Relationship Before Rules Equals Rejoicing


Human chain paper with light and shadow on wood table

In the world of working with students in any capacity, relationship is key to the overall success of the student. A brilliant way that I have found to connect to students is using the information in the 40 Developmental Assets. The concept is that the more assets a student has, the more likely the success of the student will be in school and life.

In sharing these assets with my students, I first describe them and then ask the students to highlight the ones they feel they have. I also do that same exercise with each student, and we compare and contrast our results. This gives me an insight to how much I really know the student and what I can learn through this exercise and discussion. In addition, it gives me – the mentor – a bird’s eye view of the bigger picture of the strengths and challenges of the student’s everyday life.

Search Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Minnesota, has conducted a multitude of studies on youth and adolescent development. One of its resources, the Developmental Assets Framework, “identifies a set of skills, relationships, and behaviors that enable young people to develop into successful and contributing adults.”

I present to you for your education, evaluation and elucidation this brilliant resource.

This is the work of the Search Institute. I have used this with my students since it began – from inner city Boston to Flint, Michigan. When used as a tool for identification and then understanding and then implementation for an Individualized Learning Plan, it can indeed transform the person and the entire school.

The 40 assets are divided into two categories: External Assets and Internal Assets. Within the External Assets the categories are Support, Empowerment, Boundaries and Expectations, and Constructive Use of Time. The Internal Assets consist of Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies, and Positive Identities.

Rita Pierson, a veteran teacher believes that relationships are crucial to education and “every kid deserves a champion.” In her TED talk, she shares her story with the world.

The 40 Assets can be a building block for a mentor to develop that relationship. Try and use this exercise with your students, and I guarantee it will prove to be beneficial in relationship connection and building. The following is a web page I have created that compiles a plethora of links and downloads for your discovery.

Thus, if indeed, then indeed Relationship before Rules Equals Rejoicing. May this insight to an empirical research activity and insight help you connect more strongly with the students you work with.

Search Institute operates the REACH initiative, a relationship-based system to strengthen student motivation:

  • Build developmental relationships with and among students
  • Help students understand how effort can increase intelligence
  • Connect students’ current actions to their future aspirations
  • Teach students about the role of cognition in delaying gratification and managing learning
  • Ensure that students know and are known for the deep interests and values in their hearts

Thus, Relationship before Rules Equals Rejoicing, and the more resources you have in your tool kit, the more you can empower students you mentor. I hope these 40 Assets from the Search Institute are a benefit to you and your mission to help students. In closing, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

Richard Thompson, Swartz Creek Virtual Learning Center

Since 2008, Richard has been a principal, an athletic director, dean of students, and, most recently, the Dean of Alternative Education at Swartz Creek. He is a visionary leader, with demonstrated expertise in advocacy for education for all students from grade school through adult, but specifically in the areas of online learning and seat time waiver for K-12 student. His focus has been on improving achievement outcomes, particularly with at-risk students, in the Alternative Education/ Non-Traditional setting. Currently Richard is a coordinating partner, working with mentors across Michigan on behalf of Michigan Virtual.

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