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Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Relationships Matter!

I had the great pleasure of attending the Coalition of Essential Schools conference this weekend in San Fransisco, and even the greater experience of getting to explore ideas with a group of change agents including Isaac Graves, Pedro Noguera, Linda Darling Hammond, Rick Poser, Scott Nine, Linda Nathan and the Theater crew of Boston Arts Academy, Gary Stager, and most importantly for me, Deb Meier.

One topic that came up again and again this weekend is that relationships between people should be at the heart of education.  It is what we talk about often here, and it is at the core of my thesis on Human Scale Education.

Human Scale Education is education in which People matter and therefore relationships matter. It is an built on environments that supports and develops many different types of relationships, including the relationship between:

  • teacher and learner
  • learner and learner
  • learner and knowledge;
  • learner and the journey for personal growth
  • the personal and community;
  • learning and living;
  • school and the community;
  • schools and democracy.

It is the connection between and tension in all these relationships that can provide an environment of growth and the mindful journey to understand why we are here and different ways to live together. The question of how to do this is complex, but we should at least start to try and create opportunities that allow the time and space to support these types of relationships.

These types of relationship are not served by organizational systems that do not allow people to get to know each other as the unique persons they are. They are not supported by rigid, narrow paths of learning and experience, by power hierarchy that showcase a lack of trust and respect in people.

It calls for a relationship of persons not a relationship of power.

The factory/market driven system of schools supports a narrow version of  life’s possibilities. I believe there is a more holistic, caring, artistic reality to humanity that deserves to be given a chance to develop and evolve and that a school built on authentic relationships is the best way to support this transformation as a society.

If relationships are the first step to transformation, how do we create environments where these types of relationships can be developed or supported? I believe the first step is creating an environment rich in generational and experiential  diversity that is scaled to allow people to know each other and feel known. This would mean limiting narrow age groupings and engaging wide ranges of adults to share, dialogue with, and mentor students. Opening the classroom to the world and really honoring the idea that school is not the “preparation for life, but life itself” as John Dewey famously said, by allowing children (and adults for that matter) to interact with more people.

We would need larger chunks of time to really know each other. This might take the form of advisers or mentors who stay with a student for a least a looped period of 2-4 years or like even like Waldorf teachers from 1-8 grade. It is not a formula to be placed on all schools or one perfect method but it is worth thinking about.

It also means really understanding that it is not always easy to have authentic relationships, because doors can’t be closed, students ignored, behavior issues/ incidents can’t be swept under the rug. Instead we begin to deal with reality of being human. It means teachers must not just be knowledge based, but engage in an on-going process of reflection and growth themselves. Teachers have to be authentic and open.

It makes the world of school a lot more complex, but I would argue it will ultimately make it a better place. One that will not be able to be judged by test scores, but instead by the well-being of the people in the community.

So what do you think…. can school be organized to support and develop relationships or is all this Utopian or not our job….?


10 thoughts on “Relationships Matter!

  1. Thanks Edna for helping make my thoughts clearer and more crisp!


    Posted by dloitz | November 16, 2010, 5:08 am
  2. I wholeheartedly agree David. My ideal would be school within community and community within school. That is, EVERYONE seeing themselves as both teachers and learners, and all doors being open to learning experiences. That takes an intentional community, or at least a small town well positioned to the school to make the lines less strictly drawn.

    Most of us can’t manage that–and I never managed it. But given a smallish public school in a smallish community, the parent participation idea, combined with multi-aged classes has been a good step in this direction for me and my students. With 4 teachers working together across our individual classes, sharing about kids, assisting each other for the joy of it or for the necessity of it, our relationships to each other and the kids were able to develop and deepen over time. the term “Parent” has always been widely defined. So grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends of the family who enjoy being with kids are part of the school life–predictably and unpredictably. Kids and adults have more chance of finding someone who relates to them when there is more than just a single classroom teacher to relate to.

    Resistance to this kind of model usually includes comments about it being too time consuming. It is time consuming, but it is ALIVE, and when the support is there so one feels successful, it is nurturing. I think about how many teachers fall into teaching the same thing the same way year after year, and slowly school becomes secondary to other interests where they are growing and being challenged. In the kind of school I enjoy I get to be engrossed in my “day job,” and that means my kids feel that engagement.

    Posted by Amy Valens | November 16, 2010, 5:48 pm
  3. Thanks Amy,

    I am excited to have you as a resource, for my future school. I think you hit it on the nail with it takes time…. we are rushing everywhere, but if we slowed down a little we might find that the simple things in life have always been there and we don’t have to race to get them….

    I will think some more about your ideas….

    Also if you are interest we would love to hear more of your thought via this blog….


    Posted by dloitz | November 16, 2010, 6:11 pm
  4. David & Amy,
    I am firmly in your court with regards to relationships, that is good relationships. About a year ago I read a wonderful book that I’d recommend to anyone, it’s called Choice Theory by William Glasser. The great thesis of this work is that we spend so much time attempting to control children/students (people with less power than us) that we never really build the dynamic wherein we can establish a good positive relationships with students. I look back on some of the more extended periods I’ve spent in schools and the advice I’ve received from “leaders” and “mentors” and I would say that most of it has consisted in different methods of control. The one I love is, “Don’t smile till the second month” which is easily translatable into, “The only way to control them is to make sure they’re afraid of you.”

    But this is where I start to sink below the surface of the water because I understand that the best way to help someone learn and grow is to have a really strong relationship with them. I understand that it’s hard to have a relationship with someone you don’t respect. I think it’s hard to be worthy of respect when you are complicit in oppressive methods of control. So, it’s challenging to look out on a career in public education knowing that these methods of control are mandatory. It’s a dissociative dance we get locked into, forced to dance to the music of tests, grades and percentiles while dancing to the music of our own humanity which refuses to accept a life without meaningful relationships.

    The painful play of public schools

    So I think that there’s a lot of internal dilema that takes place for people in positions of power. Teachers, parents, supervisors, politicians all fall into the same manner of trap when it comes to beliefs about control. We can easily slip down the slope of desire to control. But we can also learn to hear the “voice” of control as it comes out of our mouth or arises in our thoughts. Once we learn to hear it, we can learn to choose otherwise. I think that when we let go of the idea that we can control people we open up the possibility of really entering into a relationship with them.

    Posted by jsteele1979 | November 18, 2010, 11:16 pm
  5. My answer to your question is absolutely schools can be created wherein relationships matter and are valued.
    In fact without this element, I do not believe learning exists.
    When the test and bits of information are the end all and be all, nothing of significance is shared or learned in the school community. All of my experience tells me that when the quality of empathy is present within the learning environment then mutual respect is present . In this environment of lively relationships intense learning occurs

    Bobby G

    Posted by Bobby G | November 20, 2010, 10:18 am
  6. David, A blast from the past, and I missed this the first time?

    Love is at the center of all effective schools I know–love and respect. Thanks for refocusing on this.

    Your fan,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | December 3, 2011, 4:22 pm
  7. David, Beautiful post! However, I find the word STUPID in the title unsettling. Why not “It’s about relationships, folks!” or… -Richard

    Posted by Richard Lakin | April 14, 2012, 4:36 am
    • I was trying to call reference to the phase “its about the economy, stupid…” but you know as time has past… I think it is less about call people out… and more about holding up what I envision for education…. so consider it changed.

      Posted by dloitz | April 14, 2012, 12:07 pm


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention It is about relationships, stupid! « Cooperative Catalyst -- - November 16, 2010

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