Former Derby faculty member Nat Damon (1994-2000) returned to campus January 11 to speak with faculty and to reflect on the significance of relationships; a lesson he learned at Derby that he has carried with him through his 25-year career in education.
Sharing findings from his book
, Time to Teach: Time to Reach - Expert Teachers Give Voice to the Power of Relational Teaching,
Damon stressed the importance of student-teacher and teacher- teacher relationships and connections.
Damon spoke about why teacher effectiveness cannot be solely measured through student test scores – excellent teachers are defined by the power of their student relationships. A community of support and guidance, he said, often gets unacknowledged in the age of data, metrics, and quantitative measurement.
“Only through relationships are we able to challenge our students to explore, because learning is challenging,” Damon said. Building trust, encouraging exploration, being authentic, fostering connection, cultivating hope, and making room for reflection (TEACH-R), are the six central characteristics expert relational teachers demonstrate every day. Content is critical, but by focusing on relationships, teachers can succeed in creating a learning environment based on honesty and trust. By honestly presenting yourself as who you, Damon said, every teacher experiences a growth beyond any other profession. “Every day the students are holding a mirror back to you…Acceptance is at the heart of relational teaching.”
Damon presented passages from his book, sharing quotes and anecdotes from over 100 interviews emphasizing the value of micro-moments, the personal moments between and during class, and how they are tremendously impactful in developing powerful relationships with students. It is relationships that best address mental health issues, depression, anxiety, loneliness, disengagement, and emotional growth. Those micro-moments can help combat the achievement gap and create an environment of trust and empathy, he said, sharing, “there are thousands of micro-moments that occur during the school day, and each one informs our moral, ethical, and attitudinal development.”
Damon credited the support from colleagues he experienced during his tenure at Derby, and how he was able to develop as a teaching professional because of the School’s environment.
“When I think about my years at Derby, I think about those relationships with my peers, my colleagues…That support meant everything. I’m convinced my zeal for preaching this message is absolutely formulated not just from relations with my students, but equally with my relations with the teachers I worked with who allowed me to grow in a supportive environment. Thank you, Derby.”