Dive Brief:

  • A report released by the Clayton Christensen Institute, a nonprofit think tank focused on disruptive innovation, offers a roadmap for K-12 administrators to measure student relationships and make the most of social capital. Students’ social capital, the report says, is an often untapped resource that could be used to address opportunity gaps if treated as outcomes rather than inputs to learning and development.
  • Some commonalities have emerged between districts beginning to measure student relationships. The programs capture data from four areas: 
    1. Quantity of relationships — who is in a student’s social network over time and the likelihood of the student finding support and opportunities.
    2. Quality of relationships — the value of relationships and to what extent they meet the student’s needs.
    3. Structure of networks — the diversity of a student’s connections and how they’re interrelated. 
    4. Ability to mobilize relationships — how well a student can nurture and leverage relationships. 
  • The report states that ways to gather this information include: 
    1. Mapping relationships to track the size of students’ networks, identify and provide support for students whose networks aren’t as robust, and monitor how students’ networks are growing overtime.
    2. Checklists and activities embedded in curriculum, like inviting professionals into the classroom to connect with students. 
    3. Surveying students about the size and composition of their networks before and after such programs. 

Dive Insight:

To move this work forward, the report suggests educators integrate strategies early to collect accurate data and personalize support, leverage technology to track growth and changes in networks, prioritize areas to measure if not all are possible, and align the data collected with education leaders, researchers and funders. 

Intentionally measuring student relationships can begin to close “the social side of opportunity gaps,” according to the report. 

Social ties are already a top concern for parents and administrators. Survey results released in May by Learning Heroes, a nonprofit, suggested parents’ concern about the loss of social ties during COVID-19 school closures topped worries about negative impacts on academics. Meanwhile, a recent survey of more than 20,000 students conducted by YouthTruth suggests teacher-student relationships during the closures were “a bright spot.” 

When classrooms shifted online, many educators first focused on nurturing existing relationships rather than diving into instructional material right away. And some suggested classrooms where educators had already built strong relationships with students before the closures were better positioned to transition those interactions online.  

Putting into place these measures and supports could still be beneficial as fall approaches, as many districts plan to first focus on rekindling relationships with and between students, as well as rebuilding social-emotional supports students missed out on during months of closures.

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