Junlei Li is the Saul Zaentz senior lecturer in early childhood education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). His work focuses on understanding and empowering human relationships across developmental contexts. Li has had the opportunity to learn from children’s helpers across diverse and low-resource settings, including orphanages, child care, K-12 classrooms, out of school time, and residential youth facilities.
Prior to joining HGSE, he was the director and Rita M. McGinley chair at the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media. He studied the work of Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and extended it to present day applications. He remains a close collaborator of the Fred Rogers Center.
In His Own Words
The overarching goal of my research and development efforts have been to use research as a way of making sense of important issues and settings impacting under-served children, and use development as a way of making use of research findings in order to positively impact children’s lives. Under this goal, my research and development efforts have included improving science education in urban classrooms, improving program evaluation for community-based programs serving youth and families, improving quality of care in orphanages in the international context for children without parental care, and improving quality of teacher-student interactions in early elementary classrooms to foster effort and persistence. In my current role as the Director of an applied research and evaluation team of interdisciplinary professionals, I concentrate my efforts to connecting research and evaluation to actual practice and policy on the ground, to illuminate what works, what doesn’t, and most importantly, where we can concentrate effort and resources to make improvements in programs serving children, youth, and families. Across the diverse areas of programming examined by our team, we fully appreciate the importance of developing positive relationships within programs as a key active ingredient to achieve positive impact. Understanding how such relationships are formed and how they lead to positive impacts not only can influence what we understand and do in specific programs, but can contribute towards a more general theory to guide the implementation of relationship-building across contexts.