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Consolidating COETAIL: Relationships

Consolidating COETAIL: Relationships

Cover Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash


I’ve been quiet on the COETAIL and blogging front lately because, well to be honest, it’s been information overload and I needed time to process. I feel like winter break, a bunch of good books, and family was helpful in that realm: I got to let my mind wander and make free connections. It reminds me of Walter Mitty or The End of Absence: one needs to be quiet and in those quiet moments come great ideas.

In coming back to my blog, I have a general plan for how I’d like to approach the final COETAIL course. I skimmed all my blog posts and wrote their core concepts/ideas down, then I categorized them based on theme. I found 3 prominent themes emerge: Relationships, Authenticity, and Tech. For my first three posts, I will be consolidating these topics and exploring where I am now in my thinking and how it might have changed.

Consolidating Relationships

For this section I’d like to explore the themes of three posts that I wrote over the last year that contained themes of relationships.

  1. Course 1, Post 1 – Less Is More: main message was that fewer relationships that are high quality is better than having many loose connections.
  2. Course 2, Post 4 – Truth Literacy: main message was that what we know and how we know things is subjective.
  3. Course 4, Post 3 – Human Connections Make Deep Learning Possible: main message was that relationships matter.

Now I’d like to go topic by topic and explore these topics again at the end of my COETAIL experience.

Fewer relationships that are high quality is better than having many loose connections.

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

During my time in COETAIL another author that I often quoted was Malcolm Gladwell and his book Tipping Point. He has several things that I will always remember in that book, but one that is applicable in this section is the idea that the size of humans’ brains indicates the number of relationships that we can maintain. Gladwell explains that there is a hard limit to the number of strong connections we can have. The number? 150.

Reader, you’re probably skeptical from my shoddy paraphrase, but humor me if you will. What if teachers (people) are only able to maintain 150 relationships total? That includes family, offspring, neighbors, friends, students, and colleagues. Can we be effective as teachers if we have too many students in our classes? Too many colleagues in our campus?

During COETAIL, I kept preaching about the value of strong relationships, but are we biologically hitting a wall that prevents us from achieving a certain level of closeness? So in a certain way, I’m kind of coming back to my first post and laughing because part of it seems to be true. Deleting is good!

Personally, I have 76 students, 108 teachers I coach, administration, my family of 12… I’m over my limit! Sounds like Black Mirror’s episode about canceling people.

What we know and how we know things is subjective.

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

This was one of my favorite posts that I did during my time in COETAIL. I think I spent three days. Like 3 solid days writing, rewriting, and thinking about it. I had gone through Theory of Knowledge DP training and it was inspiring. But if you want to read my thoughts on this topic, you can go back to the post.

I would say that all this time later, I still hold its core concept as truth. I was rereading my Cognitive Coaching textbook, and one line really jumped out at me. I can’t recall the page number, so I’m going to have to paraphrase it from memory. In short it was along the lines of a coach is someone who respects another person’s model of the world. I love that line “someone’s model of the world”. A coach (i.e. someone who encourages deep, original thinking by asking mediative questions) is someone who listens and encourages deeper thinking in their coachee, not someone who challenges someone’s view or the world. I think this is actually an approach to practicing empathy.

Relationships matter.

I know that as a teacher I have an impact on students’ lives. But I don’t always have the chance to follow up with them or ask them what I meant, if anything at all, to them. So it makes it very special when a student does reach out and say what I meant.

A couple of days ago, I had a student write me an email that I taught 5 years ago. Back when he was in 8th grade, he had told me that he was interested in photography which is something I used to do professionally. So I encouraged him and gave him pointers. Sometimes he would stay after school to ask questions and chat. I remember once showing him how to use Photoshop. Eventually he graduated from middle school and moved to the US. When he reconnected via email, he included several pictures of his current work. Here are a few.

I could see that he was still using the same techniques we had talked about year ago, but he was implementing them with a much higher level of mastery.

In his email, he surprised me when he said ” I also want to say thank you again for introducing me to photography. It changed my life.”

To me what felt like a trivial, fun exchange about pictures actually had a profound impact on this young man for several years to come and became incorporated into his identity, studies, and possibly career.

What teachers say and do matters. Even as technology develops and we become more dependent upon various tools, strong relationships will always be at the center of a good education.

Edit: after making my initial post, I wrote to my student mentioned above and I asked him to write his thoughts on the topic. He prepared a statement on the idea of “relationships in education”.

“For me, relationship between students and teachers is super important. Having a good relationship with  teachers can help students thrive not only in the classroom but outside of it as well. For example, I connected with you through photography and I feel like we built a bigger bond from that. I not only see you as a teacher but also a mentor and a friend. With that, I was also able to work with you better in the classroom. I was more comfortable asking for help and directions and was more excited to be in your class, which then, increased my performance in your class. I think student-teacher relationship is super important and it can definitely change a student’s attitude in that subject.”


I recently read Culture Code by Daniel Coyle. Great book. In it he talks about one of the ways to bring communities together. He brought up the Navy SEALs and how they go through arduous training. I think he calls it the log challenge. The idea being that a group of guys would have to carry a log. That’s it. They would have to move it from place to place. Uhg. But the thing that came out of this brutal task was camaraderie. Mutal suffering, combined effort, common goals– all of these things can bring a group together.

Today, there’s a lot happening in the world. One of the most salient topics is The COVID-19 virus has been shutting down cities, schools, and killing people. In fact, as I write this, my school is just coming out of a week-long break from regular schooling and opted instead for a distance learning approach. Looking back at this week, one of the biggest takeaways for many of us was how we bonded together and how, despite being far apart, we were actually more of a community than ever. And if nothing else, that is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

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