Design Principles for Schools: Five Tools to Help You Build Trusting Relationships with Your Students

What would it mean if all of the places where children are growing and learning were designed to meet each child, the whole child, where they are and help each and every one develop to their fullest potential?

The Essential Guiding Principles for Equitable Whole-Child Design outlined by the Design Principles project can be used to create learning settings that do exactly that, by centering on:

  • Positive developmental relationships
  • Environments filled with safety and belonging
  • Rich learning experiences and knowledge development
  • Development of skills, habits, and mindsets
  • Integrated support systems

We know that a healthy context for learning and development requires attention to all of these things, not some of them. It is all one developmental story, and the essentials for whole-child design cover all of these important bases for accelerated learning and holistic growth.

So how do you begin?

Start with relationships.

Why Starting With Relationships Is Important

Trusting relationships also release the hormone oxytocin, which protects children at the cellular level from the damaging effects of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Relationships that are strong and positive not only offset the damaging effects of cortisol but can even produce resilience to future stress.

The human relationship and oxytocin is the most powerful example we have of positive context. This is why relationships are central to all development and learning. Relationships can happen and do happen everywhere that children grow and learn, and children are building relationships everywhere and all of the time.

That relationships are important is not new knowledge. Relationships engage children in ways that help them define who they are so they can calibrate challenges and take productive risks — such as trying a new strategy in math or contributing a different idea to a classroom discussion. Relationships are central to motivation, engagement, and to the learning process itself.

How can you build relationships with your students?

Resources to Support Building Relationships in Schools

Explore the following resources from the Turnaround for Children Toolbox to discover new ideas and resources for building trust with your students:

Scenario Analysis: Developmental Relationships

Educator Reflection: Mindsets and Messages

Relationships Inventory

Individualized Relationship Strategies

Empathetic Listening Strategies

Create a free Toolbox account to access these resources and many more!

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