Cultivating Trusted Relationships: A Conversation with Rob Jagers


Hear from Rob Jagers, vice president of research at the Collaborative For Academic, Social, And Emotional Learning (CASEL) where he leads work with partner districts to explore how social and emotional learning can be leveraged to promote equitable learning environments and equitable developmental outcomes for students from historically underserved groups. In this interview, Jagers underscores the essential role that trusted relationships between educators and students will play in the post-COVID world.

Q: The lessons from the science of learning and development are inherently hopeful. What are the strengths that young people and their communities are bringing to this crisis?

There are a number of strengths we are seeing, but malleability is a key one. Young people are showing adaptability and willingness to leverage existing resources, as well as think about new and novel ways to address a challenge. The kind of flexibility and adaptability that people have brought to this crisis is an asset. The other thing we’re seeing is a focus on relationships, especially in circumstances where local institutions have preexisting relationships with adults and young people. People in those circumstances are able to lend each other psychological and physical aid as we collectively try to navigate this.

Q: What’s one piece of concrete advice drawing from the science of learning and development that you would elevate for every educator or other adult supporting young people?

Doubling down on cultivating and deepening relationships is essential. Places that nurtured trusting relationships between and among adults and young people prior to the pandemic are faring better. We must also understand the importance of individuality. This means that adults, family members, community members, and educators must understand a young person’s unique experience and the variability that comes with that. There’s no one size fits all inside of a community. Context also matters. We need to focus on what types of human and material resources exist in a given context, and the ways in which you can leverage those in support of young people and adults. We must attend to those issues and not just assume that everyone is alike or every context is alike.

Q: What is the education issue that is around the corner that you hope people start addressing now? How would knowledge from the science of learning and development help us advance equity as we take it on?

As we try to figure out what the re-entry and re-engagement process entails, there is a possibility that segments of the education community that are very concerned about accountability, specifically standardized testing, will assert themselves pretty loudly and aggressively. There’s the possibility that rather than focusing on potential, assets, and relationships, we get hyper immersed in an accountability process that is focused on deficits, lags, etc. That would be unfortunate given what many of us perceive to be the immediate, pressing needs of the adults and the young people who are navigating this pandemic — many of whom have been underserved traditionally anyway.

We could also potentially see a decrease in the number of educators and funding more generally, which means that all of these things that we advocate for around relationships and young people’s potential could get undercut by the removal of the very people who are responsible for cultivating the relationships and attending to young people’s needs.

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