At a recent trip to an indoor trampoline park in my community with my daughters, a fully-grown man bounded over to my trampoline yelling my top-secret teaching name, “Mrs. Dustin! Mrs. Dustin! Mrs. Dustin!” and landed with a hug.

I was shocked.

This young man, Kevin* was a student I had in my economics class a few years earlier, who despite this, seemed happy to see me. You see, he hated my class. Like, really hated it. I can tell you this with certainty, because I met regularly with his mom who happily shared her son’s feelings about economics with me, sent progress reports home weekly, and one day experienced that heart breaking, time-standing still, earth-shattering moment when I watched him wipe tears from his eyes. Because of economics. Because of me.

Those are the hardest experiences as an educator, but also the most important. I was transformed in that moment—realizing I needed to do better. I needed to do more to make learning less painful. I believe that every educator sets out in this journey to make a difference in the lives of young people. To help them chart their path, realize their greatest talents, and help them achieve their dreams. But the reality isn’t always so rose-colored.

So as we jumped up and down, we caught up. He told me all about his job, pointing to the company jacket and hat he was still wearing despite the heat he was generating from bouncing like a kangaroo across the field of trampolines to get to mine. He told me about some of the important projects his company was involved in. He told me about his pride in joining the Teamsters and the amazing health benefits he was receiving. He told me that his employer matched his 401K up to $5,000 every year and that he was budgeting his money every month to make sure that he could get the highest return on his investment. He told me that his uncle who ran the company was an entrepreneur, and that one day Kevin hoped that he would be able to run the operation when his uncle no longer could.

I stopped jumping.

student success lifelong learning

Kevin was telling me about his job. In doing so, he was providing a final demonstration of his application of knowledge and skills gained. Not just his final assessment—mine as well. He had just relayed exactly how he was applying what he learned in economics to his real-life. He was very specific in the details he shared, highlighting the connections he had made in economics class to having critical financial competence in signing all the paperwork when he started his new job.

More than any apple I ever received from a student in my career as an educator, hearing his success and passion for what he was doing was the ultimate gift.

He said, “Look, I know I struggled in your class. I didn’t get economics at the time. I was 14 and you made us learn about things I wasn’t ready to learn. If it wasn’t for the dance-offs (The Harlem Shake was big at the time), the challenge of the entrepreneur project where I actually got to earn money in school (he leans in)…You are crazy you know. No one is allowed to make money in school. It was the best!”

I was so happy that Kevin was loving his job. That he had found a career path that suited him. That he found meaning in the work that he was doing and connection with his colleagues.

So often educators work with students as they struggle and help them to overcome challenges and be successful. But many of us never know how our most valued customers—our students—ultimately emerge as champions of their own lives. Students leave our classes. Some students come back to visit (or track you down in your new job to tell you all about their adventures in college). But many students—like Kevin—move on. Unless we are lucky enough to run into, or in this case, bounce into former students, we don’t get see the ultimate demonstration of success = real life. Empowering students to find their way and lead successful lives after their time in your classroom is over is the ultimate goal of education and the ultimate measure of client success.

Sometimes success comes through the content that we teach. Always it comes through the human connections that we make. How we make our students feel through the fun and the challenges. Kevin knew he mattered. He may not have loved learning about supply-side economics, but he knew I was there to help him persevere, and no matter how many dance-offs it took, he would ultimately understand personal finance and be able to apply it, not at 14, but as a fully-grown man, when it mattered most: understanding the financial implications and documentation of his new job.

How do we cultivate these relationships? How do we ensure that our students find their unique pathway to success immediately, a year from now, ten years from now? Just as it takes different students different amounts of time to learn, it takes an equally varied time to measure the ultimate impact of that learning.

There is no easy answer to building relationships with and following the lives of all our many students in every class, year in and year out. But there are new tools that can help us work toward it.

Enter learning relationship management.

A learning relationship management (LRM) platform helps us all to know our students socially, emotionally and statistically. Maintaining these relationships enables us to design truly personalized education plans and to help our students progress along their chosen pathways—not just in our classrooms, but in the months and years ahead as they participate in lifelong learning.

Maybe the best part is being able to follow along with and see our students’ ultimate successes. Nothing can beat bouncing into an old student and catching up, but this comes close.

*Name changed!

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