First and Foremost: Relationship!

Several years ago I worked in a middle school and I remember well the stress and angst of the students as they prepared for standardized tests. As a staff we would do whatever we could to help and support students. Prior to the test days we would offer “pre-test skills days” when students could take practice tests in the subject areas they were most concerned about. Being in the math tutoring room, I recall that it was a very positive experience as students received one-on-one assistance for tough math skills and encouragement from all of the staff.

Recently I re-discovered a great article, Check and Connect: The role of monitors in supporting high-risk youth (note that the term monitor and mentor are the same in this context; Check & Connect monitors are the same as Check & Connect mentors). This article was written in 1997 by some of the early founders of Check & Connect, namely Dr. Sandra Christenson and others, and published in the CYC-Online. The authors speak to this concern and assert that student support must be put in place alongside academic standards (Christenson et al., 1997). Furthermore, they point out that without supports to obtain academic success, students may be put at even greater risk of dropping out.

Photograph of upset female student.Drawing on their involvement in the early implementation of Check & Connect, the authors outline 5 essential elements of the Check & Connect model to support student engagement:

  1. Relationship building
  2. Monitoring
  3. Problem solving
  4. Affiliation
  5. Persistence plus

Central to all of the work of a mentor is building that relationship with the student. Check & Connect mentor training focuses on the tools to build relationships and provides practice, resources, and materials such as the Getting Started: Relationship-Building handout for mentors (PDF).

At times, it’s easy for mentors and others providing support to students to leap into collecting and sharing academic and behavioral data (the “check” component), but Christenson et al. urge Check & Connect mentors to remember that the best foundation on which to build the connection with a student is a strong relationship.

They describe five elements which are key to building a relationship with students:

  1. trust
  2. time
  3. acceptance
  4. advocacy
  5. referrals (to needed services)

This formula for relationship-building means that mentors who take the time to develop these strong connections with students will have much more success in sharing “check” data with students, helping students learn how to solve problems, and building a systems approach to helping students engage with school and with learning.

The authors also point out some barriers to meeting these 5 essential elements of Check & Connect, such as the mentor’s time, feeling like an “outsider” to certain conversations and situations in the school, the challenges of family resistance, and student- and family-mobility.

All Check & Connect mentors working with students face challenges to developing and implementing a successful plan for student engagement. I recommend that Check & Connect mentors read this article. It’s a great review of the basic tenets of Check & Connect. As you read it, reflect on the ways you have dealt with some of the challenges of mentoring. If you like, share your ideas with us here in the comments section below!

P.S. Did you know that Dr. Christenson is offering a keynote address at our first annual Check & Connect conference? Please consider joining us this October in Minneapolis! See our conference webpage for more information.



Christenson, S. L., Hurley, C. M., Hirsch, J. A., Kau, M., Evelo, D., & Bates, W. (1997). Check and Connect: The role of monitors in supporting high-risk youth. Reaching Today’s Youth: The Community Circle of Caring Journal, 2, 18–21. Retrieved from

About the Author: Sharon Mulé is a project coordinator and member of the Check & Connect training team at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota. She also serves as the primary facilitator of the Check & Connect Coordinators’ Community of Practice.

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The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

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