportunities for children in public schools.  At the time, there was a lot of drive in this direction by futurist and human potential leader, George Leonard (author of Education and Ecstasy), and Harvard educator, Robert Cole.  I was also fortunate to have intuitively chosen to get my master’s degree and teacher training at Bank Street College of Education in New York City-- a unique center designed to bring forth the best in children through training teachers in child-centered educational philosophy and techniques of engagement.

             I experienced the impact of this training when I was placed as a student teacher in an elementary school very much like the one I’d gone to as a child, although with a good percentage of immigrant students.  The teacher assumed that most of these more limited-English-speaking students wouldn’t and couldn’t learn, and just wanted them to pass and move on from her classroom.  In a totally uninterested way, she assigned me three completely unmotivated, 10-year-old Puerto Rican girls to teach the basics about life in Kenya.  With the Bank Street philosophy that almost everyone can become motivated to learn if you reach out and find a place of connection with their interests, I gave the girls “an A” in my mind immediately and looked for how to engage them.

              It was immediately clear to me that Daisy, Anna, and Solia had no idea where Africa was, since they only barely understood where they were in the United States. So I started by having them consider the needs and interests of all children everywhere (e.g., food, shelter, family, games).  Then they began to get intrigued about what was unique about life in Kenya, and where it was.  A shining experience in our work together was our field trip across Central Park-- only two blocks from where they lived and went to school, but a universe away from their daily lives-- to visit some travel agencies I’d contacted on 5th Avenue specializing in African tours.  The girls had made up a list of questions about Kenya with great enthusiasm, which they asked with growing confidence as they saw the interest and respect in the eyes of the travel agents. 

            We re-crossed the park to go back to school, loaded with colorful posters and brochures about Kenya as trophies of their triumphant trek to the other side of the city.   I could see the pride in their faces and the swagger in their walk at having prepared well to talk with adults who had cared to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for travel and other cultures with them.  Learning had come alive as new ways to relate with adults in the wider world who saw them-- not as marginal students-- but as young people wanting to explore and go forward.  It was so wonderful to see the power of this positive, affirming attitude in lifting the girls’ self-esteem and expanding their horizons!

             If you, too, want to design the relationships in your life to bring forth positive outcomes, I invite you to join me for a special, end-of-the-year tele-class-- “Creating Life Satisfaction-- ‘Giving an A’ to New Possibilities!” on Wed., December 8th, at 9 AM Pacific Time.  In this lively, interactive experience, we will explore the value of holding the intention to find the best outcomes in our interactions with others.  For more information and to register, please go to

                                          Join in the Discussion! 

  • What’s a memorable relationship you designed that created a positive outcome in your life? 
  • How have you grown and learned through engaged relationships with others at school?
  • What does it take to engage with someone in a positive way?