Why good communication skills go a long way.

My sixth-grade teacher was Mrs. Ragbourn. In more than 25 years of being a student, she was, without a shadow of doubt, the single best teacher I had. I remember a lot about Mrs. Ragbourn. She was passionate about teaching. She introduced me to pastrami. She was a little Italian woman who could not talk without moving her hands. But probably the most vivid memories I have of her are the times I was in trouble. Every time (all too often) she would tilt her head, wave her index finger at and say, “Patrick, one day you’ll learn that life is all about relationships.”

It’s all about relationships. In the world of K-12 education, there may possibly be no statement that is more truthful.

I’m sure that, in some way, Mrs. Ragbourn helped influence my decision to be an educator and for 30 years, I spent much of my career trying to emulate her. In those three decades, I have had the joy of working with some of the most amazing and extraordinary educators, educational leaders, and educational company representatives who have helped me understand that the most effective and successful people affiliated with education have one thing in common – they are masters at building positive relationships. Valuable teachers have very good relationships with their students.  Efficacious principals have positive working relationships with their teachers and support staff. And productive educational companies have outstanding relationships with the school’s decision-makers. It’s not the lessons they teach. It’s not the programs they implement. And it’s not the product or service they sell. Instead, it is the person-to-person connection they establish that defines their success.

The best relationship builders are excellent communicators. They practice the communication philosophy that people are blessed with two ears and one mouth, and they understand the importance of that ratio. They listen and learn – a lot. Great listeners recognize that every time they communicate with others, there are two questions that are never actually asked, but always answered: “Do you care about me?” and “Can I trust you?” Every day, students ask their teachers these questions and teachers want to know the same about their principals. And for those of us working for an educational company, the school leaders we approach, whether they actually say the words or not, want to know that we care about them and that they can trust us.

In the course of the last 18 months, we at FACTS Education Solutions have learned that building positive relationships is the most important thing we can do. We have the responsibility to be excellent communicators with the private school decision-makers as well as the public school district leaders. Our success depends on this triangulated interchange, where communication that listens twice as much as it speaks is intentional, where the personal connection of caring for others is the norm, and where the foundation of trust is never compromised.

Last week, I was going through a box of old stuff in the basement and I ran across faded envelopes that were paper-clipped together. The top one contained a congratulations letter for my eighth grade graduation. The middle letter was for my high school graduation. The bottom letter was a good luck note for my first year of teaching.

All three were from Mrs. Ragbourn, my sixth grade teacher.

She was right. It’s all about relationships.