Listening and connecting: Effective strategies for building strong relationships

Ball, J., Guros, C., Scott, A., Aceves, L., & Holquist, S.E. (2023). Establishing trusting relationships to transform school systems. Child Trends. DOI: 10.56417/7023q7506u

Reprinted from Child Trends

Building Relationships: Listening, Connecting, and Establishing Trust

Relationship building is based on a universal desire to be seen and heard. Listening and connecting involves acknowledging and elevating those with whom you work—i.e., your stakeholders—as experts. Your stakeholders (e.g., students, teachers, families, school leaders, and school staff) have unique points of view and experiences about what’s happening in the school system. For this reason, it is important to create spaces for them to continually voice their concerns and needs. Examples of these spaces can be created in many ways. The following video interview showcases how a school district created a space for the communities, families, and staff members who are part of their schools.

Building relationships is strengthened by establishing trust. Trust is not easy to establish, especially for communities that have been harmed by school systems. Your stakeholders may be cautious of who they trust because of past experiences with your school system. To establish trust with stakeholders, start by clearly communicating your intentions and needs and explicitly asking about theirs. Based on these conversations, you can find the common ground that underlies a trusting relationship. It is crucial to not rely on assumptions about intentions and needs, which is why it is important to be communicative and curious.

So, what are some ways that you can establish and maintain trust?

  • Determine which stakeholders you want to meaningfully engage, and why. Transparency is important when building trust, so being able to clearly explain who you want to work with and why will help you put together a team with diverse perspectives.
  • Acknowledge structural and systemic inequities. It is important to acknowledge systems in which White teachers and leaders are the majority, as this representation could reinforce longstanding inequities—especially when educators’ demographics do not match those of the students they serve.
  • Develop norms and expectations for how you and your stakeholders will engage. When challenges arise, be transparent, communicative, respectful, and open-minded with your stakeholders.
  • Continually acknowledge your stakeholders’ expertise and power. Check in regularly with your stakeholders to ensure their needs are being met.
  • Be willing to adjust your goals and be responsive. When goals are not being achieved, work with your stakeholders to adapt to better serve their needs.

Relationship building is a key part of transforming school systems, but it’s also an ongoing and evolving process. An intentional approach to listening, connecting, and establishing trust can be rewarding for you and your partners alike.

Resources Focused on Relationship Building

The following resources are intended to help you build relationships with your stakeholders:

To access the post about this discussion, please click here.