#MHSConnections by Brad Ellebracht, Mexico High School Principal

Posted on 10/31/2017
At Mexico High school we talk about and build all kinds of connections every day. As educators, we talk about how we connect with our students personally and how to connect our students to the content of our classes. As mentors, we talk about connecting our student’s life after school and adulthood. As people who care about kids, we focus on how we can make sure our students are connected to each other and to positive influences. We even use #MHSconnections as a common hashtag on our social media posts. Connections are what we are all about.

Connections to each other are critical to success in school and in life. Often, the number and strength of connections we have are referred to as our ‘social capital’. Social capital is defined as the value of groupings or networks of people to achieve things they couldn’t on their own. In other words, it is building and leveraging relationships to improve our own situation and our community. For instance, a group of people working collaboratively on a problem is much more likely to find a successful solution than one person working alone or a student who has a high level of social capital will be much more resilient to the effects of bullying or mean behavior.

The challenge we all face as educators, parents and concerned community members are how we help kids develop the skills and understanding to build and maintain their own connections and social capital. How do we help our kids build much-needed relationships with people then leverage those relationships into opportunities for growth?

Trust is at the core of social capital. As we all know, all positive relationships have trust and we have to work hard to ensure that trust. For instance, at school, we need to make sure that we do what we say we are going to do. When we tell a student that we want them to feel safe at school, we need to do our best to make sure they can feel safe. We all need to model dependability and personal responsibility.

We all also need to model and teach appropriate social skills. This sounds simple and in some ways it is. However, it becomes difficult when conflicts and disagreements arise or when we have to have kind of difficult conversation. For instance, I was so proud of our teachers at the high school this past week when we had a consultant in the building giving our teachers individual feedback on their classroom practices. With students watching, in many cases, our teachers modeled what it looks like to accept feedback and what those conversations should look like.

Sometimes, we call the skills required to build social capital ‘soft-skills”. Employers talk a lot about these skills as necessary and often overlooked components to success in the workplace. For instance, a person working on a construction site, or in a hospital (or in a school for that matter) will struggle to succeed if they can not communicate respectfully with one another, be trustworthy and dependable, consider the perspective of others or work through differences of opinion or conflict. They will struggle regardless of their job-related knowledge or skill set.

In the end, there is a lot to do to prepare kids for the 21st-century world. As a school, we need to put students through rigorous coursework and hold them to high standards of learning and skill development. We also need to teach and model the skills of collaboration, dependability and how to receive feedback. We want to work with everyone in the community to ensure that we are helping our kids build those connections and developing that social capital that will help them in school and throughout their lives. As we move into the next chapter here at Mexico High School, we have started reaching out to the community to ask for help in this. As parents, business people, and other community members, we want our students to graduate ready to contribute to our community both locally and globally. As we think about this lofty goal, we must understand that helping our students develop the skills to build their own social capital and work with others is a big piece of the skill set they will need to succeed.