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Ensuring success for all students means paying attention to critical elements needed to build students' networks and social capital.

10 things schools need to do to build students’ networks

What will it take to ensure that all students, especially those furthest from opportunity, are on a path to promising and fulfilling careers?

Key points:

  • Students need more than skills to succeed–they need networks of people willing to help them on the path to success
  • Building students’ social capital and their networks is critical to their future success
  • See related article: How did the pandemic impact students’ social capital?

While durable skills and career-connected learning are important in setting students up for success as they enter college or the workforce, focusing on these skills alone won’t help students reach their goals, particularly in light of growing opportunity gaps.

If students are to be aware of potential career paths, they’ll need not just classroom learning and skills, but also personal and professional relationships that serve as gateways to career opportunities.

Life opportunities are often found where students’ human capital (what they know and can do) and their social capital (who they know and can depend on for support and access) meet. To start a career and achieve postsecondary success, students need more than skills—they also need people willing to take a bet on their potential.

People-Powered Pathways: Lessons in how to build students’ social capital
through career-connected learning
, a new report from the Clayton Christensen Institute, aims to help school leaders implement effective, equitable strategies for building students’ social capital, and offers field-tested considerations for piloting social capital building within existing career pathways initiatives.

The authors’ observations draw from an 18-month pilot during which they leveraged the Institute’s social capital playbook to provide direct support to a group of three intermediary organizations–Education Strategy Group, Generation Schools Network, and Hawai‘i P-20–collectively supporting 20 sites in the K-12 career pathways space. During the course of the pilot, researchers sought to understand how schools and nonprofits can make social capital building an explicit, effective, and equitable component of existing career-connected learning models.

Schools and programs that are interested in expanding students’ networks can consider 10 lessons learned from the pilot:

1. Stick with relationship outcomes: Use relationship data to develop goals and measure progress.

2. Audit your current practices: Look for untapped opportunities to strengthen students’ social capital within existing career-connected activities.

3. Prepare to build, not just buy: Given scarce off-the-shelf curricula, allocate time and resources for social capital training and curriculum development.

4. Honor relational norms and values: Adapt your approaches to both culture and context.

5. Incorporate immersive experiences: Pair social capital concepts with practice and opportunities to build real-world relationships.

6. Skills and access both matter: To seed positive interactions, develop communication skills alongside access to relationships.

7. Prime employers to share their social capital: Shifting employee volunteers’ mindsets can orient them to build relationships and share resources.

8. Source social capital across your enterprise: Individual social capital is a critical, but limited, lever for scale.

9. Embed social capital into systems: Enthusiastic practitioners foster change, but infrastructure maintains it.

10. Benchmark collective progress: Communities of practice build practitioner confidence.

Equipped with these lessons, educators can build models that embed both career know-how and know-who into students’ journeys, further expanding their access to opportunity.

Are you measuring students’ social capital? You should be
5 on-ramps to building students’ social capital

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Laura Ascione

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