Building Bridges to Students at Risk

Building Bridges: Engaging Students at Risk Through the Power of Relationships 
By Don Parker
(Solution Tree Press, 2019 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Anne Anderson

Don Parker’s Building Bridges: Engaging Students at Risk Through the Power of Relationships is a worthwhile book study for all educators.

Dr. Parker addresses the challenges educators around the country experience daily. “Teachers must maintain control of the class; otherwise, they cannot teach effectively.” (p.2) Then, in the next 161 pages he provides strategies and techniques to create classrooms – and entire schools – where teachers can teach and students can learn.

The strategies and tips are not necessarily new. Teachers and administrators might consider using Building Bridges as a refresher course for the coming school year. Each of the 15 chapters focuses on a topic and then explores the research.

The “What It Looks Like in the Real World” section includes personal stories of students who were headed for serious trouble if not for a teacher or administrator who cared. Each chapter includes four questions for personal reflection. Application comes as teachers and administrators utilize the set of Action Steps at the conclusion of the chapter.

Responding to student disrespect

Chapter 4, “Don’t Take Bad Behavior Personally,” may hit close to home as educators often take students’ disrespect personally. Parker discusses the research and the causes of students’ challenging behaviors. He goes on to remind us that the “most effective teachers see disrespectful student behavior as an indicator of need rather than a reason to write a student off.” (p. 42)

He also shares a personal experience of how he learned to maintain professionalism with difficult students. “Maintaining calm in the face of rage is a high art, achievable through diligent practice.” (p. 46) Readers may want to allow some additional time for reflection questions and action steps in this chapter.

Student challenges amid academics

Parker recognizes the stress and pressure teachers experience with so much curriculum to teach. So, what’s a teacher to do when asked, or even told, to build positive relationships with their students? Throughout Building Bridges the author offers manageable tips and techniques for connecting with at-risk students.

Parker acknowledges that “building relationships with students at risk takes time, but it does not have to take away time from a focus on academic achievement.” (p.61) He uses the research on Relevant Content, Authentic Instruction, and Responsive Teaching to support teachers in moving students forward academically.

“Use the Back Door” (Chapter 7) reminds educators to use personal interests to connect with students. The author shares how he developed a relationship with a young man who was dealing with a heavy load at school and at home. Those one-on-one conversations can provide insight into a student’s situation and enable educators to know how to better teach and support them. Parker’s suggestions in the chart on page 76 can certainly be used by all adults who encounter students at risk.

Parker is clear that developing a relationship with a student or developing empathy for a student is not the equivalent of a free pass for disruptive or disrespectful behavior. He offers common-sense suggestions for demonstrating empathy or building students’ self-esteem. “Building relationships with students is a worthwhile, consequential goal that is obtainable for all educators.” (p.159)

Free reproducibles are available to download at

Former eighth grade teacher Anne Anderson is an educational consultant known for her practical ideas and engaging ELA workshops. Anne’s goal is to help teachers help students. Her positive approach and sense of humor bring encouragement to her audiences. She loves showing teachers how to use whatever resources they have – or don’t have – to enhance learning. Anne seeks to provide educators with practical solutions to teaching and learning problems. Visit her website and subscribe to her bi-monthly newsletter, Spotlight on Success.




MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.