One of the greatest challenges faced by educators, especially those working with at-risk students, is developing quality relationships. I try not to use the term “at-risk” to describe youth but we must realize that some of our youth are subjected to greater risk due to their inherit social economic status, negative peer-group pressures, poor living conditions, and sometimes race/culture.
With this said, it is imperative that educators realize the true value in developing positive relationships with those students who may encounter some of the challenges mentioned above. In order to truly establish meaningful relationships, there are several things educators must be willing to do in order to gain the trust of the student. In the culturally responsive teaching literature, methods are shared to enable educators the opportunity to develop healthy youth-adult relations. One method I would like to bring to light in this piece is minimizing relational distance (Gee, 1996). Irregardless of age, an adult has the ability to engage in dialogue with youth that proves to be responsive and aligned with the social experiences of the child. This involves the adult sharing personal narratives with the youth, demonstrating familiarity with the youths’ culture, and engaging in dialogue involving mutual interests.
As a teacher, principal, and district level administrator, I utilized this approach with children, parents, and community. My honest connections proved to be beneficial to my ability to create partnerships with parents and strong age-appropriate bonds with students. I urge teachers and other adults working with youth to utilize the above approach to relationship building.