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I Hate to Say I Told You So: Connections Matter in Education

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In 2012 I wrote an article for The Huffington Post about the necessity of social connection for college success and how to build your own college community by reaching out to peers, professors and professionals (this is also what my book is about).

Today I read an article in the Chronicle about how "A Caring Professor May Be Key in How a Graduate Thrives". My first thought: "That's what I've been saying!"

I've been listening closely in the K-12 and higher education space for the past few years, reading every article and book I can get my hands on, observing classes and engaging on Twitter, and it astounds me how little the importance of these social connections makes its way into the national conversation.

Data is important. I get it. If we had to choose between stories and data I'd choose data. But there seems to be an imbalance. Data and buzzwords seem to be the dominant forces (along with, sometimes, a rhetoric filled with negativity and blaming).

My head spins: MOOC, Common Core, Learning Outcomes, Efficacy.

I'm thankful for all the people who dedicate their time, energy and careers towards trying to figure out our country's education problems and try to create more opportunity for all.

However, I still think there is a huge piece missing from the conversation -- the importance of social connections. I think the reason this piece is missing from the larger conversation is because, understandably, it's really hard to measure.

And because of this I feel like we're in danger of falling into this trap where the only things that matter are the things we can measure.

How do you measure a mother's love?

How do you measure the power of a conversation with a professor that challenged you to see yourself as more than others have seen you?

How do you measure the feeling you get when you're surrounded by friends who believe in you?

How do you measure hope?

I think measurements matter. But I also think the things that can't be measured matter more.

When it comes to the college access and completion conversation, especially for those struggling -- low-income, first generation, and minority students -- we can't forget about the things that can't be measured, the things that often come out in stories.

(If you want to learn about some of those stories, check out Mike Rose's Back to School. Warning: if you really care about student success it will make you cry.)

What I've learned from the stories I've heard from students all over the country and in my e-mail inbox in the past few years is what I thought to be true all along -- people matter. College isn't easy, and figuring out what you want to do with your life is complicated. It requires investment, it requires long-term conversations with people who care about you, it requires time. It also requires massive effort, from both the student and the community.

I am so thankful to all those who work tirelessly, and who've worked much longer than I have, to make education attainable for all. I'm so thankful for those who want to make it better, who conduct studies, who teach classes, who work on products to make things better. I do not want to discount that.

But I also want to make sure the stories don't get lost behind the numbers. The best part is that the stories are what actually fuel those who do the hard work of trying to make education better. The numbers give us information to work with, but it's the stories that remind us why it's important.

Each day there are stories being written, important stories going untold, and too many stories that end too soon.

Students' lives and future's are at stake. And if you don't know how much time and effort it's actually going to take to make education better in our country, volunteer to tutor a sixth-grader in your community. Sit down with her and help her with her math homework. Help her understand probabilities. Soak up her smile and the feeling you get when you finally figure out the best way to help her understand. Realize that smile is counting on you.

You may not know the data, but often those moments provide you with all you need to know.

People matter in education. It's not a new idea, but it's one I hope we never forget. Thank you to all who work at it every single day.