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On-Site Staff / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Staff Leadership and Management

Never Underestimate the Power of Relationship Building


As a technical assistance and professional development provider, I often receive vague requests for “classroom management training.”

It usually goes something like this:

Program Director: My tutors need training on classroom management.

Me: Okay, tell me a little bit about your tutors and your program.

Program Director: I use certified teachers to tutor the students in my program. School is dismissed at 3:15 and tutoring takes place from 3:30-4:30. We used to have a lot of participation in the program, but we are losing students to other activities.

The conversation then continues on in one of two directions (dictated by the openness of the Program Director).

If the Program Director is open to hearing that much of the behavior problems during out-of-school time programs can be headed off by setting the right environment, then we talk about a workshop for the staff that will teach them to set this environment. However, if the Program Director isn’t open to this line of thinking, we usually discuss the timing and location of the training and I prepare my workshop materials on the sly.

Over and over again the research is showing (and over and over again, personal experience is showing) that relationships are the key to successful, high quality out-of-school time programs. Included in the positive outcomes of developing and maintaining positive relationships is a climate where positive behaviors thrive. So, how do we capitalize on this knowledge to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the students we are serving by building positive relationships with them? The key is in educating the staff. This is especially true if your staff members do not have experience in the field of youth development (this can include school day teachers!).

How do we educate the staff?

1. Ask staff to think back to when they were the age of the students they work with. Who were the important adults in their life? What did that person do? Talk about how the smallest thing, such as the way someone made you feel, is what sticks with you over the years.

2. Model positive behavior. At any level, whether you are a program manager who is very rarely in the program, a site coordinator who is floating between and among activities every afternoon, or direct line staff who is working closely with students every day, be a positive role model not just for the students, but for other staff members. As a program manager or site coordinator, do not tolerate staff huddle up together off to the side discussing their weekends or what they’re having for dinner. Staff should be actively engaged with youth in the program.

3. Provide time in the program for youth and staff to hang out. This often works best during snack time and the start of the program. Staff should be checking in with youth about their day during this time, following up about tests, homework, and other activities. This not only shows that the staff cares about the youth, but they’re going to hold them accountable as well.

Depending on where you and your staff are on the spectrum of positive youth engagement, you may need to start slow.

And that’s okay! Start by assigning each staff member with the task of finding out one (appropriately) personal thing about 5 students each day. After a while this will become a regular part of the day and staff will have a chance to talk with the youth outside of correcting behavior.

The youth we are working with need these strong relationship webs. It is our duty as youth development professionals to build them and to teach our staff to build them.

My breakfast this morning was pretty boring but typical for a Monday: oatmeal and coffee.

Author Profile: @jaimesinger

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