The founder of Communities In Schools, Bill Milliken, believes in the power of relationships. It’s what inspired him to create a child-centered nonprofit built on two concepts — a caring adult in every child’s life and a caring community. “A good program simply is creating the environment where healthy relationships are happening between adults and kids,” he said in a recent StoryCorps interview. “I see so much hunger in this country for somebody to give a damn I exist.”
Here in Chicago, relationships are central to our day-to-day work — with students, with schools, with teachers and staff, and with community partners. Relationships is even one of our core values. That’s why when Communities In Schools National Office incorporated the Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships framework into our ethos in the summer of 2018, our team jumped on board. Our school-based team started incorporating the framework in their work with students, and our leadership team prioritized training school and community partners in Developmental Relationships as well.
What is the Developmental Relationships framework?
The Search Institute defines five key aspects of a Developmental Relationship:
- Express Care
- Challenge Growth
- Provide Support
- Share Power
- Expand Possibilities
Each of these aspects helps adults think more holistically about the ways in which they form relationships with young people. “It pulls out the implicit,” said Lo Patrick, CIS of Chicago Associate Director of Intensive Student Supports, “and defines ways that we know help students succeed.”
Lo works directly with her colleagues on CIS of Chicago’s Intensive Team to train all staff in our organization, including those in Development, Operations, Communications, and Partnerships, on Developmental Relationships. Building effective, developmental relationships speaks to our mission, Lo said, and is fundamental to each staff member’s work. This framework provides a way to think about the science behind the art of relationship-building.
How does this framework apply to our work with students?
Stacey Fredericks, a Student Supports Manager at Gunsaulus Scholastic Academy on the Southwest Side, provides intensive supports to students, both individually and through groups. Part of Stacey’s intake process is getting to know each of her students on a deeper level, and oftentimes, she does this through the Developmental Relationships “4 S’s” activity. In the activity, students reflect on their strengths, sparks, supports, and struggles. This paints a picture of what the students enjoy — and what their challenges might be, she said. Stacey and her students then work to address these challenges and lean into their strengths.
When school buildings closed last March, Stacey was able to shift the “4 S’s” interview online using Google Jamboard, a digital, interactive whiteboard. By encouraging her case-managed students to reflect on their unique talents, Stacey is using multiple aspects of the Developmental Relationships framework. She’s expressing care and making her students feel valued. She’s providing support for areas in which they are struggling. And she’s expanding possibilities. Each of these aspects help her students engage in their learning and feel more connected to their school community.
How is CIS of Chicago sharing the Developmental Relationships framework with partners?
The Developmental Relationships framework is a useful tool for all types of community partners. Among many benefits, it allows these organizations to better articulate their work with young people. That’s why our team members have shared the framework in professional development sessions, lunch and learns, and webinars with school and community partners. We’ve even embedded Developmental Relationships curriculum into our Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings.
In January, as Chicago Public Schools was preparing for a return to in-person learning, Stacey co-presented a workshop for Gunsaulus staff on supporting student social and emotional well-being. She focused on two aspects of the Developmental Relationships framework, expressing care and providing support. These aspects, she suggested, were essential for students in a post-Covid environment. And in March, Lo Patrick and Stephanie Estrada, a CIS of Chicago Senior Student Supports Manager, presented how CIS of Chicago uses the DR framework to an audience of school staff and mental health agencies at one of our local community partners, Riveredge Hospital.
“The ways that we ensure young people experience developmental relationships has been happening for centuries,” said Lo Patrick. “But the Developmental Relationships framework helps name it, and that’s very powerful.”
Now, community partners are also equipped with the language and skills around Developmental Relationships, and we as an organization are living out one of our core values and putting rhetoric into action.