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Positive Developmental Relationships

Relationships engage young people in ways that help them define who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to others. When students and teachers have close, caring relationships, students feel more comfortable taking risks on behalf of learning and stretch to do things they have never done before. They have a safe space in which to express themselves honestly and make meaning of the things they are learning and experiencing. Beyond individual teacher–student relationships, building relationships between and among students, peers, families, and educators—both in the school and in the community—can provide the opportunities to build essential trust and create the collective will to enable equitable experiences, opportunities, and outcomes for each and every child.

What Can Schools Do to Foster Positive Developmental Relationships?

Support structures that enable the development of continuous, secure relationships and allow teachers to know children well, as well as opportunities among adults for collaboration toward shared goals. These structures include:

  • Small schools and small learning communities;
  • Advisory systems that create small family units within schools;
  • Looping that allows educators to be with the same children for more than one year;
  • Time and protocols for home visits and other outreach that connects families and educators;
  • Staff collaboration time and structures; and
  • Opportunities for shared decision-making.

Support practices that allow educators to engage in trust-building and collaboration with students, families, and each other to achieve shared practice around a developmental approach to learning and development. These practices include:

  • Behaviors that communicate respect, caring, and valuing of students and families;
  • Pedagogies that allow educators to develop deep knowledge about their students, their talents and interests, their families, and their cultural contexts;
  • Classroom and schoolwide strategies that counteract stereotype threat through cultural affirmation and reinforcement of students’ capacities; and
  • Collaboration skills for building productive relationships among staff and with families.