- case studies -

Teacher Professional Development

Our work with Linton Village College sought to expose the foundations of the connected classroom. It is only in a secure relationships that the most difficult learning can take place and such relationships can have a powerful and positive influence on children’s wellbeing, mental health and academic progress. What’s shocking is how far we have allowed our focus to move from these basic premises. Our research with staff at the school, and their reflections on it, were captured in our first book and film, which focus in particular on how teachers assess the impact of their approaches on their relationships with the students they teach. We saw them come to view their agency as professionals through a more developmental lens. The authors argue that the teacher who understands the relational dynamics of the classroom is able to have a broad and more complete understanding of each student as an individual, and to encourage the young people they teach to explore their own agency as member of the group, and their own relationship with the teacher and other staff. The message of the research is powerful. Its focus on the importance of the quality of human interactions between a teacher and the young people in their care is a million miles from the dominant paradigm of discipline and data-driven accountability. One colleague, featured in the book and film, described this as the most powerful piece of professional development they had undertaken.

Examining the roles of social support and resilience in teacher recruitment and retention

We are partnering with the Suffolk & Norfolk Initial Teacher Training programme to follow a cohort of around 200 trainee teachers from their training year to their fourth year of practice, exploring how their relational nexus - the supportive network of relationships each individual maintains at work and in their personal lives - correlates to their resilience and success as a teacher. One might expect us to explore a teacher’s social capital in this instance, but we argue this merely tells us the number of people a professional knows, or who is connected to, in their network. That number may correlate to teacher retention figures (the greater your social capital, the better your chances of staying in teaching). We are, however, interested in people’s relational capital, i.e. the collective value of all our relationships. Our aim is to map, and then stress test, the quality of a teacher’s relational capital and correlate that to those professionals who flourish and those who fall away. In addition to the measurement and reporting, we will feed findings back into the client’s practice, redesigning the programme in response to findings, and designing interventions that improve retention, efficacy and wellbeing.

Exploring the ways schools build communities

We have experience of helping a school unlock the benefits of its values and ethos as expressed in it systems, processes, structures and pedagogy. CSA in Australia seeks to create Christian communities; places of belonging, built on shared values and beliefs, and committed to mutual care and respect. We are supporting CSA to explore the evidence for this by looking at a broader cross-section of its schools and measuring relationships amongst 11,000 students and staff as well the relationships between home and school. We have already found that where schools in the UK focussed on relationships, students’ sense of self was stronger, their attendance and participation increased and their overall achievement higher. There is also a broader literature base (Relationships in the NHS,2000; Relationships and Resources, 2014; The Relational Teacher, 2017 and The Relational Lens, 2017) that recognises that relationships are key to wellbeing, belonging and long-term achievement. The outcomes will help better inform CSA’s own practice and ensure that they have the data to support what they intuitively know: relationships matter!

Character Development and Relationships

RSF measured relationships between students and staff both before and after a week-long expedition for 10-16 year olds to Andorra run by the Challenger Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) as part of its Character Development programme, and which involved team-building and survival-type activities as well as skiing and social events. In one sense this project was a standard impact evaluation research engagement. However, results shed light and added nuance to the character education debate which has, to date, foregrounded intellectual virtues such as curiosity and creativity or performance virtues such as diligence and perseverance and underplayed moral or civic goals. The premise of our hypothesis is simple but challenging: “character” is best expressed through interpersonal relationships, and secondly, positive character virtues are best habitualised within the context of meaningful relationships. An optimistic individual will see the best in others. A curious individual will ask questions that further their own and others’ understanding. A determined individual will seek to develop important relationships with those around them, recognising them as a key source of social capital.  Dewey reminds us that “conduct is always shared; this is the difference between it and a physiological process. It is not an ethical ‘ought’ that conduct should be social. It is social, whether bad or good” (Human Nature and Conduct, 1922 p.14).

Relationships and Expeditionary Experiences

Working with XP School staff and students, RSF measured the quality of relationships immediately after the schools’ introductory expedition in 2016, exploring empirically how these newly formed relationships had emerged and been shaped, only two weeks into the school year. We then compared the findings to our benchmark national norm data, much of which is derived from surveys carried out months into the school year, and with older students whose relationships with their teachers and peers had formed over some years. The influence and impact of this experience was profound. The challenging environment had forged connectedness, belonging, understanding, respect, and an alignment of purpose and goals. As the teachers and students themselves identify, being with one another in contexts that not only push them outside of their comfort zones, but which also demand a high level of cooperation, influenced the way they saw each other, and the extent to which they are prepared to work to sustain their newly formed relationships.