Genuine Connections

Nine base kickball.

People scattered everywhere.

Music blasting.

Adults and children running.

Sweat pouring.

Constant motion .

And this…

Photo taken by Jon Harper
Photo taken by Jon Harper

Does it appear as if anything else matters to these two than this high-five? This moment? This connection?

At the time I snapped this photo there were hundreds of people around. A deejay was playing music that could be heard up and down the street. Two kickballs were simultaneously in motion. Parents, students and staff were running, jumping, catching, kicking and laughing.

But not these two.

Their only concern was each other. At least for this moment.

This staff member is getting ready to begin her very first year. Teaching kindergarten. Do you have any doubt how it will turn out? I don’t. The moment captured above showed me all I need to know.

That this teacher is going to put her students first. Smiles first. Hugs first. High-fives first. Because once you have committed to making this decision. Anything else can come second.

Somewhere along the way, we in Education have gotten lost on our journey. We have forgotten that our mission is to prepare children for Life. And while Life does have its tests, we mustn’t ever forget that Life’s most important tests don’t require a pencil.

I look forward to the day when I can walk into a Barnes & Noble and find that there are more books in the Teacher Section dedicated to child well-being than test prep. I am not absolving myself. I have purchased many of these books. Hoping that they would help me better prepare my students and my children for the tests they take at school.

But it’s time to tip the balance.

And we can. And we are. And we will.

I am very excited about the upcoming school year. About our first day of school Monday. Our main focus at Sandy Hill Elementary is our students’ well-being. Not their test scores.

Of course we want our students to be successful on the assessments they take. And we are well aware of the fact that success looks different for each child. We know that every child can succeed. But we don’t always measure success by lining up numbers.

Success can look like a smile.

Success can look like falling down and getting back up.

Success can look like sharing.

Success can look like improvement.

Success can look like accepting and embracing differences.

And success can look like a high-five in the middle of a crowded and noisy nine base kickball game.


I wrote this quote over a year ago and have yet to use it in a blog piece. Until today. As you begin this school year, make every effort to create moments like the one above.

Amidst the noise.

Amidst the chaos.

Amidst all that may be going on around you.

Block it out. And genuinely connect with a child. You’ll be glad you did.

But more importantly, so will they.


  1. Oh Jon! I think this is my favorite blog by you, ever! WOW! That picture! Your words! They are all tugging at my heartstrings right now. I love your messages about what success can look like. I also love the quote that you shared at the end. In fact, I like it so much, I’d like to post it in our staff bath. Do I have your permission to do so? Thank you so much for sharing your gift of writing. I always look forward to reading your blog. Happy new school year to you and yours!

  2. I too, say ‘Wow, Jon!’
    It often feels like we’ve lost our way in education. And then I see my kids and watch their eyes light up because they recognize that I’m wearing LEGO earrings. There’s another moment. Thank you for sharing and reminding. these are the things that truly matter.

  3. What a great moment and a great message. It just takes a little of our time and makes such a big difference to a child. Thanks for the inspiring quote for the start of the school year!

  4. Your first day of school is going to be epic, because you are putting first things first. Teacher-Student Relationship Quality (TSRQ) is everything! And you remind us that it starts with a look and a touch in a brief moment. Thanks for this inspiring post!

  5. Beautiful story and photo. As my only son heads off to his first year of preschool, I truly hope he finds teachers like this one who are engaged and caring. Thank you for your commitment to true education of our children! 🙂

  6. Jon,
    I am a superintendent in Stillwater, MN getting ready to welcome back my staff. Would you consider giving me permission to use part of your blog and the photo? Our focus this year is on building relationships and this nails it for me!
    Of course, I would give you the credit! Thank you for sharing this with us all.
    Denise Pontrelli

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