Strategies to Promote and Leverage Relationships within the School System

What's on your plate presentation slide

While the end of the 2021-22 school year is coming to a close, educators have been embracing every last opportunity they could before the summer to focus on strengthening relationships to positively impact students. 

The BARR team recently presented at the Network for School Improvement Spring Community of Practice Convening about Strategies to Promote and Leverage Relationships within the School System. Presenters included NSI Associate Director G. Bryan Fleming, Senior Research Scientist Anu Sharma, Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives Christina Ritter and West Valley High School’s BARR Coordinator Amber Bohac. Check out the event recording!

During the presentation, the team discussed the importance of prioritizing both intentional relationships and real-time data within a school system. Fleming explained the goal of their time together: inspire educators to leverage qualitative data differently. With the past school year bringing many challenges, the session was a time to focus on how to strengthen relationships in these turbulent times for those who have faced hurdles in unfinished learning, especially considering the many implications for Black, Latinx and low-income students.

“For these students, the research shows and we know that fostering sustained relationships is key to their sense of agency and belonging,” Fleming explained.

The team explained BARR’s goal within the Network for School Improvement, which has been to work diligently with 30 high schools in Illinois, Minnesota and California over the course of five years to leverage continuous improvement methods that will improve college-ready on-track measures for Black, Latinx, and low-income students.

“Students engage more when caring adults endeavor to know them,” Fleming said.

While BARR focuses on a trio of relationships: staff-to-staff, staff-to-student, and student-to-student, the presenters used their time together to specifically address the staff-to-student and student-to-staff dynamic. Sharma walked through the foundation of BARR’s research, sharing that through 12 within-school randomized controlled trials the model proved statistically significant impacts in 19 areas of academic performance and outcomes for students, teachers and schools. 

“Students feel more supported, they feel that more is expected of them, and they feel more engaged in and excited about school. Then, they change their behaviors. They show up more, they have fewer issues and better social-emotional skills,” Sharma explained.

Capturing student voice within an SEL model is also an essential to strengthen relationships. Ritter explored how I-Times, 30-minute relationship-building lessons, are a helpful way for educators to serve as a facilitator and gather real-time data to enhance connection between students and educators. Educators need time to be able to discuss students collaboratively within the school day to be able to leverage what they learn about students.

“If we say we value student voice, if we say we value teacher collaboration, then we have to organize our day to allow for those things to occur,” Ritter emphasized. 

There was also a great opportunity for attendees to hear directly from Bohac, who is the BARR Coordinator at West Valley High School, which is both part of the Network for School Improvement and was one of the original schools a part of BARR’s initial within-school randomized controlled trials decades ago. Bohac shared how year-round relationships are pivotal to their school’s plan in helping each and every student succeed. 

She explained how before the school year even starts, the West Valley High School team works with the middle school staff to learn about students, put supports in place and understand their strengths. Later in the year, the school prioritizes their relationships with administrators and meets to discuss what they can do to establish a successful set-up for the next year. 

“As Christina mentioned earlier, you can tell what you value about your school based on the master schedule,” Bohac emphasized. “Well I can tell you right now that the BARR classes get put on the master schedule first, that’s how much BARR is valued in our school and in our district.” 

At the end of the year, the West Valley team collaborates regarding the transfer of care, as students graduate from the ninth grade and into their sophomore year. This allows students to feel continually supported as they transition into their next step. 

Bohac explained how I-Times also serve as a constant strategy to gain a deeper understanding of students, modify practices to meet students where they are at, and leverage the data to guarantee students are receiving the best support. Collaborating on action plans is another key component of their strategy in prioritizing student success. 

“We talk about strengths and goals and a plan of action that a kid signs at the end, but there is just that trust of relationships that the team is going to make that student feel welcomed and supported and they carry out on their role after it’s done,” Bohac said.   

Providing teachers with the support they need is also critical to creating a thriving learning environment at their school. 

“If we’re having a meeting and I can tell that teachers are feeling down or they have a lot on their plate, or whatever may be going on, I am able to kind of tweak my meetings or change topics or do a motivational thing and really help the teachers feel like they’re valued because they are the heart of this, they are the ones in the classroom with these students,” Bohac shared. 

While schools work on prioritizing continuous improvement, the one constant strategy remains. 

“How can all this happen? The answer…more relationships,” Bohac stated. 

When educators focus on promoting and leveraging relationships, they are able to reach students and help them succeed, within the school building and beyond.