Building Developmental Relationships - Steve Barkley

Building Developmental Relationships

The Search Institute defines developmental relationships as close connections through which young people discover who they are, cultivate abilities to shape their own lives, and learn how to engage and contribute to the world around them. This definition helps me as the need to build relationships is often discussed in schools, but I wonder if the discussion is often occurring without those involved having agreement on what is meant by relationships.

This video clip from Kent Pekel at the Search Institute provides a good overview for considering the meaning of building relationships.

craft teacher with student

Five Elements in the Developmental Relationship Framework

Search Institute identifies five elements in the developmental relationships framework that I believe provide a great assessment starter for a teacher considering a relationship with a struggling student, a PLC strategizing an approach for a group of unengaged students or a school leadership team examining an advisory program:

  1. Express Care — How do students know you believe in them? What verbal and non- verbal messages are they receiving? Can they count on you? I frequently identify the message that I want students to receive is that “I work for them” rather than a thought that they are doing work for me.
  2. Challenge Growth — Do students know that we expect them to stretch? How are goals presented for all students? Do students know that we expect they will fail from time to time and that we will work with them to learn from those mistakes or unsuccessful first attempts.
  3. Provide Support — How do we guide students in difficult times as an advocate and empower them to take charge of situations? This combination of supporting and challenging connects to the description of great teachers as warm demanders.“Warm demanders approach their students with unconditional positive regard, knowing students and their cultures well, and insisting that students perform to a high standard. Students have told researchers that they want teachers who communicate that they are ‘important enough to be pushed, disciplined, taught, and respected’.” (Wilson & Corbett, 2001)
  4. Share Power — Students recognize that they are respected when they are “given a say.” Recognizing student voice and choice as often as possible assists in building relationships. George Curous defines our goal as moving from seeking compliance to engagement to empowerment. That progression supports relationship building.
  5. Expand Possibilities — We can strengthen relations when we increase the circle of supporters for students. How can we assist students in dreaming big and having confidence in themselves as well as in our and others’ support for them?

The 4 S’s of Interviewing

Search Institute provides a tool called the 4S’s interview  for gathering input from students to help uncover relationship building elements. The questions focus on identifying:

  1. Sparks: Talents, deep interests, and activities that one enjoys.
  2. Strengths: Skills, behaviors, attitudes, and values that promote success.
  3. Struggles: Problems that cause concern and potentially undermine success.
  4. Supports: People and programs that nurture sparks, build on strengths, and reduce struggles.

Building developmental relationships requires listening. With some students, it takes conscious planned approaches. The 4S’s interview can give you a start.

“Without listening, there can be no trust. Without trust, there can be no relationships. Without relationships, there can be no openness to change and growth. Put another way, without listening there can be no instructional coaching that gets anyone anywhere but frustrated.” (Sherry St. Clair, Coaching Redefined)

As I watched the video and examined the Search Institute site, I thought that the guidelines provided could be valuable for administrators and instructional coaches. Relationships with teachers are critical to generating the vulnerability and risk-taking that promote teacher learning that generates students’ learning. How do you communicate caring and promote challenges with the knowledge that your support will be there? Are you a warm demander? How is power being shared with staff? Can you find opportunities that extend possibilities for individual teachers to expand horizons?  I personally benefited from leaders who extended possibilities for me at the various stages of my career. I still have that support today.

If you are new to the staff you are serving or struggling with some “non-participating” members, look to uncover sparks, strengths, struggles, and supports to build a conscious plan for developing relationships.

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