So much is going on at the beginning of the school year, it is easy to put building relationships on the back burner. It is easy to think that you will take the time once things have settled down and a routine has been established. Sound familiar?
It is important that you recognize your key stakeholders from the very beginning of the year. There is a saying that you only have one chance to make a first impression, and that is the absolute truth. Whether we like it or not, people very quickly make up their mind about what kind of person you are, what you value, and how you treat others. So who are your key stakeholders that you need to build relationships with from the very beginning of the school year?
Parents are an obvious choice. These are the people who are trusting you each day with the most important people in their lives: their children. It is important that you are warm and welcoming, and take time each evening to greet the parent with a warm smile. This will go a long way to let the parent know that you treat children and youth with respect and dignity. Also, building this relationship from the beginning will make it easier to have a hard conversation later on should it become necessary. It is important that you are genuine in your treatment of parents. Don’t bother to put on a “dog and pony show” as they will be able to discern your lack of sincerity. Remember, you and the parent are sharing children and youth, and they are an important ally.
Another obvious choice is school day personnel. This includes the principal, teachers, the food services manager, the custodian, the yard assistants, the office manager, and other instructional assistants. Not only do you share children and youth with this group of people you also share space and common goals. Certainly there will be some resistance to you from some of these folks. The reality is that before after-school these folks were able to catch up on the day’s work somewhat uninterrupted. So go out of your way to “be a good neighbor” and share space with them in the same way you would like for them to share it with you.
Finally, you are building relationships with the children and youth in your program. Get to know them. Find out about what brings them joy, how many pets and brothers and sisters they have, and the name of their favorite food. Work to find that sense of common ground with each and every one of them.
Building relationships takes three things—time, care and belief. Take the time to say hello. Wish them a great week-end and let them you know you plan to take excellent care of the space that they are sharing with you. Also, keep the faith and believe that you will be getting outstanding cooperation from each of these stakeholders and that ultimately, it is the kids who will be victorious.
Invest in youth by supporting the development of staff that work closely with them—building relationships that are key to resiliency development. Scholarship an after-school program or individual.
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