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Why education is really a relationship business

Top to bottom, education is a relationship business. It’s everything. Here's why communication, and passion, define this arena.

For all our conversations about edtech and curriculum and funding and unions and building schools and transportation and testing and every other thing, education is about people.

More specifically, education is about relationships. Nothing happens in education without relationships. The relationship between a governor and his staff. The state’s relationship with its superintendents. The supe’s relationship with the board. The principal’s relationship with her teachers. And the teacher’s relationship with our learners. Top to bottom, education is a relationship business. It’s everything.

The Power of Story Telling and Communication in Education

Our ability to successfully communicate determines our success in almost every personal and professional relationship we have. Communication is a very nuanced thing. One of the reasons that translation software may never replace native speakers is the subtleties in language and context. It’s that command of subtleties that moves education. It allows us to exist and thrive and ultimately make changes in a world of bureaucracy that starts with a budget and ends with a child whose very future rests in our hands.

I love meeting people in the education biz. I like to hear each person’s unique story. What are they passionate about? What drives them to make a difference? Whether it’s the high school dropout who became a technology innovator, former investment banker who left riches behind to battle inequity as a public school teacher, the veteran principal whose single-minded focus from childhood was always to be an educator, or the struggling learner who was told she’d never go to college, yet earned a PhD, every single person in this field has a story to tell and important contribution to make.

The education industry is often and rightly called a small world, because when everyone is working toward a common good, we tend to cross paths often and become fast friends.

“Swimming in the Deep End”

One of my new friends is Jennifer Abrams. Jen is an author and speaker who travels the globe helping education-types communicate with each other. Jen is a breath of fresh air, and she puts the “can” in candid. She can be honest, direct, and to-the-point, all in a way that leaves all parties understanding the situation, objectives and, most importantly, each other. She knows that superior communication skills are a learned behavior, and fortunately for the education world, she shares these behaviors with school districts, ministries of education and independent schools at home and abroad.

She is also the Energizer Bunny. Whenever I call her, I find her in Australia or Europe or at her home in Palo Alto. And somehow during her whirl-wind tours, she keeps writing more best-selling books. Her “Hard Conversations” books have helped hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in education, between the administrators, teachers, and students who have benefited from her guidance.

Currently, Jen is finishing her new book about “Swimming in the Deep End,” designed to help new leaders navigate the waters of management. She is an education rock star, and of all my friends in the education biz, Jen’s contributions may have the most intrinsic value. Nothing happens in education without relationships. And Jennifer Abrams is making everything happen.

In Education, Passion is Also Everything

Education is an amazing business. For those of you that know me, you know that I came to it late in life. From the time I was a kid growing up in a small town in North Carolina in the 60s, I wanted to be in the media. I know that’s a strange ambition for a kid, but being a fireman or baseball player never appealed to me.

Maybe it was the lure of Daren Stevens, an advertising executive who was married to Samantha, a very 60s house wife with a twitching little secret, but advertising and the media just called to me. From the time I was 19, I worked in newspapers, then magazines, radio and television. Always fun. Always exciting. The media connects you in a way that very few professions do. But peel away the fun and excitement and there was nothing else there – at least for me.

In 2008, I found myself searching. I landed an editor’s gig for an education magazine and for the first time in my professional life, I found a home. Education became a mission. I love the passion among educators. I love helping learners. And I love the relationships.

In media, my life has always been about communication. Writing, speaking, creating magazines and television shows and radio broadcasts. Like Daren Stevens, I had the communications skills, and thanks to the love of my life Kristy Holloway, I had my “Samantha.” What education gives me, and the reason that everyone I meet is in the education biz in the first place, is a passion to help our children. I get excited when I make new friends, and I love to talk about those friends in the columns I write. New friends, full of passion and ready to help districts and schools, eager to provide a better future for our learners.

If you don’t know Jennifer Abrams yet, reach out. I know she stays booked, but if she could help your school or district, I bet you’d get amazing results. And even if she can’t get you scheduled in, you’ll make a great new friend. In education, that’s what it’s all about.

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