Relationships Matter

Teach Better TeamBlog, Connect Better, Lead Better


  • When you hold a leadership position, not only do relationships matter, but they are the most important thing.
  • When we are stressed, we lean on those we trust.
  • This is the first post in a new series: Better Coaching.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” – George Bernard Shaw.

In the last 6 months, we’ve seen a complete upheaval and renewal of what teaching and learning looks like in schools.  In a matter of days, we were forced to rethink everything: lesson planning, grading, making connections with students, accountability, and collaboration. The list goes on and on.

But what has been the most interesting for me to observe is how these times have caused teachers to shift and change. Which teachers have embraced the change and which have struggled a little more? Which teachers have used these times to shift their teaching philosophy and which have chosen to keep their teaching practices the same?

Who has shown vulnerability and leaned on support from their colleagues? And who have let these times get the best of them?

Relationships Matter When the Going Gets Tough

In mentioning this, there is no judgment in the choices that teachers have made, but instead, as an instructional coach, it has illuminated what’s REALLY important in schools when the going gets tough: relationships.

I have worked in 5 different schools in the past 13 years of my career in numerous roles from an instructional coach to an assistant principal of a middle school.  I have worked in Catholic schools, elementary schools, and middle schools, as well as in diverse schools, high poverty schools, and wealthy schools.  I’ve worked under many different leaders with different leadership styles, and I’ve worked in schools with numerous teacher leaders.

But, in the end, none of these factors have honestly mattered.  The schools I worked in that had the highest levels of collaboration, student growth, and high achievement, and the schools I worked in that I enjoyed working in the most, were the schools where teachers had strong, trusting relationships with one another.  We can never undermine the importance of relationships.

When we are stressed and frustrated, who do we go to? We lean on those who are closest to use, those we trust, and those with whom we have relationships. Click To Tweet

Relationships Matter with Your Colleagues

We constantly talk about relationship-building in schools, especially with our students and families.  But, how often do we think about our relationships with our colleagues?  There’s a reason that almost every book on instructional coaching has a chapter devoted to relationships.

We can never underestimate the importance of relationships among our colleagues.

In her famous TED talk, Rita Pierson says, “Students don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Adults also do not learn from people they don’t like.

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The most success I have found in coaching is with the teachers that I have gotten to know personally.  When you have a relationship with your colleagues, they begin to trust you. And when they begin to trust you, they are willing to be vulnerable. And when they are willing to be vulnerable, they will allow you to coach them.

Teachers do not work with a coach they do not like.  Teachers do not work with a coach they cannot trust.  And, teachers do not work with a coach who isn’t willing to be vulnerable themselves.

But, teachers DO work with coaches that care, coaches that are trustworthy, and coaches that are equals.

“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship” – Dr. James Comer.

So, right now, in these crazy times, how do we continue instructional coaching?  How do we help teachers see the value of coaching?  Let’s go back to basics.  Relationship-building.  When we are stressed and frustrated, who do we go to?  We lean on those who are closest to use, those we trust, and those with whom we have relationships.


Melissa Cunningham is a passionate middle school educator who has had the pleasure of being in the middle school setting for all 12 years of her career. Her roles span from language arts and math teacher to assistant principal and now, instructional coach. She is especially passionate about student leadership and choice in the classroom, while cultivating the skills of collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity. Outside of school, she enjoys photography, writing, reading, hiking, and spending time with my husband, friends, and family.