The phrase "authentic connections" sounds like such a big thing. Something epic and earth-shattering, even. When I was younger, I would define "authentic connections" as those meetings where decisions were made, conclusions were come to and resolution was reached.
No such luck. It didn't take long for me to realize that this is a pretty silly standard. In fact, broadening my definition of authentic connections enabled me to realize that they can happen all day long and almost anywhere. Like the chats you have with the people who sold you donuts, the brief exchanges you have with colleagues in the hall, the email exchange you had with your boss, the Twitter chat you participated in, the laughs you share with your students or even the difficult conversations you might have with a parent, student or colleague.
While there is no exact recipe for authentic connections, I believe that you need to have at least two of the following things present in order to have the connection be meaningful and real:
Trust. All of the parties involved will likely have their own agendas, but they need to trust that the other person will listen, play fair and be flexible.
Respect. Individuals might not be seeing things in the same way, but they need to respect the ideas, feelings and motivations of the others in the conversation.
Humility. No one is right all the time, nor is anyone wrong all the time. Successful connections happen when individuals are willing to admit that they are wrong, the other person's contribution is more valid, or simply that they don't know the answer.
Honesty. While it is difficult to resist the temptation to sugar-coat or gloss over issues and problems, this lack of honesty can hamper authentic connections. It can be difficult to discuss some things openly, but being honest about the problem creates a better environment for reaching understanding.
Compassion. Even when we are in a hurry or really mad, it is important to show compassion. Always.
Humor. Let's face it, laughter always connects people.
A willingness to share your ideas and be vulnerable. This isn't easy, but it shows that you are investing something of yourself into the exchange.
A happy convergence of all of these elements occurred after school today when I had a visit from a teacher that I don't always understand. I appreciate her remarkable skills, but I don't always "get" where she is coming from. Today, our conversation started out with typical business. A project she was working on required the use of some of my students.
Initially, I was annoyed. It was late, I was hungry and I really wanted to get home to see my kids. I took a deep breath and remembered that I had been working on this post. I put down my phone and my bag and sat down.
The outcome was pretty amazing. We managed the issue at hand in short order, but then the conversation morphed to how things were going. How was I using the extra time in the literacy block, she wanted to know. How were her old students progressing in my classes? I became more engaged.
As we sat and chatted longer, the conversation shifted again. How could we best utilize the new innovation lab? Did I think we should approach the integration specialist about better professional development opportunities to maximize it's use? How could we get more teachers to embrace the change? What about the curriculum? Is it time to review and revise?
IT WAS THE KIND OF CONVERSATION I HAD BEEN CRAVING ALL YEAR!!! Deep, thoughtful, engaging and, yes, AUTHENTIC!
It was a fantastic lesson for me - that authentic connections can be most meaningful when you least expect them.