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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

It matters who they know, not just what they know.



In recent years, the term “asset-based” has become increasingly popular in youth development and education lexicons. It marks an important, and arguably long overdue shift toward understanding and intentionally building on students’ strengths and talents, rather than focusing exclusively on their deficiencies. More often than not, however, calls to take a more asset-based approach in schools situate individual students as the locus of control and change. Individual strengths, experiences, and perspectives are celebrated and built upon.   But our research on social capital suggests that the concept of assets is accurate yet incomplete. The reality is that students’ assets reside not just within, but around them in their networks.


  1. If you want to understand broader networks that students have access to outside of your school or program → Try social network mapping: For decades, social workers have used asset mapping, a close cousin to relationship mapping, in order to assess the support networks of their clients. One example is the Social Network Map, developed by researchers Elizabeth Tracy of Case Western Reserve University and James Whittaker of the University of Washington. Their tool helps case managers identify and sort the structure and quality of a client’s support system by mapping relationships into several categories, including family, peers, friends, and co-workers. Researchers recommend doing multiple rounds of relationship or social network mapping because students may forget to include certain connections that make a difference in their lives. You can gain a more complete picture of who your students know and depend on by revisiting relationship and social network maps. Read more about this approach in the article “The Social Network Map”.

  1. If you’re trying to better understand relationships inside your school or department → Try relationship mapping protocols with your team and students:  Relationship mapping is a strategy that can help schools adjust their practices to effectively forge trusting relationships between students and adults. All it takes is a roster of student names and two sets of different colored stickers for staff to visualize patterns among whom they feel they have a strong relationship with and whom they believe may be at risk for academic, personal, or other reasons. Larger schools and institutions may prefer to move through the process one grade level or department at a time. You can also perform mapping exercises across both staff and students to compare the results. From there, schools that identify students who lack trusting relationships with adults or faculty can direct additional connections and resources accordingly. For example, watch Ted Dintersmith’s Innovation Playlist to see relationship mapping in action at Jamestown Public Schools.

  1. If you’re working in a resource-scarce, human capital-scarce environment → Use relationship and networking mapping as a student project to identify latent resources: Not only does relationship mapping provide more detailed information regarding whom your students know and turn to—it can also surface relationships that you could enlist more deliberately to expand supports or opportunities at your institution. Make sure you have a shared contact database where you can store these connections so that they remain within reach for your community to tap into in the future.