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On-Site Staff / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management / Sustainability

Connection Before Content

Author, storyteller, and researcher, Brené Brown defines connection “as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Sit with that for a minute.

We are all wired for connection. While it’s true that a connection can happen organically as the activity moves along, the practice of intentionality is a key to ensuring real connection and authenticity.

When we slow down and create space for others to build relationships we witness student belonging and identity emerge.

As youth developers, some of the greatest moments of fulfillment can come from experiencing your students connecting with one another, identifying with the class offering, and participating in traditions and rituals. Do you ever feel like you led a class but at the end, it still felt empty or like there were elements missing? Think about what would shift if you took even five minutes to ask an intentional question or do a connection activity at the beginning of class.

To fully engage students, the leader’s role is to create space where students can experience belonging and connections with one another, staff, and mentors. Research shows that if you intentionally look to build relationships with your group, it will result in many benefits. Not only does the content become alive, relatable, and more productive but you are also building trust. The process of building trust leads to social-emotional skill development, such as an increase in student social interaction and self-knowledge. These skills are essential for students to develop and maintain positive, productive relationships with peers, parents, and teachers. With productive relationships, content is meaningful and rich. You can see it comes full circle!

Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Company has compiled a fantastic list of non-cheesy, data-informed get-to-know-you (connection) questions that aim to elicit meaningful and memorable responses from your group. Here are four that you would work well with youth.

As you start programs, enter into new experiences, or desire to continue to build high-quality programs, be intentional about creating connection. Slow down, ask questions, and have fun while building relationships! Bonus points – ask one of these connection questions to a co-worker!

“We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.” – Peter Block

For breakfast, I had a blueberry, banana shake. 

Author: @kristinstayer

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