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The other day, I went to get a haircut. I’ll be heading back to school soon, so I wanted to book a haircut and highlights before going back. I’ve gone to different hairdressers over the years: from drop-in places to those where I book appointments. When COVID first came, and then things started to open up again, I was reluctant to go to a drop-in hairdresser where numbers inside could be more and wait times could be longer. My mom goes to a hairdresser down in Dundas, where I live, and so I decided to get an appointment with him. I knew from my mom that he only has a few people in the salon at a time, and these lower numbers were initially what drew me to his practice. But that’s not what’s had me coming back time and time again.

This amazing hairdresser understands the value in relationships. He doesn’t rush your haircut. He takes the time to truly connect with his clients. He remembers everything that you told him before — be it acquaintances that you might have in common to occupations — and he always brings things back to these topics of conversation. Getting a haircut here is truly an experience. No matter how stressed you might feel going in — as I did in the summer of 2020, when I barely got out of the house at all for months and was now going inside places where others might be — you always feel wonderful leaving. This makes me think a lot about how relationships are the cornerstone of Self-Reg.

It brought me back to some of my summer experiences working at Camp Power. While I was one of the Site Leads, I also had various opportunities to either co-teach with instructors and/or work with small and large groups of students. Since I was not the regular instructor in these groups, I had to work at building relationships first. How did I do this? I spoke with kids. They told me about what they were doing, what they were learning, and what mattered to them. As we played with LEGO, chatted with each other, and solved problems, I also tried to slip in some literacy connections.

I share these stories, as I often think that in the classroom, these unstructured times are seen as wasted time. In the past, I often asked students about their days or heard stories about their favourite things, but then we moved onto the next big activity. In retrospect I wonder, did I miss a great opportunity to connect with children and ultimately find out more about their interests, by just taking the time to slow down? I think about my hairdresser and how much he knows about me. Do I know as much about my students?

In a few weeks, we’ll be returning to the classroom after months spent teaching remotely followed by summer holidays. We’ve been told that mental health and well-being are priorities. Could taking the time to talk with kids — and really listen to them — be one of the best ways that we could support this priority while also building a classroom community? We don’t need exciting get-to-know-you games and beautiful activity sheets to build relationships with students. I wonder if we what need most of all are time, interest, patience, and the belief that connecting is enough. What do you think?