writings and Reflections

Why Our Closest Relationships Matter So Much
Tara Christie Kinsey

Before the first day of school, Hewitt faculty and staff repeatedly told me how much better this back-to-school season felt in comparison to the previous two years. Although I intuited what they were saying, I still struggled to pinpoint exactly why that might be. The ability to see more faces? No more precautionary quarantines or weekly Covid-19 surveillance testing? The dining halls reopened for community breakfast and lunch? Families and visitors streaming in for curriculum nights, social gatherings, alumnae reunions, bake and spirit gear sales, and the Parents’ Association book club? The return of pick-up basketball for parents, guardians, faculty, and staff? The community picnic? All of the above?

And then, while walking the halls the evening before the first day of classes, I stopped in to visit a veteran Hewitt teacher, who imparted the kind of wisdom that comes only with longevity, experience, and perspective: "Tara, at the end of the day, it’s the relationships with my students and families and colleagues that keep me going. The people here at Hewitt fuel me." Immediately, I knew that she was right, and that this was precisely what our founder, Caroline Hewitt, meant when she said that "it is the touch of life upon life that matters most in a school." 

It turns out that both our school’s founder and my long-serving faculty colleague were onto something very important, and there’s research to prove it. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which began in 1938 during The Great Depression and tracked quite a large cohort of white, adolescent men from various socioeconomic backgrounds over the course of their lives into their 90s, is widely considered the longest study of adult life that has ever been done.* So what did it say about the secret to happiness and living your best life? (Spoiler alert: it’s not money or fame.) It turns out that the single biggest predictor of your future health, happiness, and success in life is the quality of your closest relationships. When we have people around us that we can really count on, our brain development is significantly stronger, and our lives become infinitely more joyous and fulfilling.

This is one of the many reasons why I am proud to be a part of the Hewitt community, both as a parent and as an educator. At Hewitt, we know that learning is relational, that students learn best from teachers they love and respect, and that our most important job is to surround every girl and young woman with the kind of educators who really see, value, love, and care for them, who are unconditionally there for them, and who support them to stretch, and grow, and become the very best version of themselves so they can contribute what they uniquely have to offer to endeavors that matter to them and to the world. And all of that requires being in authentic relationships with our students–and with one another.

Now, after the last two and a half years, we’re all a little rusty when it comes to relationships. But make no mistake about it: high-quality relationships matter. They matter to our health. They matter to our ability to learn and grow to our fullest. And they matter to our ability to appreciate the simple joys of just being alive.

We also know that high-quality relationships don’t just happen. You have to put in the work. That’s true whether you are a parent, guardian, faculty, staff, student, grandparent, recent alumna, or someone who graduated from Hewitt thirty years ago. It could look like coming out to see the fall play at the end of October, cheering for the Hawks on the sidelines, joining gradewide social gatherings, attending a panel featuring Hewitt alumnae in government and nonprofits, lingering for a bit at community breakfast at Big Hewitt, or putting that phone down and joining someone for a walk in the park. Whatever it looks like for you, I invite you all to make a few new connections in this community and deepen one or two relationships you already have. There is no quick fix for nurturing authentic relationships; they require genuine investment over time, and we only get out what we put in. As we continue to help our girls learn how to develop fulfilling relationships that will sustain them throughout their lives, may we ourselves commit to developing these kinds of relationships too. Authentic relationships built on positive growth lead to pure joy. And that’s what we do best at Hewitt.

*In recent years, the Harvard Study has begun tracking the original participants’ children, and while women now comprise half the participants, it is important to note that there is still no racial diversity in the study. Robert Waldinger, the director of the program, told the Washington Post: “There’s no defense, we know this is a problem. We say in every single paper, more research is needed to test these findings out in other populations.” Designing inclusive research is central to creating a more equitable, sustainable, and joyous future, and this is why Hewitt is the only independent school in New York City with a research team dedicated to improving girls' lives and outcomes through research connected to programming. 

Tara Christie Kinsey faces the camera and smiles, wearing a Hewitt baseball cap, surrounded by six upper school students

Head of School Tara Christie Kinsey with upper school students at the community picnic

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