Investing, Finally, in the "Third R" — Relationships


By: Kent Pekel

Anyone who has lived or worked with young people (or, for that matter, who has been one) is likely to have experienced the value of developmental relationships. Yet the components of those relationships are not widely understood, and few schools, programs, or communities have systematically sought to measure and strengthen their presence or absence in young people’s lives.

For example, while many high schools have emphasized the new “three Rs” of rigor, relevance, and relationships in recent years, much more progress has been made on the first two Rs than on the third. We have raised standards, revised curricula, increased course taking requirements, instituted new exams, promoted partnerships with colleges and businesses, and have taken many other steps to strengthen the rigor and relevance of the high school experience.

But what about the "third R", relationships?

Comparatively few schools have devoted similar levels of time and attention to ensuring that students feel known, supported, and challenged by both adults and peers. That may not be necessary if rigor and relevance are sufficient to motivate all students to work hard and succeed in school, but a truism (attributed to everyone from John Maxwell to Theodore Roosevelt) questions the wisdom of such an approach: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

At Search Institute, we're working to strengthen our understanding of the "third R,” by:

  • Articulating a rigorous theory of and research base for developmental relationships within and across individual and cultural differences;
  • Identifying the malleable factors in relationships that can be intentionally strengthened in families, schools, youth programs, and other settings;
  • Developing survey instruments that measure how young people experience, benefit from, and contribute to them; and
  • Creating tools, training, and technical assistance that schools and youth programs can use to strengthen the number and nature of developmental relationships young people experience.

  • Each of these efforts, over time, will help to provide young people with the balance of challenge and support they need to be ready for success in some form of college, a career, and citizenship.

    Sometimes we assume that people either have or don’t have good relationship skills. We used to think that way about leadership. Leaders, conventional wisdom said, were “born, not made,” and, though essential, the capacity to lead is intangible. Since then, researchers have shown that the quality and character of a company’s leadership can be assessed and continuously improved. As a result, it is now standard practice for corporations and other organizations to invest significant time and resources in leadership development. In the years ahead, Search Institute is committed to help the fields of education and youth development come to see developmental relationships in the same light as corporations have come to regard leadership development: as something that is too important to leave to chance.

    Interested in learning more about Search institute's work around developmental relationships?—> Download our new strategy report to find out how we are transforming our nonprofit organization to advance our new strategic direction AND watch a free ParentFurther webinar about developmental relationships to learn more about how parenting and other caring adults can foster developmental relationships in young people.

    Leave a comment and let us know what you think about our work around developmental relationships.



    Publish Date: 

    Wednesday, May 1, 2013

    Share this page: 

    1 Comment


    Kent be in touch with Dr. Scott Wurdinger at School EDucation, Mankato State who will be a great ally for you as he (and I) have been studying "soft skills" in charter schools like Avalon & New Country School. Regards Walter