Flourishing Relationships

By George Petrusma  |  January 16th

My days are busy. There are times when I can’t remember if I have consumed my lunch. Other times, I have difficulty remembering the complete list of all the “things” I did on a given day. At least once per week, I walk through the halls on the way to have a conversation with someone, only to be interrupted by a few unplanned conversations which cause me to stand in the hall wondering about the why and what of my travels.

While I am not sure if those memory lapses are as a result of my decreasing cognitive abilities, what I am sure of is that the number of conversations that I have in one day and the number of words spoken is high. Have you ever tried to guess how many decisions, words, conversations, connections, and instructions are part of your day?

If you decide to analyze your day closely, you will soon discover that your words, roles, and relationships are many and fluid. Within a week, it is possible for you to encourage, be encouraged, challenge, be challenged, inspire, be inspired, entertain, be entertained, question, be questioned, advise, and be advised.

In their recently published book, Flourishing Together, Lynn Swaner and Andy Wolfe include the topic of “Relationships” as one of five domains necessary for schools to flourish. They frame the goals of education as “...entirely relational. Human relationships are not a means to an impersonal end, but the ends themselves are human--specifically, flourishing humans” (pg. 62).

The research points to relationships as being crucial to flourishing schools, and the research also points to the importance of the school’s leader. You set the tone of whether or not relationships in the building are a “means to an impersonal end” or “flourishing humans.”

So what does that look like? How can you as a leader ensure that flourishing humans are roaming your halls? Pages 61-107 in Flourishing Together will give you many details and examples.

The short sections that follow are based on the content of those pages. As you read them, understand that you set the parameters, policies, and structures in a variety of places in order to help or hinder relationships in the building. Every decision made brings you, your staff, your parents, and your students closer to a “relationship flavour” in your school community.

How would you answer these questions about you and your school?

Competition and Community

Do competition and community co-exist in your building? Should they? What does classroom pedagogy look like? Does it enhance or detract from healthy relationships? Will your families tell their friends that they feel like they are part of your school community?

Transaction and Trust

Are your discipline procedures communicating a sense of trust? Will each student be pointed to a place of trust and relationship within the community? Do “timeouts” and/or “removals from class” include reflection and restoration?

A Job and a Calling

Do your employees usually jump out of bed in the morning because they can’t wait to see how God will use them for His purposes? Are you hiring for specific character traits, in addition to the necessary skills? Are those traits ones that build relationships?

Self and Neighbour

Do employees take care of each other well? Are decisions made through the lens of “people care”? Can students see the message of care consistently delivered and applied throughout the school?

Directing and Empowering

Is your leadership defined by telling people what to do? Are people given autonomy so that they can utilize their giftings when completing tasks? Is there high trust in your school because you believe that all employees are capable and willing?

Silos and Collaboration

Have you structured your school so that employees must collaborate and problem solve together? Are your professional development experiences ones that grow relationships and synergy? What structures need to be discarded because they produce silos?

Inside and Outside

Does the learning that happens in the classrooms cause the students to think about others? Do the students’ actions care for staff and students inside the building? How about neighbours and others who are not in the building?

Included and Excluded

What school structures and practices encourage people to feel a sense of belonging and safety? Do your students hear their names and sense they are part of a community of learners each day? How do you educate students to love those who are deemed “different”?

Serving and Receiving

Is yours a school in which students are taught what it means to be a servant leader? Are staff and students serving? Do they regularly receive kind words, encouragement, and support because it is an important part of your school?

Justice and Shalom

Is your school a peaceful place? Does that peace that passes all understanding fuel a sense of justice in staff and students? Are staff members practicing and modeling the pursuit of healing and restoration in their interactions?  Are students pointed to our responsibilities as Christians?

Lots to think about. At a minimum, may at least one question cause you to pause, reflect, and act as you think about your school and your role in it.

May wisdom and discernment abound as you lead your school community. Ask the right questions in the right places. Keep your eyes set on the big picture of what a flourishing school looks like. May the Lord be with you.


George Petrusma is the South Toronto Region Cohort Leader and Principal at John Knox Christian School in Oakville, ON.