Building Relationships (Rapport)
The goal of building relationships with our students is to use our leadership skills to motivate our students to be successful. Building relationships means that we have rapport with our students. Rapport building is not about being well liked or letting our students get by with making poor choices. Being a good leader is a balancing act between enforcing the rules and building rapport. Traditional leadership principles are based on power, having to power to influence another's behavior. However, there are different types of power. Expert power means you have knowledge the other person needs. Legitimate power means that you are in an agreed upon position that allows you to dictate what others do. Having these types of power might be necessary to enforce the rules but don't help in building rapport. Another type of power is called referent power, which means that people relate to you and trust you. Referent power is developed by listening, being respectful, and being genuine. Building rapport does not mean you can't set limits with young people but it means that you are willing to respectfully listen and be affected by what they say. Being able to assertively communicate is an important skill for a Youth Development Worker to learn. Practicing these skills will help you to earn the mutual respect that will make you an effective professional in this field.
One of the pitfalls of trying to build rapport is losing the boundary between you, as a staff person, and the youth. It can be difficult to enforce the rules after you and a student have become closer through rapport building. You may feel you are breaking the student's trust, and the student may even tell you so. However, it is respectful to set appropriate boundaries with young people to let them know what you can and can't do as a staff member. As a staff member, it's ok to listen to a young person share personal thoughts and feelings. It is even ok to genuinely share yourself as long as you are doing it to relate to build rapport. Students are not our confidants; they are not there to solve our problems. We must also remember that we are mandated reporters. If a student shares that someone is harming them, they are harming or planning to harm himself or herself or someone else, or they know someone else is being harmed it must be reported immediately. This must be done even if you've promised confidentiality. Being a professional means knowing your boundaries and not crossing them.
Professional Development is an essential and indispensable process. It is an experience shaped by the willingness and readiness to change at a personal and programmatic level. The purpose of Professional development is to open our awareness to new ways of doing things, to build our skills, and to help improve the program overall. Some Professional Development activities are offered in-house, but it is ultimately your responsibility to continue the life-long pursuit of improving yourself.