Reciprocal Relationships and How Our Community Listens Can Inspire Youth

Reciprocal Relationships and How Our Community Listens Can Inspire Youth

by Rebecca Buell | Jul 20, 2020

Our Community Listens imagines a society in which we care for each other first, and one way we strive to achieve this is through inspiring youth. With that in mind, Educational Initiatives Leader Mike Desparrois and I started on a journey to discover what OCL’s contribution could be in the field of education.

Through our research, we found that, although direct-service curriculum teaching character, emotional intelligence and mindfulness are abundant, tools for the adults surrounding, serving and mentoring students to create meaningful, authentic connection in their own lives and interactions were missing. It is in this connection, or “reciprocal relationship” as termed by one University of Chicago study, that emotional safety, sense of belonging, and ability to thrive within the educational environment may be found.

But school is about learning content, right? So, why are these heart and relationship matters important to math, science, and reading? Because, according to the Chicago researchers, “a narrow focus on content knowledge in isolation from other foundational components undermines learning and development.” Simply put, focusing just on the academics and not attending to the child as a whole person shuts the doors on learning all together. It undermines it.

But it doesn’t stop there. Studies show that having binders full of SEL or character-focused curriculum does no good if it’s not lived and put into action by the adults surrounding the students. In fact, the same word comes into play here - it is detrimental - if the adults teaching the curriculum fall short of being practitioners in their own lives and the ways they interact friends, coworkers, parents, administrators and with the students, it is worse than if no social-emotional intervention ever happened at all.

That’s where OCL comes in. Wanting to see the impact we could have in the youth leadership, education, and mentoring space, we began working with Big Brothers Big Sisters in Michigan. The theory was that we could use our three-day class on empathetic listening with the leadership, support team, and mentors, and thus equip these individuals with the tools needed for deep, personal, authentic caring connection with the youth they served.

The results were amazing—the “bigs” reported at the end of the study using empathy, listening, and communication skills nearly every day(!). And, the relationships with youth blossomed under the glowing light of support, safety, connection and a space to be known. “Reciprocal relationships” were happening, just like the University of Chicago study says are so important to young adult success.

So, where do we go from here? Mike, a group of researchers, and I are embarking on yet another journey, this time looking at specific classroom behaviors teachers exhibit that help create a sense of belonging and connection in the classroom. We’re diving into scholarly research, and once the comprehensive list of educator behaviors is established, we will measure the skills taught in our listening curriculum and see to what degree educators and paraprofessionals in education utilize those skills effectively to create campus cultures where students may thrive. We are looking for national educational leadership organizations to partner with us in fostering this vision. Together we want to equip educators with the tools for meaningful, authentic, caring connection that will strengthen youth and increase caring in communities of learning.

And why do we do that? It goes back to our vision statement: We imagine a society in which people care for each other first. And, we invite you to imagine with us.

Learning alongside you,