The research behind the Along digital reflection tool

From the beginning of building Along, we wanted to develop a tool from a place of deep understanding and well-established research. We knew that investing in students’ well-being and development was paramount in creating thriving classrooms and school communities. Decades of research showed us that positive relationships with at least one caring adult could improve academic achievement. We also knew that programs focusing on social and emotional competencies could help all students including those hardest to reach to meet their full potential. 

It was with this lens that we developed Along, using several key educational philosophies as our foundation. Explore below the frameworks, research, and partnerships we relied on when bridging the gap from research to check-ins.

Core principles and research

Along expands on the Search Institute’s Developmental Relationship Framework — a blueprint for developing and nurturing strong developmental relationships. This framework explores five essential elements present in important connections: expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power, and expanding possibilities. We used these five elements while developing our research-informed classroom activities and educator practices. Through the journey of shared reflections, educators aim to show students that they matter, push them to go further, and inspire them to see their future possibilities. 

“We know from research that we deal with pain better in connection and in relationships with others. We know that we overcome adversity better and that we even heal faster.” – Dr. Benjamin Houltberg, Ph.D., LMFT, Interim President and CEO of Search Institute.

Not only does Along rely on research about developmental relationships, it’s also based on the power of reflections — a skill that helps students feel seen and understood. We asked ourselves: How can we ask students to slow down for a moment and focus on what matters to them? 

To come up with that answer, we looked at the research behind dialogue journals, a popular classroom practice involving teachers and students consistently writing to each other. In classrooms that use dialogue journals, students feel a sense of safety and more readily explore their academic capabilities because of the rapport they feel with their teacher. This same rapport is built through Along’s reflection questions and teacher materials. 

Through our partner relationships, Along’s content was created and reviewed through expert lenses. For example, we partnered with Greater Good Science Center to develop educator resources that focus on how teachers can encourage students’ self-awareness and social awareness. We also worked with Character Lab to include questions and resources that relate to  self-affirmation and values. When students understand and communicate their values, they’re gaining a better understanding of themselves — as well as giving educators valuable insight into what they care about.

Research grounded in diversity

Along understands that each student has a unique background and faces different challenges, a reality that had to be addressed to reach the most students. That’s why we partnered with organizations including Grip Tape, Black Teachers Collaborative, and Understood to ensure Along is grounded in the science of relationships and the experiences of teachers and students. 

Since 2015, Grip Tape has invited students aged 14 to 18-years-old to participate in the learning conversation — an experience where students overwhelmingly voice the desire to have a say in their future. Black Teachers Collaborative engages and cultivates a collective of Black educators that foster the academic success of Black children. The organization equips students with the intellectual, social, emotional, and cultural capital to actively participate in the progress of their communities. 

“If we can get things right within the teacher-student relationship for Black students, what does it mean for all students? That’s why we were really interested in working on this Along project […] We were excited to be a part of developing a tool and the content that would be good for Black students and for teachers who teach Black students. And therefore it would probably be good for all students.” – Wallace Grace, Director of Innovation at Black Teachers Collaborative

Understood is also on a mission of empowerment. This non-profit serves families of kids who learn and think differently, providing resources and communities that help exceptional learners thrive. 

“We’re here for the one in five people with learning and thinking differences. We define those as lifelong brain behaviors like dyslexia and ADHD. These are often invisible disabilities, which can be stigmatized and overlooked, so our goal is to provide resources, tools, and expertise to help those with learning and thinking differences. So Along is an important tool because strong relationships with teachers are critical for all students, including those who learn and think differently.” – Melinda Evans, Executive Director, Learning Experiences at Understood

Every step of the way, Along has been dedicated to making decisions based on research. We’re thrilled that educators now have a tool to support building developmental relationships. It will make the process of checking in with students more effective and meaningful for everyone.