Vision to Impact: Building Relationships One Child at a Time


Innovative. Inspiring. Rejuvenating. The Grammys of Education. Those are words we heard used to describe the Annual Model Schools Conference (MSC), but we had no idea how valuable this experience would be for us. Through perseverance, we wrote and won a grant from Fund for Teachers that allowed us to attend MSC 2018.

We were three educators from North Syracuse, New York, learning alongside more than 5,000 educators from around the world. Talk about small fish in a BIG pond! Yet, all of the educators had a common question in mind: How are other districts making meaningful changes within their schools?

Model Schools4

By the end of the four-day conference, we had listened to dozens of speakers, attended multiple workshops, and set up an action plan to lead us into the 2018–2019 school year. We had also made several professional connections to help guide us with our new vision.

Here’s the story of our journey from vision to impact.

Our Post-Conference Vision

Our action plan was to create new initiatives, and we decided to start with building stronger relationships between staff and students and created a plan based on that. Upon our return from MSC, we met with our building administrator. Our conversation brought about a new focus on social-emotional learning (SEL). While at MSC, multiple presenters discussed student mentoring programs. We thought it could be a good idea to connect with several students once our school year began and recognized that we have many kids in our building who were falling between the cracks, who did not have a connection to an adult at school, or who had little motivation to come to school. MSC inspired us to begin conversations around creating a mentoring program within our own building.

Mentoring Program for Middle Schoolers

We started by consulting with our building’s Instructional Support Team. This group meets regularly to discuss student concerns. Our purpose for beginning the program was to create positive connections between vulnerable students and an adult in the building. Some staff wanted to concentrate on academics, homework, and organization, but we wanted our role to be purely about building relationships. Our most vulnerable students are the same ones who struggle to find a healthy relationship in school—who crave positive adult attention. We believe once students begin trusting the adults around them, the academics will fall in place. We need to build relationships first. Maslow before Bloom.

Together Stronger

Currently, we have 27 students being mentored. Our program is very organic. With the help of guidance staff and social workers, we analyzed data, and they shared some pertinent articles. Staff members meet with students during lunch, outside during bus duty, in the morning prior to homeroom—essentially whenever it can be squeezed in. We are working to make positive connections with our students and will evaluate the program throughout the school year to determine if the program has an impact on attendance, behavior, academics, and more.

What's Next?

For the mentoring program, we plan to:

  • Address how we might connect theory to practice while continuing to research mentoring programs.
  • Gather data from students and mentors to determine their perspective about the experience.
  • Meet with teachers to discuss what’s working and what’s not working to make the most of the time with our students.
  • Plan for next school year: How can we continue to grow our mentor program next year? How can we identify students before the school year starts? How can we support students moving up to the junior high school?

Other initiatives include building culture, updating the staff lounge to make it a comfortable and peaceful place for teachers, and encouraging staff and students to submit names of individuals they want to recognize during morning announcements for inspiring them to come to school each day.

For us, MSC was an invaluable experience. If you are looking to attend MSC 2019, we encourage you to create a plan prior to attending the conference. Here are some things to consider:

  • Plan for the sessions you want to attend ahead of time.
  • Reflect on each day’s sessions both individually and with your team.
  • Connect with educators from across the country. Trade contact information and follow others on social media. The learning will continue well after the conference is over with those you have connected with.
  • Identify areas of focus to make positive changes to school culture, teaching, and learning.
  • Attend the post-conference and create an action plan to implement. This will help you solidify what your plans might be in 20, 60, and 90 days. You’ll be more apt to put things in motion when they are written down.

We hope to see you at MSC 2019! Follow us on Twitter at @nyweathergirl, @egilbertGRMS, and @CieslaCynde.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Join more than 5,000 educators in 100+ sessions at the 31st Annual Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida, from June 25–28, 2023.

Now a hybrid event, MSC is extending and enhancing beyond convention center ballrooms and across the world.

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