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ACT for Youth

Positive Relationships

Effective youth programs provide young people with the opportunity to establish positive relationships with adults. Young people need to be cared for, respected, and valued. They also need challenges, backed by guidance, to help them stretch, grow, and step out of their comfort zone.

Staff may also need to feel valued and empowered to engage in these nurturing relationships with youth. Supervisors can support staff by integrating principles of supportive relationships into their supervisory practice and by promoting and supporting youth-adult partnerships.

In this section of the Supervisor's PYD Toolkit, we offer resources for promoting developmental relationships between program staff and participants and between supervisors and supervisees.

Developmental Relationships with Youth

A "developmental relationship" exists when a young person and an adult have a positive, reciprocal connection that furthers growth and shifts power over time to the young person [1]. Relationships are considered the "active ingredients" for effective youth programming -- without developmental relationships, a program may not achieve its aims [1, 2].

To foster developmental relationships, staff must be intentional in the way they support, care for, and challenge young people to grow. Supervisors can promote and support these essential relationships between staff and youth.

Simple Interactions (SI) Framework and Tool

According to researcher Junlei Li and colleagues, developmental relationships are built through simple interactions that promote connection, inclusion, reciprocity, and growth. By focusing on these ordinary interactions, youth work professionals can improve the quality of their relationships with youth. The SI Tool, available for download, describes the four types of interactions on a continuum from disconnection to developmentally supportive. Simple graphics are used to explain the different levels of implementation, and short animations clarify the nuances of each interaction. The tool and animations can be used to facilitate conversation about practice. Simple Interactions.

SI Tool, Framework, and Animation

Developmental Relationship Framework

This framework describes relationship qualities across five dimensions: expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power, and expanding possibilities. Search Institute.


Relationship Check Tool

This online self-assessment tool helps youth work professionals think through their own relationships with young people using the five dimensions of developmental relationships. Search Institute.


4 S's Interview

The 4 S's Interview is a way to get to know students by understanding and validating four important aspects of their lives. This interview guide will help staff engage with youth individually and start building developmental relationships. Search Institute.

Interview Guide

Supervisory Practices

Regular team meetings and supervisory sessions with individual staff members are good opportunities for capacity building as well as reflection and improvement planning. To support supervisory practice, we gathered strategies, tools, and other resources that focus on using a strength-based approach, promoting a growth mindset, encouraging reflective practice, and using a developmental relationship framework.

Model and Use a Strength-Based Approach

Resiliency research tells us that all young people and adults have internal and external assets that are often unrecognized and untapped [3]. By building on assets, supervisors can empower and motivate people to act, engage, and learn. Supervisors can implement a strength-based approach by:

  • Identifying individual staff members' strengths (talents, competencies, interests, passions, social connections)
  • Valuing and acknowledging these strengths
  • Helping staff to become aware of their strengths and utilize them to meet challenges
  • Building on strengths when setting professional development goals

Personal Assets Tool

This simple personal assets tool focuses on individual skills and expertise, interests and passions, connections and relationships, and hopes and dreams. It can be used for new staff orientation and during annual performance reviews. ACT for Youth.

Tool (Word)

Tool (PDF)

Observation Feedback Form and Protocol

This form assesses several dimensions of staff behavior in programming such as the creation of engaging environments, facilitation, setting up activities, and interaction with young people. It also reviews how young people respond to staff interactions. It breaks down behaviors into smaller actions with the goal of providing concrete, behavior-specific feedback to staff. ACT for Youth.



Professional Development Plan

This worksheet can be used to develop a professional development plan jointly with staff. It incorporates a strength-based approach. ACT for Youth.


Promote a Growth Mindset

According to researcher Carol Dweck [4], people who have fixed mindsets believe their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits. People with fixed mindsets believe they are fundamentally good at certain things and bad at others, and typically avoid activities they can't already do well. For people with a growth mindset, on the other hand, challenges are something to be embraced and enjoyed. People with growth mindsets understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through persistent effort and good teaching.

Strategies to promote a growth mindset among staff include providing:

  • Positive and constructive feedback
  • Staff self-assessment
  • Opportunities to learn and test growth mindset practices
  • Opportunities to reflect and learn from mistakes

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

In this talk, Carol Dweck discusses her framework and research on growth versus fixed mindsets. Authors at Google.

Video (48 minutes)

Providing Positive and Constructive Feedback

This handout describes key features of positive and constructive feedback and gives examples. ACT for Youth.


Take the Mindset Assessment

This online self-assessment can be used by adults and youth to identify growth or fixed mindset tendencies. Mindset Works.

Online Assessment

Growth Mindset for Educator Teams

This 90-minute, online professional development course aims to help educators develop the skills needed to implement growth mindset practices. Mindset Kit.

Online Course

Celebrate Mistakes

These short, online lessons focus on promoting mistakes. Learn why mistakes and challenges can be key ingredients for success. Mindset Kit.

Online Lessons

Use Simple Interactions for Professional Development

Simple Interactions Tool

Supervisors can use the Simple Interactions (SI) tool for staff development. The tool uses graphics to explain the different dimensions (i.e., connection, reciprocity, inclusion, opportunity to grow) and levels of interaction between adults and young people. Short animations are also available to clarify the nuances of each interaction. The tool is best used in conjunction with videos of staff and youth interactions. Supervisors and staff can then view the video together and use the SI framework to debrief the interactions. Simple Interactions.

SI Tool, Framework, Animation

Reflective Practice

Reed Larson [5] has shown that youth workers experience a multitude of challenges or dilemmas every day. Dilemmas are created by tensions between youth participants, staff, program structures, agency policies, cultural norms, and the realities of the complex world young people live in.

Supervisors can set the stage for staff to reflect and deliberate on dilemmas and challenges by providing:

  • Opportunities for experienced youth workers to coach new staff on how to approach and solve dilemmas
  • Time at staff meetings to deliberate challenges and issues
  • Supervision time for individual staff to debrief and problem-solve dilemmas

Competencies in Youth Work

This web page addresses youth work dilemmas and provides a few examples. ACT for Youth.

Web Page

Deliberating Dilemmas

The questions on this worksheet can be used to guide discussion of a practice dilemma. ACT for Youth.


Reflection Guide

This worksheet guides reflection and facilitates learning from a work challenge or dilemma. It moves from the objective, reflective, and interpretive levels to the decisional level. ACT for Youth.


Problem-Solving Steps

This handout provides steps to reflect on a dilemma or challenge, generate possible solutions, and clarify priorities. ACT for Youth.


Dilemmas in Youth Work: Self-Guided Online Course

This free, self-guided course provides practical resources for incorporating reflection and discussion of dilemmas in your work. It includes a bank of dilemma scenarios and related activities for use in your own practice. University of Minnesota Extension.

Online Course

Youth Work Ethics

One of six stand-alone modules in the PYD 101 Online series, Youth Work Ethics describes the role of a youth work professional, key competencies, and ways to handle common dilemmas and boundary issues. ACT for Youth.

Online Course

Youth-Adult Partnership

Youth engagement results when young people are involved in responsible, challenging actions to create positive social change. Youth engagement happens in youth-adult partnerships that are structured so that both groups contribute, teach, and learn from each other. Through these partnerships, young people are involved in planning and in making decisions that affect themselves and others.

Supervisors can use these strategies together with the resources below:

  • Advocate for youth-adult partnerships with organization's leadership.
  • Align youth engagement with the agency's mission. Youth-serving organizations benefit from including youth in decision making.
  • Provide organizational support to establish meaningful roles for young people. This includes dedicating staff time and resources to support and prepare young people for meaningful engagement. It requires strategic planning and assessing the organizational climate and practices.

Youth in Decision Making

This brief summarizes research into the benefits of youth involvement for adults and organizations. ACT for Youth.

Research Summary


This primer on creating and sustaining youth-adult partnerships includes assessment of organizational support and readiness for youth engagement. University of Wisconsin-Extension.


Preparing for Youth Engagement: Youth Voice, Youth-Adult Partnership, Youth Organizing

This brief publication addresses the challenges and benefits of youth engagement. ACT for Youth.


Youth-Adult Partnership Rubric

This rubric was developed through a research study consisting of an extensive literature review, a series of program observations, youth and adult interviews, and focus groups to assess the practices of Youth-Adult Partnership in various youth settings. Michigan State University.



[1]   Li, J., & Julian, M. M. (2012). Developmental relationships as the active ingredient: A unifying working hypothesis of "what works" across intervention settings. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(2), 157-166.
[2]   National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Young children develop in an environment of relationships. Working Paper No. 1.
[3]   Benard, B. (2004). Resiliency: What we have learned. San Francisco: WestEd.
[4]   Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House: New York, NY.
[5]   Larson, R. & Walker, K. (2010). Dilemmas of practice: Challenges to program quality encountered by youth program leaders. American Journal of Community Psychology 45, 338-349.