illustration by Clare Reid
Recently a colleague lent me a book called Connected Teaching: Relationship, Power, and Mattering in Higher Education, by Harriet Schwartz (2019), in response to my interest in knowing more about growth and human development in the context of learning. The book introduced me to Relational Cultural Theory (RCT), a human development theory emanating from Psychology and Social Work, and it applied RCT to teaching. Main take-away: good teaching is all about relationships—namely, the teacher-student relationship—and in particular making these relationships into what Schwartz calls “growth-fostering relationships.”
I’m sure most of us readily admit that student learning involves growth, and that in order to grow one must be open, ready, and receptive. But what was new to me was thinking about openness and change on the side of the teacher in the student-teacher relationship. How receptive to change are most of us adults? Looking at my 11-year old and my expectations of her growth in comparison to my own, I’d say we sometimes lose our growth mindset when it comes to our professional practice that we’ve been doing for years; we might continue to acquire new skills and refine our practice, but do we enter into relationships with a growth mindset for ourselves?
For any teachers who desire some fodder for professional reflection in the new year, whether it’s a question of balancing being supportive of students with being the one assessing and grading them, managing boundaries when students seek out more connection and relationship with us than we feel comfortable giving, or being frustrated with students who don’t seem to be giving it their best effort, I recommend reading Harriet Schwartz’ very accessible book. She gives easy-to-follow and straightforward advice about stepping away from our biases, bringing our best selves, and being aware of and accepting the emotional ride that teaching takes us on.