What happens when leaders ask educators to connect with students? Turns out, it’s a lot like asking students to do work they haven’t learned––to expect deeper connections without new learning is futile. I honestly don’t believe that educators are withholding a capacity to build deeper connections. I believe that we are all doing our best with what we currently have. If we want to connect more deeply, we have to learn how.

Recently, I was talking with a teacher about Marc Brackett’s book, Permission to Feel. Her first response as I mentioned the title was, “Feelings? We just stuff those things down around here.” To her credit, she has since read the book and is using her learning with students and staff. Her initial response was real and common.

Within the Interpersonal dimension of The Learner First’s Connection Progression, the Geared for Success description includes feeling “deeply connected to the lives of the people they interact with,” and that learners “embody and inspire mutual sharing, admiration, empathy, success, and understanding of reciprocal impact.” On the opposite end of the spectrum (Substantially off Track), the description includes: “They struggle to collaborate, listen to, and trust others, to share who they are, and to open themselves to what others have to share.”

If we don’t acknowledge our own feelings, we will continue to struggle with opening ourselves to others. Using the Progression to first reflect on and assess my own level of progress allowed me to dive into how I see myself and identify what evidence I used for my rating. This is only the beginning. Using the Progression again to identify where I want to grow offered ways forward and accountability. For me, this means paying attention to the “power of close, human relationships” and “using this understanding to work through conflicts.” My strategy for this growth is reflecting, journaling, and thinking more about how to honor others’ voices and use their input in working through problems.

The Learner First Change Plan tool (Appendix C.2 of Measuring Human Return) is beautifully simple. I use it personally and in the Change Team process. Describing desired outcomes using the language of the Progressions focuses attention and pushes our development of a common language, shared understanding, and deeper learning outcomes.


This post is part of a continuing series by Ellen Perconti, superintendent of Goldendale School District in Washington State.