Building relationships through 'The Dance'

Elaine Thomas

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

In mentoring we build relationships with young people that resemble the ‘dance’ Teresa May engaged in on her visit to Africa. This dance begins at the initiation of the relationship and ends once our intent, ground rules and testing stages of the relationship have been established.

This week Teresa May’s visit to South Africa and Kenya left her vulnerable for all the world to see and criticise. She as with all political relationships and engagements, tried to demonstrate to her hosts that she respects, understands their culture, and comes with good intent. This is what the dance stands for.

In mentoring we also build the mentoring relationship with a ‘dance’. This dance begins at the initiation of the relationship and ends once our intent, ground rules and testing stages of the relationship have been established.

This is a fantastic way to develop strong, sustainable and productive teacher student relationships.

In your first 1:1 or group class it's important to state and discuss your intent;


  • Why you are here (remember you have just entered their space)
  • How you can help
  • Discuss
  • Why they are here
  • What they would like to achieve
  • Their expectations of you
  • State
  • What you would like them to achieve
  • Your expectations of them

In stating and discussing our intent, we ensure the young person knows we respect and value them. After all, believe or not but we are coming into their space, their lives and not the other way around.

Once the intent has been set and both adult and young person have agreed to co-operate, state and discuss the ground rules;


  • How confidentiality will be maintained

Discuss how you can both;

  • Be open and honest
  • Commit to actions, goals, target set
  • Be genuine
  • Maintain a safe environment for them to learn and develop

As professionals we must ensure young people know that we will maintain their confidentiality and only break it, if they or somebody they speak of during the mentoring sessions is seen to be at risk of harm.

This way young people will trust they will never be gossiped about in the staff room at lunch time.

Once the ground rules and intent have been stated and discussed, get ready for the testing stage. If you used the intent and ground rules discussions correctly, the dance will now step up a notch.

This part of the dance is maintained by you but led by the young person. Not the other way around. Your role is to be scaffolding and a reliable support, whilst the young person gets acquainted with the new responsibilities of this student teacher relationship.

The testing stage of the dance will be successful when you remain integral, never over promise, always complete your actions on time and to the highest quality.

" is very important during this stage of the dance that you do what I call the 3 P’s to success; Persist, have Patience and Preserve in offering your support"

At this stage of the dance;

  • Be open and honest about current matters
  • Be accountable for all actions you have made
  • Be open and honest about progress on actions / goals set


Even when it seems like the young person has given up or are not following the ground rules, maintain your role in the dance, until they are ready to fully commit to their role, responsibilities and ultimately their progression.

It is at this point that the dance will end, and both you and the young person will be settled in the new student teacher relationship.

As you enter this new year, potentially with a new class or year, do the dance with young people who are seen as hard to reach or with high achievers. It’s up to you.

As Teresa May danced leaving herself vulnerable for all the world to see and criticise. Your colleagues may also criticise you for your commitment and patience in supporting young people that they may have chosen to give up on a long time ago.

When everyone around you challenges your efforts, remember your initial conversation with the young person; your intent and the ground rules made.

It is then that you as the responsible and liable adult, will demonstrate to the young person, that you respect who they are, what they stand for and come with good intention; until the end of the young person’s schooling (or until you move on to your next job).

Remember that this dance and its stages are simply a test. Once you pass the test, the young person will respect you, trust your guidance and ‘buy into’ your expectations of them. They will use the support you’ve provided to make significant progression in their academic and or personal life now or in years to come.

So, come on! Let’s get dancing!

Happy new academic year to all those educators out there!



About our Community Expert 


Elaine Thomas
Community Expert

Director of The mentoring Lab, Elaine has over 15 years of experience in teaching, employment, mentoring, supporting learning and career progression.

Elaine is the Opogo community expert working with young people and adults to prevent underachievement in their learning or careers.

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