Foundations of Practice: Relational



The ability to employ the interpersonal skills needed to facilitate a student-centered, inclusive, and culturally sensitive advising relationship. The ability to reflect on and adapt one’s practice to improve rapport. An understanding of structural, systemic, and institutional barriers and dynamics at play within the student/advisor partnership.

A strong relational foundation includes an understanding of how to effectively:

  • Create rapport through the use of core relational skills, e.g., listening, empathy, encouragement, constructive feedback, questioning, challenging, clarifying, empowering, and recognizing.

  • Use questions, coaching, critical reflection, and relevant personal storytelling to help students plan, set goals, make decisions, and personalize their educational experiences.

  • Communicate in an inclusive, humble and culturally sensitive manner.

  • Employ basic support, counseling, and crisis management skills and refer to professionals as needed.

  • Intervene, confer, refer and advocate as necessary.

The Foundation, Applied

Here are examples of what applying the “relational” foundation can look like:

  • Creating rapport.  This can be verbal and non-verbal.  This is a list of open-ended questions you can use for opening a conversation with a student.  You can also see how the Economics Advising Office and other groups on campus use their environment to create a personal and welcoming atmosphere virtually.
  • The ability to employ interviewing, questioning, and active listing techniques (Folsom, 2013).  The Cal Coaching network has developed this tactical handbook on how to incorporate coaching techniques when working with students. 
  • Use core relational skills to facilitate problem solving, goal setting, planning, and decision-making and to extend educational opportunities.  Academic advisors in the College of Environmental Design use this Academic Success Plan as a tool to help students identify specific challenges impacting their academics and create an action plan to get back on track with their coursework.  Students are asked to complete this form prior to meeting with an advisor as a chance to reflect and prepare for the appointment.  While a plan can be developed in one appointment, oftentimes this tool facilitates an ongoing relationship between a student and advisor.

Suggested Learning Activities

Consider engaging with the following suggested learning activities to integrate your understanding of this Foundation of Practice into your own work:

Activity A

Schedule a 30 minute session on your calendar to focus on your work or community space (virtual or physical).  Reflect on how you can create a welcoming environment to help build rapport with a student.  Reflection questions:

  • What colors are in your space? 

  • Are they calming or energizing colors?  

  • How can you organize any clutter?  

  • What personal touches do you feel comfortable sharing in your space? 

  • Do you have signs that communicate a safe/brave space?  

  • How does your space impact your own energy levels?

  • Is there anything you would like to do to refresh your space?

Activity B

Facilitate a 10 minute check-in activity that doubles as active listening practice in your next staff meeting.  Have participants pair up and ask one person to be Partner A and the other to be Partner B.  Once decided, give the pairs a prompt question (i.e. What is one thing you are thankful for and why?  What did you do this weekend?  What healthy practices did you develop during the pandemic that you wish to continue?). 

Set a timer for two minutes - Partner A has two minutes to respond to the prompt uninterrupted.  Partner B’s job is to actively listen and not interrupt.  Switch.  Debrief for a few minutes to talk about how it felt to listen without the chance to interrupt and what it was like to talk for two minutes straight.  This well-known activity, even if you have done it many times before, gives us a chance to become aware and remind ourselves of the importance of deep listening.

For further exploration of this Foundation of Practice, check out the following Advancing Practice workshop recordings from past semesters:

Building Your Socioemotional Competencies
Supporting LGBTQIA Students, April 2021
Creating Virtual Spaces of Belonging, Jan 28, 10-11am

“Great advisors have the capacity to employ “compassionate candor.”I define that as being honest, authentic, andImage of a man with blonde hair glasses, and gray suit with peach tie. transparent in your care for the student, while still asking the tough questions or challenging the student’s perceptions. When the advisor and student connect as unique individuals, great, constructive things can happen.”

Christopher Hunn, Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Instruction, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

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“Great advisors ask the simple but totally illuminating question thatno one has asked before. A mindful and intentional approach can create opportunities for students to open up and trust us with truly sensitive matters. In return we provide undoubted and genuine support.”

Laura Jimenez-Olvera, M.S., Advisor/Academic Counselor, Ethnic Studies