Using the Developmental Relationships Framework as a Tool for Managers

Communities In Schools of Chicago
3 min readMar 26, 2024


By Shipra Panicker, Senior Director of Intensive Student Supports, Communities In Schools of Chicago

Supervising employees comes with challenges. Differences in communication styles, shifting priorities, tough conversations. The list goes on and on. But supervising folks who work in schools can pose its own, separate difficulties, and that’s because school-based work isn’t easy.

Any adult who works in a school building knows that it’s not just about educating young people. Students enter school doors each day carrying backpacks full of their own challenges, leaving teachers, administrators, social workers, and other school-based staff feeling overworked and overwhelmed.*

Supporting school-based staff is top-of-mind in my role at Communities In Schools of Chicago. I lead a team of nearly 40 individuals who work in schools and support a caseload of students with their academics, behavior, grades, and social-emotional learning skills. I help my team navigate the unique dynamics of working in school communities, and I help them manage feelings of compassion fatigue, stress, and wanting to do more for our young people.

One tool I have leaned on is the Search Institute’s framework for Developmental Relationships. The Search Institute defines developmental relationships as close connections through which young people “discover who they are, gain abilities to shape their own lives, and learn how to interact with and contribute to the world around them” through five key elements.

I would make the case that the five elements of developmental relationships — express care, challenge growth, provide support, share power, and expand possibilities — are not just important tools for young people. They can also be used by managers, particularly those in schools, to empower their team members to succeed.

Express Care

Show me that I matter to you.

Any relationship between a manager and an employee must begin from a place of trust. Behaviors like active listening, dependability, consistency, and encouragement help team members know that supervisors care about them as humans, not just employees with metrics to track and goals to accomplish.

Challenge Growth

Push me to keep getting better.

Holding an employee accountable to meeting organizational goals isn’t easy, but it’s necessary as a manager. It’s equally important, though, for managers to understand their employees’ strengths and areas for growth — and push them towards reaching their full potential. Often, the simple act of setting aside time weekly for reflection and joint problem-solving can help employees manage roadblocks to their success.

Provide Support

Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.

Creating a safe space for employees to feel comfortable voicing their challenges is imperative for effective supervision. Sometimes that means helping them create an action plan for reaching their goals. And sometimes that means advocating for the employee — with other colleagues, clients, or organizational partners — so they feel supported by their management team and empowered to complete their job responsibilities.

Share Power

Treat me with respect and give me a say.

Mutual respect is foundational to the supervisor-employee relationship. It creates the base for collaboration, inclusion, and opportunities to lead, which gives the employee space to practice tools they’ll need for promotion — or success in the next step in their career journey.

Expand Possibilities

Connect me with people and places that enlarge my world.

The working world is no longer — and arguably, never should have been — a one-way street where the manager expects results, and the employee delivers. There’s a personal, relational component to management that is centered on employee development, whether that is with the organization or somewhere else. This type of mentorship and career development helps the employees feel valued and encouraged to achieve.

At Communities In Schools of Chicago, our managers hold space each month to discuss the challenges of supervision and how we can use some of these tools in everyday scenarios to provide consistent guidance and support to our team members. Just like in our work supporting students, relationships are at the heart of our model for success.

*Data shows that school-based burnout is very real. According to a 2022 National Education Association survey, 55 percent of educators were thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned.



Communities In Schools of Chicago

Our mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.