To help students develop and maintain supportive relationships, educators need to look further than the schoolhouse toward the networks that already exist in students' lives, a Christensen Institute paper released this month suggests.
This "relationship mapping" strategy for K-12 and higher education takes a student-centered approach by starting with an appreciation for a student's existing network of relationships, including their contacts outside of school.
By helping students document their network of relationships, students can better understand that their own personal connections can be trusted and diverse sources for social, academic and career support, the paper said.
"When I do it with young people, I use a blank piece of paper, put their name in the middle and start drawing lines and asking them, ‘Who’s in your school? Who’s in your community? Who’s in your neighborhood? Who are your caregivers’ friends? Who’s in your religious community?’" said Sarah Schwartz, a mentoring researcher and part of a team that developed a course called Connected Scholars, in the Christensen Institute paper.
Relationship mapping can be used to document social networks for students' emotional and companionship needs, as well as for academic networks to help them reach education and career goals.
Helping students understand networking is often a component of career preparation curriculum and activities, the paper said.
iCouldBe, a nonprofit virtual mentoring program for high school students, uses a "connections map" approach to let students visualize their various personal connections. Students then document the types of support these connections offer and how frequently they connect with these individuals. The maps also identify how each person can provide support along the student’s journey through postsecondary education and career.
Another benefit of this approach comes in reduced pressure on educators to create a school-based-only web of support for students that requires hiring of more staff or asking staff to take on more responsibilities. While those efforts are often needed and valued, they sometimes ignore the positive impacts students' own connections can have, the paper said.