The Importance of Relationships

This blog post is from Kevin Pioli-Hunt, PLP Pathways contributor and teacher in Swift House,

Williston Central School.

This job is all about relationships. This was one of the first things I learned from my mentor teacher when I was student teaching and it has been a guiding force in my approach ever since. There will always be things that are out of the teacher’s control: new initiatives, changes in curriculum, changes in personnel. One thing that can remain constant, however, is the level of trust and rapport we build with our students year in and year out. Here are some tried and true methods we use to build relationships on Swift House:

Early Connections with Families

Summer Mailing

We are fortunate to be a 5th-8th grade team, so we have ample time to build strong, lasting relationships with students and families. Every summer, we send out a summer mailing to our new families and returning families. This letter consists of introductions, updates about the teachers’ professional growth over the summer (along with the fun!), core placements, student mentor/mentee pairs, and general logistics about the coming school year. For our new families, we also provide a student profile document for the upcoming Hopes and Dreams conference. Our hopes and dreams conferences occur a few days before school starts, and give us a chance to learn about our new core (homeroom/advisory) students. We also begin the process of setting up some PLP goals before the school year even begins. It’s the first of many opportunities for our new students to not only feel connected with our team, but to also have a chance to advocate for themselves and their needs.

Mentor/Mentee Breakfast

The day before school starts, we have our 7th and 8th grade volunteer mentors come in for a mentor/mentee breakfast, which we host on Swift House. This, more times than not, is the mentor and mentees’ first interaction with one another, so we try to keep it as light and fun as possible. Mentors are given a questionnaire to fill out with their mentees, to get to know one another and help the conversation along, and then each of the four core classes do ten minute rotations where we play some fun and engaging team building games. We end the day by bringing all the mentors and mentees together in our Kiva space and play “signature squares” as one final getting-to-know-you activity before we leave.

Team Building

1st week of school

We embed team building activities (silent birthday line up, captain’s coming, shoe relay, play doh pictionary, etc) for the first 3-4 days of school. This happens in both small core (advisory) group settings within our morning meeting and large group as a whole team. We utilize our life studies and literacy blocks in our schedule to make time for these team building activities. During our math classes, every teacher on Swift spends time focusing on growth mindset lessons(from and establishing a classroom environment that values mistakes and learning from one another. We also make time early in the school year for students to complete some identity work that will go on their PLP. This year we used Chris Stevenson’s 5 Personal Efficacies as a foundation for our identity work. Students created a coat of arms in which they reflected on their competence, responsibility, awareness, affiliation, and sense of self.


An ongoing Swift tradition is our campout that happens on the second week of school. Every year, we bring students on an overnight camping trip to Grand Isle State Park. We begin planning for this on the first day back by delegating 8th grade campsite leaders. Once the campsite leaders are established, the leaders all meet with a teacher and begin making campsite groups. We begin with matching the mentors and mentees to help continue to build those relationships. After groups are made, they begin their campout planning. The students plan everything. They are in charge of collaborating and sorting out who is bringing what for dinner, campfires, tents, snacks, drinks, etc.

Once we arrive at camp, students work together to set up their tents and organize their sites and then we have a schedule of small group rotations and large group team building activities. There is of course freetime built in to swim in the lake or play and hang out with friends. The night ends with a Swift community dinner, where families and Swift alumni come to join us. This is an amazing opportunity to meet and socialize with the new families and have new parents meet returning parents and students. After dinner, we all have a bonfire and each of the campsite groups put on skits that they’ve been rehearsing. We end the night in a peaceful manner with candles and sharing what we are thankful for. This began in 2001. The Swift campout was the week after 9/11 and the facilitators held a candlelight vigil and had students and families share what they were thankful for in their lives. We have continued this ever since. For me, this moment at the campout when we are quiet with our faces illuminated by the flickering flame from the candles and sharing what we are thankful for, is when everybody feels what it means to be a member of this family.

Whether you are part of a team that has relationship building built into the culture, or brand new to the profession, it’s important to remember that making any effort to build relationships with your students will have a positive and lasting impact.