Danah Boyd: Relationships and Network Building

Boyd defines 21st century learning as making sense of the networks of public life. She points out that the most valuable thing gained from America’s top higher ed institutions isn’t the degree or the knowledge, but the relationships and networks students have made in their time there. She argues that building lifelong learners means “helping people recognize how important it is that they continuously surround themselves by people that they can learn from...[and] connect to new people on a regular basis.” She fears that social media makes it too easy for young people to sequester themselves into a narrow focus of like-minded people.

 Photo credit: http://edudemic.com/2012/11/teach-students-about-social-media/

Photo credit: http://edudemic.com/2012/11/teach-students-about-social-media/

While I agree with this goal, I would argue that surrounding oneself with like-minded people is an important part of development that shouldn’t be cut out. Solidifying one’s own identity requires finding role models and others who reflect your values so you can live them and engage in them. As educators, we can help young people take their smaller circle for identity negotiation and widen it to open the way for brave, new intellectual pursuits. The question is how can we do this best?

How can we facilitate the building of social networks? How do we support natural relationship building and encourage the expansion of this comfort zone? How do we reward and document this form of growth and development?

Reflections on How Children Succeed: Behavior Goals for an Organization



As we at The Third Teacher+  structure our designs to be as human-centered as possible, we identify the student behaviors that our design should enable, if done correctly. Paul Tough illuminates research that can help schools design their human-centered organization. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification by psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson classifies and measures widely valued positive traits. This resource can serve as a glossary and menu of options for schools to choose their behavior goals. KIPP uses seven of them: grit, self control, zest, social Intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

While the authors frame their traits as universal and objective - intellectual rather than moral - I would argue that each community is different. There’s a great community-building opportunity in defining a school’s specific, personal set of goals. An ethnographic fieldwork process can gather the perspectives of students, parents, teachers and administrators to identify the community’s shared values and facilitate consensus-building conversations.

Imagine a strategic planning session that explores: Who are our students and who do we want them to become? What psychological, emotional, academic and spatial pathways must we construct to get them there? How do we align and deploy our organization to accomplish these goals?

And imagine an evaluation session that asks: Are our students practicing the behaviors and traits we laid out? Are they practicing them more frequently than last year?

It’s exciting to think of how research can empower a behavior-based organizational strategy and value-based definition of success.