Schools can better understand the relationships students have outside of school through a strategy called relationship mapping

5 ways relationship mapping supports your students


Schools can better understand the relationships students have outside of school through a strategy called relationship mapping

When students have “positive and diverse” relationships, they are less likely to be at risk, more likely to boost their academic performance and persistence, and are also more likely to have access to a wider range professional opportunities, according to new research from the Clayton Christensen Institute.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, students without positive connections and relationships suffer when it comes to their well-being, academic success, and career potential. Schools often rely on existing faculty and staff to help grow students’ networks. And while mentoring and advising, volunteering, and new initiatives can positively impact students, these efforts are often institution-centric instead of student-centric–and they can burden staff who are already exhausted, along with placing added stress on tight budgets.

But according to Students’ Hidden Networks: Relationship Mapping as a Strategy to Build Asset-Based Pathways, taking an asset-based approach–leveraging the connections arising from people students already know–can help. A number of future-thinking groups are focused on equitably building students’ social capital and connections, and as they continue their work, helpful strategies and best practices have emerged for teachers and school leaders. The report is authored by Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute.

Schools can better understand the relationships students have outside of school–their unbounded networks–through a strategy called relationship mapping, which helps students and schools “visualize, reflect on, and keep track of the people they know.”

The report offers an in-depth look at how to help students begin relationship mapping, noting that “creating a relationship map offers a simple and powerful strategy to make
the invisible visible to students and institutions alike. The domains—by form, function, or both—against which students map and sort members of their networks should align with programs’ philosophies and students’ goals.”

Here are five scenarios where relationship mapping can be useful:

  1. If you’re trying to teach students about the power of networks and social capital: Use relationship mapping to start the conversation. There’s a simple reason why mapping relationships is a critical first step to investing in students’ networks: visualizing their own network can ensure that students learn about networking through a personal and asset-based lens.
  2. If you’re trying to increase the likelihood that students mobilize their
    networks: Attach mapping to personal goals and real-world stakes.
    Building a network doesn’t just have to be about students meeting new people; it can be about students having new types of conversations with people they already know.
  3. If you’re trying to increase students’ sense of belonging and access to support: Find out who students already trust. Particularly in light of the pandemic, schools are focused on belonging and support as crucial ingredients to helping students thrive. Instead of assigning support, relationship mapping offers the opportunity to first ask students whom they already feel they can trust or depend on.
  4. If you’re trying to expand students’ professional networks: Start with the employers students and their families already know. Schools and career centers often look for ways to expand students’ professional networks by inviting guest speakers, mentors, and alumni to meet their students. While those new connections can be helpful, this approach tends to ignore the professional networks that may already surround students.
  5. If you’re trying to boost persistence and success long-term: Use maps to remind students about various connections they’ve formed along the way. A relationship or network map can be a tool for students to revisit and expand on their networks as new goals or challenges emerge. Often, that means pairing maps with coaching and support on help-seeking behaviors, and revisiting these maps on a consistent basis to update and reflect on progress.

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Laura Ascione

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