Happily Different: Sustainable Educational Change A Relational Approach
by Loek Schoenmakers, Ph.D.
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How would education be different if we approached it as a relational process of co-construction among teacher, students and community, rather than a "delivery" of knowledge from teacher to student? This is the question Loek Schoenmakers asks. It is, at first glance, a simple question.
And yet it is profound in its capacity for sustainable change.
In this volume Loek skillfully explains that the majority of educational change is approached from a modernist/individualist orientation where quick fixes, sophisticated assessment tools, and end-product results are privileged. The result of such an approach is a deepening divide between what we hope for in education and what the actual experience of education is for many teachers and students. In other words, teachers, students, parents and communities all want to engage in learning. Yet the apparent solution to efficient education is precisely what limits teachers' and school administrators' abilities to engage in education creatively.
Additionally, this same solution to educational change invites students to view school as a factory where boredom and discipline reign. Strict requirements, a profusion of standardised tests and a lacking sense of community insure that teaching and learning become synonymous with inescapable drudgery for all. And, as Loek points out, the common response to these negative views of education (from all constituents) is to do more of the same. Continual educational change processes yield added assessments, stricter requirements and less and less sense of communal engagement.
*Happily Different* introduces us to an alternative orientation to education and education reform. Here we gain a glimpse into a very different way of approaching our everyday lives. We see that what people do
*together* creates the possibilities and constraints within which they live. What would education look like if we were to shift our focus from educating individual minds to creating conditions where all participants can thrive and create meaningful knowledge together? Most educational reform methods focus on improving the administrators or the teachers by providing training in new methods (by an expert, of course). The new methods are then "put into practice" with (or more pointedly, *on*) students. Loek asks us to consider what might change if those students were also part of the change process? And not just students, but what if families, school administrators, teachers and community leaders were invited into the process of reconstructing education? If the possibilities and constraints that we confront daily emerge in our interactions with each other, then inclusion of all voices in reforming educational practices should be mandatory.
Adopting a relational orientation seems so simple and so obvious. As Loek argues, it is a way to reintroduce the human element into education and he offers several stories about how doing so has helped change opposing cultures into communities, shift a desire for control into an appreciation for possibility, and transform fractured collegial relations into cooperative and respectful alliances. His description of the whole community transformation that transpired in Surinam offers rich resources for any educational reform process.
Yet readers should beware. The relational approach described in this volume will not yield the "quick fix" many administrators and financial officers desire. Rather, adopting a relational approach will join teachers, students, administrators and families in new and engaging forms of relationship. Such relationships will foster mutual respect, a curiosity about differences, attempts to coordinate the multiplicity of voices, and resources for the transformation of education into a world of possibility, potential and joy.
Education must continually change in order to serve its purpose: to create informed and engaged citizens. What better way to do that than to create relationally engaged communities of care?
Sheila McNamee, Ph.D.
Co- founder, Taos Institute