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The power of human connection

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The power of human connection
Cynthia A. Harmon (center) is The Park School’s 13th head of school. (Photo: Photo: Tom Kates)

As this new school year got underway, I asked myself questions that went something like:

How do we welcome in the new school year and begin the cycle of teaching, learning, and leading? What is the essential ingredient that makes it all possible? What is our collective call to action as we journey throughout the school year together? As I reflected on these questions, I kept returning to the old adage, “knowledge is power.” While I believe that we, indeed, derive a lot from knowing something, I am more strongly inspired by the belief that we are bolstered by the power of knowing someone.

Think about something important that you have learned and now know. From whom did you learn it? When you have had your greatest successes or your greatest failures, it is likely that the person or people who knew you best were the first ones to congratulate you or reassure you. In either case, being known by that support system made the accomplishments even sweeter and the failures more manageable. In learning, the comfort of being known as an individual allows us to take risks, to be curious, to make mistakes, and to have a growth mindset. It all starts with making one connection at a time.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “connection” is a noun, meaning a “relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.” The cornerstone of what makes a meaningful, relevant 21st-century education possible is making connections. And it all begins with the human connection. The Park School’s faculty and students invest in nurturing those human connections each and every day. Within every classroom at Park, teachers and students connect with one another, allowing trust to grow, which in turn fosters teaching and learning.

In the excitement and bustle of beginning a new school year, we adults take time to greet each other, and we work mightily to reestablish or to establish new connections with each other. “How are you?” are three simple words that roll off the tongue. Most of us routinely ask this question, but do we pause long enough for the answer? And when we answer, do we believe in the power and importance of our response? In a relatively large learning community (with 555 students, more than 750 parents, and 160 faculty and staff) that strives to be equitable and inclusive, we must work together to create opportunities to get to know one another, respectfully sharing differing perspectives and reinvesting in those moments throughout the school year. It is work, and it is not easy. However, as the hectic pace of the school year ebbs and flows, know that our children are watching how we take time for them and for each other.

At Park, we frequently turn to and rely on the power of individual and collective relationships to shape our classrooms, our faculty and staff, and our parent communities. At this time in our country, where civility almost seems exceptional and conflict seems commonplace, we have a moral responsibility to reassure our children that kindness, respect, and human decency are core values and guiding principles for healthy interpersonal relationships. Nurturing these values requires intentionality, constant care, and vigilance from all members of our community. On any given day, striving to be responsive to the gravitational pull of the myriad tasks that fill my to-do lists is one goal. Yet, when questions are unrelenting and answers are elusive, I rely on knowing that I am leading a community that shares a common purpose: to do what we believe is best for children to thrive, learn and grow. Keeping the children at the center of who we are and what we do is paramount. Fortified by that common purpose, perhaps our most important charge this year is to reach out and to connect with each other.