Ethos Community

Relationships (cross blogged from thebelbird.wordpress.com)

Good old Wikipedia has this to say about Interpersonal Relationship:

"...is an association between two or more people that may range in duration from brief to enduring. [...] From a philosophical point of view a personal relationship is a choice. [...]"

'Funny that' when we look at the school context - do our students have a choice? Let's park this point here for the moment.

Relationships has long been credited with being a vital element in successful learning. When I think about Russell Bishops work in Te Kotahitanga, a programme that is improving achievement of Maori students and students of all ethnicity in secondary schools of New Zeland, I first think of the teacher - student relationship (e.g. see Russell Bishop: Culture Speaks. Cultural Relationships and Classroom Learning) - there are many more important points to this, if you like you can find out more here. How many of us remember the vital influence, the role model in our life while growing up? On the other hand most of us will also remember vividly the teacher that we most disliked. What a teacher says or does can make a great difference in a student's life (either way). Not many of my ex-students are very vocal about what influence I have had on them, but this is what I received just last week:

"Hey Monika,

Just wanted to let you know I've just finished my second year of advanced 3D at Natcoll at the top of my class. Not sure what I'm going to do next, I'm really having to think hard about if this is for me! But I wanted to thank you, because in reflection I wouldn't have gone anywhere at all without you and my mum pushing me to better myself. Thanks to you setting me on the right road, I can now say that I feel like an extremely confident and capable individual capable of achieving virtually anything I set my mind to. A far cry form the person I was! God knows how I would have turned out if not for your encouragement. Thank you so much."

This student and I had a positive relationship, though no doubt he must have been annoyed with me at times for making him complete his school work when he would have much rather played online games or else lol. I believed in his potential and I kept on encouraging him and he go there. What worked in my favour was that I was working with him one-on-one in his home which allowed me to build up a completely different picture of him than if he was coming to my class.

It goes back to my previous post - our identity in different places and time. At school he would have been coming to my class, make and do on my terms. At his home I was sort of there on my terms but for him. How can we change our classroom and school environment to achieve a similar atmosphere?

Generally I believe that NZ primary and intermediate schools are a lot more open to the idea of developing a relationship, classroom teachers generally spend most of each school day with their class and are bound to get to know them. At secondary schools students tend to visit the teacher in their specialist room. While most students have a kind of 'home room', it is being used by many other students during the day so personalising a space, feeling at home there is definitely more difficult quite apart from the fact that their home room / whanau teacher might not teach them in a subject or only for a few short periods every week.

So what could be changed to achieve a better relationship between teachers and students?

There is the relationship with the child and the relationship with the family. A child needs to feel accepted for who they are, taken seriously, cared about and loved. To help you do this I believe knowing the child, the family, the home environment and the community is vital. We cannot possibly expect a child to hang up their life outside school in the cloak room. Do we treat adults like this? As caring human beings we cut them some slack when we know things are tough, so how would this be any different for children? But how do we go about this?

Some families are always at school and are happy to share what is going on - these are the easy ones - provided the teacher realises the importance of making this connection. What about families who don't engage with a teacher at school? Not every family wants to be visited at home, there often is a kind of fear or awe of the teacher. Schools and individual teachers need to think very carefully how they can safely engage with their parent community. Once a connection is made and the family realise that the teacher has the best interest of their child/ren at heart, this could change.

How do we engage with the wider community? How do we make sure that we also listen to those that are not in our schools all the time, to those who don't currently have students attend at our school, how do we connect?

It is important to know about your community. Some teachers live in the community they teach in, some don't. Some attend every sports game, every cultural performance, some don't. Connecting with a school's community has many facets: Observing when and why people gather. How they communicate. Take an interest in what is going on. Listen to what is being said. Allow them to have a say in what is going on at school, e.g. through surveys, at public meetings, by should tapping a person with the right knowledge / skills for a particular task.

In New Zealand, some of our families do have a choice about entering into a relationship with a particular school, some don't (rural and low-socio economic areas are less mobile than others). What we want to do is create local schools that are the first choice of our local families by creating meaningful relationships with students, parents and community.

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Comment by Hazel Owen on March 4, 2013 at 11:49

After replying to a couple of your posts yesterday I went for a run and was listening to one of my favourite podcasts - This American Life (it's US focussed, and covers a heap of ideas and issues and does in-depth documentary-type 'stories' about them from different viewpoints).

The one I happened to listen to knocked me for six. It's a 2-part podcast based at Harper High School in Chicago. The thing that jumped out for me is the relationships between the teaching staff (that collective teacher efficacy / community approach Bradbeer was blogging about), as well as the relationships they build with their students. Society itself in the part of Chicago appears to be 'broken', but the school can offers a safe, caring space that has elements of normalcy for students to cling to as a kind of life raft in an uncertain sea.

I'd highly recommend listening to the podcasts:

  1. Harper High School, Part One
  2. Harper High School, Part Two

An excerpt from Huffington Post about the podcasts reads:

If it had been any other high school, you would know this story by now. Had some other "kind of school" logged a year that saw 29 current and recent students shot, eight fatally, "we would all know the name of that school," says radio show host Ira Glass in a new episode of "This American Life" on NPR. "If you grafted those facts onto another high school -- in a wealthier place, maybe a suburb ... it would be national news" (source).

Comment by Hazel Owen on March 3, 2013 at 11:05
I am loving your posts, Monika. They are making me really explore my own ideas heaps more, and unpack things further. You're a gem!

Maybe the heart of the matter here is something you said In another post...we are all different. And some people we will get along with, and some people, we just don't seem to connect with. - even when we give it our best shot. So, the best things we can do as humans is to be respectful, open, aware as possible of our own prejudices, sensitive, and make sure we are motivated by our hearts rather than just our heads :) Not a big ask, eh? Lol!

I've just deleted the last two sentences I typed as a follow up...a sure sign that I'm still thinking things through. What are our responsibilities as a 'teacher'? (I'm sure if you asked this question in schools around the world, you would get a huge number of answers), and what are our rights as as a teacher? (Ditto re number of responses) And our learners, as well as their families and whanau - what are their rights and responsibilities? (Huge range of contradictory responses I suspect :-p). The variety of possible answers maybe highlights why it can be such a minefield.

However, if we are the 'best we can be'...continually reflecting on our own practice, beliefs and values, then this must have a positive impact.

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