5 steps for building and strengthening students’ networks

By: and

May 5, 2021

Schools and institutions nationwide aren’t just confronting academic challenges but also social challenges. Students’ unequal access during COVID to the relationships that provided critical resources and support widened the opportunity gap that existed long before the pandemic. For schools to come back better, they must make relationships a strategic priority, as social connections are still too often left to chance and remain unequally distributed. Now is the time that the science of fostering positive, lasting, and diverse relationships becomes part of a bolder innovation agenda across K–12 and postsecondary education.

In a new playbook from the Christensen Institute, we distill 5 steps for building and strengthening students’ networks, guided by decades of research on the power of relationships; innovative strategies; and emerging measures from the field. Using this free, customizable roadmap, education leaders can take a systematic approach to equitably fostering positive and diverse relationships across their schools and programs.

In this playbook, you’ll find:

  • Evidence-based insights on the benefits of students’ networks
  • Strategies used in the field to build and measure students’ relationships
  • 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, director of education research at the 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.”

Explore the playbook

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

Julia is the director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. Her work aims to educate policymakers and community leaders on the power of disruptive innovation in the K-12 and higher education spheres. Be sure to check out her book, "Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students' Networks" https://amzn.to/2RIqwOk.

Mahnaz Charania, PhD is a senior research fellow at the Christensen Institute. Her work focuses on studying disruptive innovations in education that amplify equitable opportunities for students to achieve social and economic mobility. In her current role, she leverages her deep expertise in measurement and evaluation to drive innovations that expand students' social capital.