In a new playbook out this week, researchers at the Clayton Christensen Institute distill five steps for building and strengthening students’ networks. The playbook’s recommendations and activities are guided by decades of research on the power of relationships; new, innovative designs; and emerging measures from the field. Using this roadmap, education leaders can take a systematic approach to equitably fostering positive and diverse relationships across their schools and programs.

Forging these connections drives students’ wellbeing and expands their sense of future possible selves. Ensuring that every student has access to a web of supportive relationships to help them get by, and an array of diverse connections to help them get ahead, is more important than ever.

The free-to-access, customizable playbook highlights how K–12 schools, postsecondary institutions, and out-of-school providers can take the notion that “relationships matter” to the next level. Within this resource, educators will find:

  • Evidence-based insights on the benefits of students’ relationships
  • Strategies used in the field to build and measure students’ networks
  • Examples of real-world programs building students’ connections
  • Guiding questions and activities to translate research to practice

“Investing in networks is an equity imperative. When it comes to thriving, opportunity sits at the cross-section of what students know and who students know,” said Julia Freeland Fisher, the director of education research at the Christensen Institute. “After a year marred by social distance and disconnection, strategically investing in students’ access to and ability to mobilize relationships will be critical to both meeting students’ immediate needs and addressing long-standing opportunity gaps.”

The playbook was produced with support from American Student Assistance (ASA), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Genentech, and Walton Family Foundation.

“Being able to build meaningful connections and relationships at an early age is critical knowing that up to 50% or more of jobs today are achieved through someone’s social capital or network,” said Jean Eddy, ASA president and CEO. “The resources created by the Christensen Institute will help educators and all of us better understand how to help students navigate the education to employment ecosystem to find the paths that meet their interests and achieve their goals.”

About the Clayton Christensen Institute

The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to improving the world through Disruptive Innovation. Founded on the theories of Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen, the Institute offers a unique framework for understanding many of society’s most pressing problems. Its mission is ambitious but clear: work to shape and elevate the conversation surrounding these issues through rigorous research and public outreach.

About American Student Assistance® (ASA)

American Student Assistance® (ASA) is a national nonprofit committed to helping kids know themselves, know their options, and make informed choices to achieve their education and career goals. ASA® has a 60-year legacy of working directly with students to increase their access to higher education through loans and financial education. ASA has turned its experience into impactful solutions for students in grades 6-12 to help them pursue their dreams. To learn more about ASA, visit

Media Contact: Meris Stansbury, Director of Communications.


  • Christensen Institute
    Christensen Institute