As fall approaches, a return to the classroom can mean fresh opportunities for connecting with all students in meaningful ways. Educators and other youth-serving practitioners are busy making plans to return to the classroom, providing the perfect opportunity to consider tools and strategies that are proven to boost student engagement.
What are we learning about student motivation and engagement? And how do we build the developmental relationships that young people need to stay engaged?
Search Institute's ongoing research on student-teacher relationships provides a hopeful blueprint for building the kinds of developmental relationships that can spur learning, boost motivation, and transform student engagement.
Developmental relationships are the close connections with adults, peers, and near-peers that help young people develop their abilities to shape their own lives, build resilience, and thrive in school and life.
Search Institute’s developmental relationship framework includes five elements and 20 specific actions that young people experience in relationships that affect their learning, growth, and development. The five elements are:
Developmental relationships don’t happen accidentally, or overnight. Building them requires intentional focus and awareness. Our research shows that too many students (less than half of a survey of nearly 15,000 young people) do not report strong student-teacher relationships, even though these relationships play a critical role in motivation and learning.
When young people experience strong student-teacher relationships, they earn better grades, feel more connected to their education, feel culturally respected and included, and report their instruction as high quality.
The DREAM Study was a longitudinal study conducted in partnership with the public schools in Bloomington, Minnesota. It helped further our understanding of the foundational importance of developmental relationships in addressing student motivation — especially for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students.
What else did we learn from the DREAM Study?
Once we grasp the importance of student-teacher relationships, how do we jumpstart relationship-building once the bell rings?
The beginning of the school year is a great time to frontload and prioritize activities that establish trust and provide a foundation for growth. It’s a chance to get to know each other, establish group norms and create an inclusive environment where all students feel seen and heard.
Here are three suggestions for simple classroom activities that can help students and teachers experience stronger relationships.
The return to the classroom provides a chance for practitioners and leaders to become more intentional about building the types of strong connections that help students feel engaged and valued in classrooms. These strong connections lay an important foundation for interaction and relationship-building throughout the year, and can have a lasting impact on young people.
Using these tools and strategies, teachers can intentionally build the developmental relationships all students need to become their best selves.