Derek Clark also known as The Rapping Dad with over 225 million video views used to be an at-risk youth in foster care but now is a popular and inspiring motivational speaker. As a keynote speaker, he inspires students internationally with a raw and riveting message of never giving up and never limiting life. His mantra is to never let your past infect your future! He has turned his awful situation from a victim to a victor in life. He shares techniques that heave helped him connect and build positive relationships of trust. He also shares the four keys to helping at-risk students.

If you give a question on arithmetic to many mathematicians to answer, the chances of getting the same answer are high, but it’s very unlikely they all employed the same technique. This is to tell you that, although the goal may be the same, there can be various ways to reach it. In the same vein, there are many ways to help At-risk students. However, no matter the approach you choose to go with, there are some key ingredients that would determine the overall success (or otherwise) of the whole process.

With extensive research on this topic, I’ve discovered that all such cases share some similarities which go beyond mere coincidences. Armed with knowledge of where they all seem to go wrong, I’ve come up with four key points (I call them pillars) to helping at-risk students. Find them below:

Caring, Sustained Relationships
Our educational structure is imperfect in many ways and this imperfection is very evident in that student-teacher relationships (especially in high school) although caring, are not easily sustainable. But relationships with at-risk students need to be more than just caring; it also needs to be sustainable. They need a relationship they can trust and feel comfortable enough to discuss both the positive and negative aspects of their lives in and out of school. When such a solid relationship has been successfully established, it provides the needed avenue for an adult to advise and counsel the students. It is important to understand that the position of an adult as a psychologist, counselor or social worker may give them the right to counsel or advise students but doesn’t in any way guarantee that the students will trust them enough to listen and even go as far as discussing their challenges with them. That trust needs to be earned and it takes more than titles to do that.

Reachable Goals
Dreaming big is a good thing, but no matter how big you dare to dream, it’s always a good idea to remain realistic. This is something most students are not aware of, and as a result, they set some personal and career goals for themselves. The media in their portrayal of groundbreaking achievements are usually guilty of failing to tell the whole story. They only tell the success stories, leaving out the “behind the scene” and these misleads students. Some may argue that, it’s a good thing to set “challenging goals”. While that’s true, there’s the need to understand that only a thin line exists between a challenging goal and one which can kill self esteem. That little difference is what an adult will help students to understand because, if a student sets an “over the limit” goal and fails to achieve it after many efforts, he might begin to lose faith in himself and we don’t want such to happen.

Realistic Pathways
What good is a doctor who can only tell you “Hey! You are sick” but can’t tell you what you need to do? Similarly, helping a student in setting a realistic goal is a good step in the right direction; but then, of what use is it, if you can’t tell them how to get there? So, they need adults to encourage them and change their mindsets from the usual “all things bright and beautiful” thoughts of children, by preparing their minds for the worst. While doing this, the adults must also assure the students of that they’ll be there to help if things ever go wrong. This move tells the students that the road would be rough, at the same time, gives them the assurance that they won’t have to walk it alone.

Engaging School and Community Settings
The importance of engagement has been emphasized enough that it’s become safe to assume nobody is still unaware of it. However, where the big challenge lies in how to understand what definition students give to engagement. For students to feel engaged, they need to feel involved and carried along. They need to be recognized and allowed to have a voice. Only by introducing this sense of belonging would students truly feel engaged. Such engaging atmosphere must always be created in schools and other after-school settings. Such after-school settings as the Boys Scout, Girls Guide, Red Cross and peer setting.

It’s tempting to wonder why there’s a need for after-school engagement but in truth, the after-school engagements are usually more effective because most students see whatever happens in school as scripted and a mere formality. But the mentors outside the school settings will gain the attention of students better because it’s a more relaxed atmosphere out there. Nobody is getting scolded for going wrong and as a result, all the students will be more open.

As stated earlier, all these points are informed by my personal finding and experiences and as such open to your suggestions. If you feel there’s any important point I’ve omitted or failed to emphasize enough, you’re free to post your thoughts in the comment box. Thanks!

Please consider hiring at-risk motivational youth speaker Derek Clark for your next high school or middle school assembly. His message will resonate with your students and he may even do some rapping dad raps on the mic!