The Power of Relationships

In this post we’ll share the research and practices that highlight the power of relationships — being a part of a community ensures students feel safe, affirmed, and ready to learn. This blog post is the third in a series (see: post #1 and post #2) that can provide steps and considerations for building a supportive, empathy-led environment at your district or school. Learn how you can leverage relationship-building practices in your school communities.

The Research Base
Building deep, authentic relationships with your students and school community members is not a “fluffy” practice sitting outside of core instruction. It’s crucial to ensure all students have the support they need to thrive in and out of the classroom.

For all children — especially those who have experienced adversity, trauma, stereotyping, or bias — strong bonds with adults supports brain development and provides emotional security. It creates a positive counter-narrative that can affect their engagement and success in school. Studies show that positive classroom environments, relationships, and trust support the development of effective academic behaviors. Strong relationships unlock and nurture students’ talents, assets, and resilience.

Relationship-Building Practices
We’ve curated several relationship-building practices you can consider introducing or growing in your school communities. We encourage you to think about which of these to prioritize given your student populations, and how these connect to current practices.

Practice #1: Ensure students have a relationship with at least one caring adult.

  • Commit to knowing students as individuals and develop an understanding of social and cultural factors (sample questions to get started)
  • Create regular opportunities to listen and build rapport with students
  • Consider opportunities to promote student agency in classroom interactions

Practice #2: Build relational trust and respect between teachers and students, and among students.

  • Model self-awareness and promote authentic connections across the school community
  • Cultivate cultural understanding and celebrate student identity, diversity, and pride

Practice #3: Build a school culture where learning is communal and personalized.

  • Establish safe, well-designed, inclusive collaborative learning processes such as student advisories and learning communities
  • Personalize and normalize accountability to student feedback through regular, responsive check-ins
  • Partner with families and community

Connect With Us
We’d love to hear from you to know how these conversations go. Join us for a Conversation Lab on May 12. We’ll explore a protocol identifying and prioritizing underserved student populations. The focus will include understanding student and family experiences, and practices that build and strengthen relationships. You can register here.

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