It’s time to be honest about relationships…

“Relationship” has become quite the buzzword in education in recent years. There is a relatively widely held belief that relationships must come before everything else. That the primary objective of the teacher is to develop relationships before they can expect learning to happen.

This belief suggests that relationship are key not only to effective learning but also to positive behaviour. A related claim is that “all behaviour is a form of communication”, which insists that when learners ‘misbehave’, they are communicating an unmet need that the teacher should address in order to rectify the behaviour.

And these beliefs, I endorse. 

I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of relationships in the learning environment. I believe that all learning will be more effective when the teacher has a relationship with the learners, and I believe that behaviour will be better when the learners and the teacher have a shared understanding.

However, beliefs do not always translate so easily to practice.

Relationships are key to behaviour. This is a fact. I am certain of it. But that doesn’t mean it is easily practicable.

Any approach to behaviour that does not involve building relationships is a workaround. But it is the only realistic option many teachers have.

In a Utopian school, all behaviour would be addressed through relationship building: trust, understanding, communication, etc.

This Utopian school would be one where teachers have a manageable number of students, have free time in their daily and weekly timetables, have freedom from the administrative regulations and govt. standards that drain so much of teachers’ time and energy while having so little to do with effective learning.

If a learner exhibits behaviour that is harmful to herself or others, then a teacher would ideally have opportunities to interact with that learner; to find out what might be going on in the background that is causing the behaviour and work with the learner to do something about it, resolving the triggers and eliminating the harmful behaviour.

That anybody disagrees with this process baffles me. But I believe that people who do disagree aren’t really disagreeing with the principle after all; they’re defending against accusations that they’re not doing enough.

I believe 100% in the methodology that I have just described. However, I also believe that the vast majority of teachers do not have access to it, because there simply is no time to dedicate to it.

In the real world, when a learner disrupts the learning, a teacher’s primary concern can only be how to minimise the disruption and facilitate learning for the other members of the classroom. Which inevitably means that the disruptive individual’s needs are ignored in favour of the majority.

As much as this is a problem, teachers simply *cannot* be blamed or stigmatised for it. All day, every day, the majority of teachers are simply doing their damn best within the limiting conditions they are faced with.

I don’t know many teachers who do not feel terrible—wracked with guilt, miserable with feelings of inadequacy—about the learners that slip through the cracks because they do not have the time available to give those learners 100% of the support they would need to get them through the system.

But this is not teachers failing learners: this is the system failing both teachers and learners.

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