Moving Beyond Relationships Matter: An Overview of One Organization’s Work in Progress




Developmental relationships, science of learning and development, Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, Promise of Adolescence, Search Institute


Several recent and important reviews of the research on the science of learning and development extensively discuss the power of developmental relationships, but do not provide readers with information or insight on how to build those relationships. The author describes the effort that Search Institute has underway to fill the gap in both research and practice to identify steps that youth-serving organizations can take to create close connections that help young people be and become their best selves.

Author Biography

Kent Pekel, Search Institute

Kent Pekel is President and CEO of Search Institute


Li, J., & Julian, M. (2012). The evidence base for how we learn: Supporting students' social, emotional, and academic development. The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Retrieved from

Developmental relationships as the active ingredient: A unifying working hypothesis of “what works” across intervention settings. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82(2), 157-166. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.2012.01151.x

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). The promise of adolescence: Realizing opportunity for all youth. ashington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/25388.

Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development. (2018). From a nation at risk to a nation at hope. Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute. Retrieved from

O'Neil, M., Volmert, A., Pineau, M., & Levay, K. (2019). Reframing developmental relationships. Washington, DC: Frameworks Institute. Retrieved from

Osher, D., Cantor, P., Berg, J., Steyer, L., & Rose, T. (2017). Science of learning and development: A synthesis. American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

Osher, D., Cantor, P., Berg, J., Steyer, L., & Rose, T. (2018). Drivers of human development: How relationships and context shape learning and development. Applied Developmental Science. doi:10.1080/10888691.2017.1398650

Pekel, K., Roehlkepartain, E., Syvertsen, A., Scales, P., Sullivan, T., & Sethi, J. (2018). Finding the fluoride: Examining how and why developmental relationships are the active ingredient in interventions that work. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88(5), 493-502. doi:10.1037/ort0000333

Scales, P., Pekel, K., Sethi, J., Chamberlain, R., & Van Boekel, M. (2019). Academic year changes in student-teacher developmental relationships and their linkages to middle and high school students' motivation: A mixed methods study. Journal of Early Adolescence. doi:10.1177/0272431619858414






Thought Leader Commentary