Yesterday evening, I was speaking with Tony Baldasaro who noticed a theme running through several of the ASCD sessions he had attended. That theme echoed one I had been noticing as well, and which I have reflected on several times in the past. “It’s all about relationships,” he said. I believe this may very well be the Ultimate Secret to Education Reform.

Carol Tomlinson talked about this in her session, Differentiation and the Brain. From the book of the same title on which the session was based, “The foundation for successful learning and for a safe and secure classroom climate is the relationship that teachers develop with their students” (p. 33). The implication? Successful learning will not happen if the relationship isn’t there first.

I heard it in my pre-conference session on Friday, too. Real learning isn’t about the recall of large amounts of information. It’s about students recognizing, understanding, and creating relationships between all of the facts and skills they work with.

And then in a session on Leadership for Excellence and Equity: managing the change process and leading an organization requires vision and perseverance, but mostly it depends on how administrators and leaders relate to their staff members and the community. Change doesn’t happen simply by legislation and policy.

Even Reed Timmer (star of Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers) discussed how behind the scenes, the three “competing” teams of researchers and the Discovery production team are actually very interdependent and collaborative. They share information and support each other throughout the season to get the data they need and keep each other safe.

The Edcamp team (who I wrote about yesterday) also emphasized how important the first hour of an Edcamp is. This is when the schedule is built and the participants meet each other, often for the first time. Instead of a traditional conference where you race right into your first session, at an Edcamp, there’s an hour or so when you simply socialize over coffee and sticky notes. This relationship-building, according to Kristen Swanson, is critical to setting the tone for the day and making the sessions productive. She suggested that a school district considering implementing this model might be able to get away with out it, “because you already have an established community.” I disagree. I think it is, if anything, even more important, because teachers rarely get to see their colleagues outside of their building (or their department), and to create the right environment for collegial sharing and open discussion, they need this unstructured time.

So my prescription for education, and the Ultimate Secret to Reform, is to invest in relationships: personal and conceptual. Connect people with each other. Connect ideas. Just connect.