The Importance of Teaching Through Relationships
How do we educate others by utilising relationships? What on earth does that even suggest? That was my reaction when I started working at a school that places a high importance on fostering learning via meaningful connections between students and teachers. According to the theory of teaching via relationships, instructors who are more familiar with the backgrounds of their pupils will have a greater capacity to instruct them. It is a fundamental concept that the majority of educators who are committed to progressive education have long since adopted.
But there is much more to teaching through relationships than that. In the end, it is a description of the intricate social context in which students and teachers communicate with one another, share their experiences, and take part in activities that, when combined, provide for engaged learning.
At first, I didn’t give much thought to the term since I believed that I “kind of knew” what it meant. But now I see that my assumption was incorrect. But as I found myself in circumstances in the classroom where the environment was laden with tension and misunderstandings with students — which resulted in a teaching performance that was less than ideal — I thought about the term again and realised that I had more questions than I realised.
My problem with teaching through relationships was pretty straightforward; both in my own education and in my early teaching practise, teaching was a formal affair, aligned with ideas of conventional professionalism that draw a very clear line between the teacher and the students. My problem with teaching through relationships stemmed from the fact that in my own education and in my early teaching practise, teaching was a formal affair.
This formal arrangement discourages fraternising with students in the belief that when the role of teacher, mentor, and guide becomes confused with that of a friend or a buddy, the instructional waters become muddied. This is because fraternising with students is considered to be disruptive to the learning environment. The word also contains an icky undertone that has a hard time separating itself from controversy and inappropriate behaviour.
Defining Teaching Through Relationships
Having relationships as a means of instruction, on the other hand, does not promote this kind of fraternising. Instead, it places formal knowledge in the context of the world to which it genuinely belongs and from which it originates: namely, the intricate, historical, and social reality that comes with being human.
Teaching through relationships, when done well, recognises the human stories of the learners themselves (they are not blank slates), as well as that of the teacher, while maintaining the formal relationship that exists between students and teachers. This is accomplished while maintaining the formal relationship that exists between students and teachers. It is a method that acknowledges the complexities of our identities, our biographies, and the personal narratives we bring to the classroom, all of which assist to personalise the topics that we cover.
By including these intricacies into the “mix” of our teaching, we are able to broaden our knowledge beyond the artificial boundaries of a specific field of study.
It required a lot of introspection on my part to figure out why I had such a hard time getting behind this strategy. I don’t recall ever having close ties with any of my instructors, nor do I recall any of them taking a personal interest in me while I was attending elementary school or high school. (As I type this, I do remember one specific instructor who did take an interest in me, but that is a different tale and will be covered in a different piece on this site.)
It was not something I wished for, so the fact that I was able to get to know my teachers and that they were able to come to know me as a fellow traveller in the human experience was good with me. When I think back on the connections and chances that were available to me but that I chose not to pursue, I can’t help but feel a twinge of regret.
When I was in college, I did see — with a mixture of admiration and resentment — that a few of my friends were able to develop strong relationships with the faculty members who taught them. At that point in my life, I was under the impression that you either needed to be exceptionally bright or one of the cool, in-the-know students who had the intestinal fortitude to view teachers as something more akin to a guide than an impersonal authority figure. These astute students attended parties thrown by their teachers and were invited to supper at their houses, where they were introduced to the professors’ families. That wasn’t the story I was telling.
However, I was able to observe how much further my friends got in their academic careers when they supplemented the lectures and books they were using as sources of teaching. They gained the true knowledge of a discipline, which was primarily of a social nature and provided them with insight into the life of their instructor. As a result, they had a better understanding of the professional reality, work, gossip, and social constructs that, along with formal knowledge, combine to form what we refer to as “a discipline.”
When formal information leads to hidden knowledge, teaching through relationships helps students cross a threshold from which they emerge with a mystical understanding. What is concealed is the act of discovery itself, as well as the links between thought, everyday life, and other concepts and fields of study that at first glance appear to have no bearing on one another. When students are able to create this link through “teaching through relationships,” they begin to see themselves as co-learners along with their teachers and the greatest brains in history. This leads to a profound shift in how they view their roles in the educational process.
Putting It to Practice
In light of this, what part does the teacher play in this scenario? To begin, this entails becoming familiar with the various methods of instruction utilised by the students, as well as their current levels of knowledge, skills, and potential. In addition to this, it entails getting to know their personality, interests, and background. This is of the utmost importance. This corpus of information paves the way for dramatic learning opportunities and the possibility of the instructor’s own professional development.
The work of Lev Vygotsky, a child psychologist who asserted that learning is relational and that language and conversation are central to the relational aspects of learning, is where much of what we know about learning through relationships got its start. Vygotsky is credited with developing the idea that learning is relational. One further reason why I respect and like Vygotsky’s work is that he places a strong emphasis on the importance of community and how it plays a part in the education process.
I am also influenced by the ideas of philosopher Martin Buber, namely his theory that consciousness can only emerge within the context of a relationship. Buber was aware of the fact that the social context of education plays an essential role not only in the manner in which we learn but also in the evolution of human culture in general. Buber was one of the earliest advocates of the concept that the most effective method for instructing a student is to view that student not as a “it,” but rather as a whole, multifaceted, and empathic human being. Buber was a pioneer in this field.
The Spoke in the Wheel
When I was in a scenario in which the students were not very friendly to one another, I found that to be the point at which my difficulties with developing relationships in the classroom reached their zenith. The silence was not caused by pupils who were intently concentrating on their assignments; rather, it was caused by the social awkwardness of persons who were either unable or unwilling to bridge a social gap.
I recognised that the class lacked the social vibe that energises the classroom since there was none of the social lubricant, which is very often perceived as a distraction because it was absent. When I brought this issue up with my coworkers, they gave me the piece of advice that I should act as “the spoke in the wheel,” which means that I should be the active agent who builds relationships between my students by getting to know them and asking friendly questions about their interests and background.
That ended up being a means by which they got to know one another better. This opened up a third component of teaching through relationships, that of the students’ interactions with one other as friends, colleagues, and co-learners. In other words, in addition to the teacher-student dyad, this opened up a third component of teaching through relationships.
One of the many difficulties I faced in the field of education was the fact that the social components of the job sometimes seemed to get in the way of actual classroom instruction. It was a waste of time for me to talk about Hakim’s interest in the ukulele if I wasn’t immediately addressing the lesson that we were now learning. It seemed like there was always a new lesson to learn, but there was only so much time in the day to cover everything on the syllabus.
Since then, I’ve gained the knowledge that devoting some of your time to getting to know your pupils will make it easier to convey the more serious portions of your curriculum to them. It helps facilitate the possible connections you make. It alerts each student that he or she is seen as another being and, in response, makes them all more attentive. You can create opportunities to dive deeper into your subject matter if you do things more slowly and accept the possibility that you will not complete the full breadth of your curriculum.
Because I am still learning new things about this subject on a daily basis and because I do not yet have as much insight as I would like, I would appreciate it if you would share your experiences and any insights you may have about the relational aspects of learning and teaching in the section provided below.