Relationship-building is a skill we will use in almost every aspect and time of our lives. With the ever-increasing importance of building professional and personal networks, studies on the significance of building trust in every industry, and the value of having deep and meaningful relationships to your life, it’s never too early (or too late) to begin cultivating strong, positive relationships with the people around you, especially as you return to in-person learning.
As we head into the new school year, it’s normal to feel the jitters associated with meeting new people and seeing people we haven’t seen for a few months. But those feelings may be elevated by this past year’s remote learning, masks, and social distancing. It can feel downright overwhelming to think about the number of people you’ll see and talk to in a day after being relatively isolated since March 2020.
This is a pivotal year, though. Maybe you’re a rising senior who didn’t get a chance to know your junior-year teachers in person and now have to ask them for letters of recommendation. Maybe you’re a freshman starting out your high school journey and feeling a little nervous about the transition to a bigger campus. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. One thing is for certain for all students–this is the year for relationship-building.
Of course, we want you to continue to build strong, trusting relationships with your family (especially your parents) and your current friends. But here are five key relationships to cultivate this school year.
This seems obvious, but so many students brush off the importance of developing strong, meaningful relationships with their teachers. But cultivating relationships with your teachers is invaluable! Not only do they write your letters of recommendation for college–and the better they know you, the better the letter–students who have good relationships with their teachers demonstrate stronger academic and social growth.
It makes sense. Support from teachers helps students remain motivated to learn and enjoy the learning experience more than learning from someone who feels like a stranger. (In fact, we saw this time and again from the remote learning experience for many students, whose engagement suffered during the pandemic due to the isolation from teachers and peers.)
Plus, you never know who has a connection for internships, experiences, or programs that will propel you forward. It may seem like teachers only know other teachers, but they are often part of larger networks of researchers and professionals, and at the very least are privy to opportunities within their fields, such as essay contests or summer camps that may interest you and are often responsible for nominating (rather than recommending) students for certain programs.
Furthermore, since we’re preparing you for college as well, consider this a rehearsal for building strong relationships with your future professors. Studies show that happiness and success after college are linked to supportive relationships with professors and mentors in college. College professors also write letters of recommendation for your future career or graduate school, not to mention the benefits to your learning listed above.
Specifically those who are smarter, more talented, or more successful.
Someone once said, “If you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
We couldn’t agree more. Surrounding ourselves with people who are smarter, more talented, or more successful than ourselves pushes us to grow, be better, and develop our own talents in greater ways. Drawing on the wisdom and experience of others enhances our own abilities.
Think of it this way. Say you get to sophomore year and are offered two options: stay on the JV soccer team and start every game OR join the varsity squad and get less playing time, but be able to play alongside several college hopefuls and against more intense competition. You will clearly grow more on the varsity team just by the company you’ll keep.
It can be daunting to do this, because our egos constantly tell us that we want to be the best. But in the long run, you’ll be the best version of yourself by intentionally surrounding yourself with key people. And listen, this puts you ahead of the game. Even the best bosses and top executives know that this is the real key to success.
3. *Other* Peers
But this time, those who don’t share your perspectives.
You may have heard the phrase “civil discourse” thrown around during the 2020 election, or programs for fostering civil discourse may have been instituted in your local schools. Simply put, it is intentional and constructive conversation intended to allow participants opportunities to speak and listen.
The importance of listening to other perspectives is a leadership skill and a pretty big life skill, but there is also evidence to support that diversity itself causes us to be more creative, push the boundaries of our thinking, and better understand the nuances of complex issues.
We’re not even saying you’re going to change your belief system and agree with your classmates or become besties. You may actually end up just being more set in your own beliefs given what you learned during the conversation. However, you will glean the benefits of listening to diverse perspectives, contribute to a positive school culture, better prepare to lead in the college environment. You will also learn how not to flare up or get too personal or emotional in ways that will detract from the issues.
Mentors come in many forms. It may be an older peer who is walking the path you want to be on, or it could be a family friend in a career you’d like to pursue. Some experts talk about a constellation of mentors who help you along your path in various ways. But the core idea is the same: intentional relationships with those who are wiser and more experienced than you, in areas you want to pursue, can benefit you in innumerable ways.
Mentoring relationships takes humility. Just like acknowledging that some of your peers are more talented or more successful than you, seeking a mentor means accepting that you don’t know everything and you need help to get where you want to go. The harvest of this humility is multidimensional. A mentor shares their wisdom and experiential knowledge to help you, and you gain someone who is deeply interested in helping you succeed. They may have access to information, resources, and connections that they want to share, and they can both help you avoid mistakes that they made, as well as learn and grow from your own mistakes. Further down the line, this experience will help you build a template for mentoring others as you grow in your life and profession.
Finding a mentor is easier than you think. They can be at school, in your parents’ social circles, religious institutions, or even down the street. Identifying these individuals may include looking to those in your personal/familial circles who are in a career or field that interests you. It may mean doing some online research to find a couple of key people in the nonprofit world. Or you could do it the old-fashioned way–ask around and see if anyone has a connection!
We’ve all been through a lot since March 2020, but as adolescents, the pandemic has been layered on top of the reality that you’re still getting to know yourselves and what makes up your identity. Not to mention that you’re going to college in just a short time and will be in a position to make important decisions about your future.
But knowing yourself isn’t just important for college prep. According to Psychology Today, happiness, decision-making, and self-control are just a few benefits. In fact, they break it down with the acronym VITAL – knowing your values, interests, temperament, activities (biorhythms), life mission, and strengths. In other words, these are the things that make you unique, make you tick, and drive your actions. Knowing yourself is also essential to effectively advocating for yourself in multiple stages of life.
Relationships take a lot of intentional work, and it can be daunting to go beyond your comfort zone to initiate them or take a new approach to your classroom setting. So remember a few key things:
- You are someone to know, and you have the ability to add value to the experience of anyone you encounter.
- Everyone around you is also a human and struggles with shyness or a lack of self-confidence at times. They are generally delighted when someone else, like you, makes it a little easier to interact.
- You may encounter awkward situations, but it doesn’t last forever. Keep your goals in mind, speak positively to yourself, and push through!