Providing Hope to Students Through CBE & Developmental Relationships

The past few years in education have proven to be difficult. Many educators and administrators will tell you that the past two years have been some of the most challenging years of teaching and leading. Remote learning widened an already wide gap between students. While many students were safe, fed, and as focused on school as much as they could be during that period, there were others who were unsafe, and asked to fulfill duties like babysitting while their parents’ or neighbors’ jobs were unable to go remote. It was near impossible for the latter group to give education their attention and we could debate as to whether or not we should have asked them to. While places like liquor stores were deemed essential, in-person learning was not.

Returning to school from this period of chaos has been full of obstacles for schools to navigate. Students spent formative years finding comfort in screens and online connections. Now, we are asking them to put their screen away and connect face to face. Social media, albeit helpful at times, has become addictive and harmful as students find it impossible to escape. When years ago an embarrassing moment was forgotten about a few days later, embarrassing moments are recorded, shared, and rehashed for years to come. Social media has also led to property destruction in schools. One could ask any teacher or administrator about high school bathrooms this year for anecdotal evidence of this. In addition to social media, the 24-hour news cycle is constantly in young people’s faces as they receive notifications of every bad, sad, and scandalous event that occurs in the world. As all of this is happening, we tell students to focus on their learning and their future. Why would a young person focus on their future when all seems so hopeless?

We must take steps in our schools to imbue hope into our students once again. Students must be able to see the reason behind what they do in school and find meaning in their education. Education must change to meet the needs of this changing generation, the generation that has to overcome remote learning and its consequences. We can do that with components of competency-based education in conjunction with what the SEARCH Institute (a non-profit organization dedicated to research and advancing youth development and equity) calls “developmental relationships”. Components of competency-based education (CBE) mesh nicely with the components of a developmental relationship. Implementation of one supports the implementation of the other.

The SEARCH Institute has done extensive research in identifying the key pieces of what constitutes a developmental relationship for students. If one was to ask an educator if they had a good relationship with kids, most would answer that they do and explain that students know that they care about them. However, “expressing care” is only one piece of a developmental relationship. The SEARCH Institute defines a developmental relationship with five key components: express care, challenge growth, provide support, share power, and expand possibilities. Creating and sustaining developmental relationships are critical in student academic success. Academic success leads to more leadership opportunities and better outcomes for students. According to 2022 research done by the SEARCH Institute, the stronger developmental relationships a student has the more likely they are to have higher grade point averages and feel a stronger connection to their school. Higher grade point averages lead to better postsecondary opportunities while a sense of belonging helps cultivate hope in young people. Developmental relationships along with CBE components work hand in hand. Both would lead to better student outcomes and leadership ability in the future. Pieces of CBE align with fostering these relationships.

The CBE components of creating student-centered classrooms, developing multiple pathways for students, implementing formative assessment, authentic experiences in the form of project or work-based learning, and embedding inquiry into the classroom allow teachers and schools to support these developmental relationships. Student-centered classrooms and involving students in their learning process in a deeper way help support expressing care to students. Multiple pathways to competency attainment and graduation support challenging student growth.  Implementing stronger formative assessment practices helps to provide support to students. Authentic learning opportunities through project-based, place-based, or work-based learning expand possibilities for students as they learn in real-world environments or by working on real-world problems. Lastly, by embedding inquiry, meaning allowing students to come up with and pursue answers to deep questions that matter to them (rather than the teacher being the only person empowered to ask questions) allows students and teachers to share power.

You can learn more about each CBE component from a variety of sources and online research. The SEARCH Institute’s website offers several resources to help teachers and schools foster developmental relationships and shares how developmental relationships are proven to lead students to more positive outcomes. Through CBE and developmental relationships, schools can help students overcome the learning loss due to remote learning, obstacles that lie ahead of them, and find the hope they so desperately need. While the last two years have been difficult, there is hope. Students can find it in their schools and when students find it, teachers do too.


Maggie Roberts is the current social studies co-chair and teacher at Laconia High School. After beginning her career at Laconia High School with NH-JAG for several years, a program that serves students facing obstacles to positive postsecondary outcomes, Maggie now teaches social studies courses and is piloting a new interdisciplinary, project-based course with other Laconia teachers. Currently pursuing her master’s degree in Competency-Based Education and Teacher Leadership, Maggie is passionate about engaging students of all backgrounds in their learning and helping young people to become the best leaders they can be in the future.