The Enduring Power of Relational Teaching

When a teacher makes a student feel seen—and understood—it can lead to incredible learning, says educational consultant Nat Damon. And that doesn’t call for grand gestures: Taking few seconds to tell a student she was great in the soccer game can be profound. “These micro moments matter,” Damon says. “When students sense their teachers know them as people, amazing things can happen.”

That is the core of relational teaching, an educational approach that emphasizes the importance of connectivity and relationships. It’s also what Damon believes is the key to helping students really learn. When a student feels valued and part of a safe community, they will be open to expanding their mind, to exploring and engaging. “Only through this connection can you really challenge,” Damon says. “Learning is hard. And long-term retention doesn’t happen in a passive manner.”

Damon says that he “proselytizes the message” of how important connection in the classroom is in his new book, Time to Teach, Time to Reach. Published by the Relational Schools Foundation, the book explores the how behind teaching. Damon interviewed more than one hundred K through 12 teachers and educational experts from the United States, Finland, and England about their processes. How do they make students feel seen? How do they create a safe space for authenticity? How do they incorporate relational teaching? Each educator makes a compelling case that teaching is equally cognitive and emotional. Connection isn’t just obvious for successful teaching (and learning)—it’s essential. “We’re all wondering how we can grow our kids to give them confidence but also to be human with each other,” Damon says. “The best thing we can do is invest in them.”

Time to Teach, Time to Reach will make you want to call your favorite teacher and thank them for giving you that extra book, taking the time to edit your paper side-by-side, inspiring you in a way you didn’t know you could be inspired. The stories are heartfelt and enlightening. Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or someone completely removed from a classroom, Damon presents a north star: A better world comes from investing in one another.

To learn more about Nat Damon’s work, click here. And to order a copy of Time to Reach, Time to Teach, click here.