Saturday, 19 September 2015

LAUNCH: The Relational Teacher

I was very fortunate to be invited to Rob Loe's launch of The Relational Teacher book and film at St Catherine's College, Cambridge on 17th September 2015. I've heard Rob speak at both SLT Camp and TeachMeet CSS, his enthusiasm for the project is infectious. 

The key note address was from Susan Pinker who was discussing her research featured in The Village Effect (see <here>). She discussed how face to face relationships make us feel happier, reduce stress… and help us live longer. 

She also discussed, with some excellent cartoons, why it is important to distinguish between face to face and digital relationships. Sometimes we confuse the two, or allow one to take the place of the other.

The study used for her book (35,000 people over 7 years) found that close close relationships and good social integration have the greatest effect (excluding genetics) in making you live longer - far more effective than exercise or clean air!

It was then time for the main event...

The Film

“Outstanding relationships between teachers and students correlate with their academic success”

RSA Fellow Rob Loe, The Relational Schools Project has spent the last two years working with schools to explore these issues, and has developed a robust database of evidence that clearly shows the vital importance of good relationships between teachers and the children they teach, in the achievement of great student outcomes.

This is, of course, something that all good teachers know instinctively. But by applying the Relational Proximity framework[1] developed by Relational Analytics to their analysis of classroom interactions, Rob and his team have been able to assess the quality of relationships in schools and, in many cases, correlate these directly to student outcomes.

The findings will warm the cockles of anyone who understands the true importance of teaching. <Source>

The first half of the film was enjoyable watching, with some heartwarming discussion about the importance of relationships in schools. However, it was the second half which prompted the real thinking for me:
  • The female PE teacher who was questioned on her Y9 class relationship was a fascinating insight into how we can sometimes totally misjudge our relationships in school. As some of the students were in her form, and many attended extra curricular clubs, she felt there were lots of positive relationships. However using the proximity framework, there was a correlating pattern, but the gap between the two perceptions was significant. When discussing the relationships with the students, they were very divided on their view of the teacher. In fact, she had misjudged the relationships overall, because of the relationships with some of the students in the group. 
  • I think this is a quite common mistake. Our view of particular teaching groups can often be swayed by one or two challenging students, or a small core group of excellent students. The effects of this, on a potentially significant number within the group, can be disaffected by the teacher and the lesson.
  • The male science teacher modeled really positive relationships with his class; it was clear he was very popular with his students. When questioning his students, it was at first hard to get beyond 'he's funny'. However Rob later looked at the attainment data from his classes and there was direct correlation between the positive relationships and over achievement - simply put, better relationships lead to better outcomes.
  • This is clearly something we could have guessed, but the data seemed to suggest that this link was measurable and significant. It would be hard for teachers to replicate the teaching style of the lesson, there was a lot of 'personality' in it. Yet, it is a clear reminder of how vital relationships are. Perhaps even more so for students with low aspirations or who are deemed less able.

Rob pointed out that relationships in school need not be different from relationships in the wider world, and particularly the family. For example, who has a competition for ‘most motivated member of the family’? Or reads motivational quotes over breakfast in the kitchen? Do we therefore need these in school?

It was also pointed out that students discuss teachers a lot. They frequently try to identify what makes a good teacher and what makes a bad teacher. Treating people fairly comes up a lot.

Where do we go next? This is the really tough question for Rob and his team. They will now continue to build data to back up the value of relationships and it seems they are willing to work with schools to help them improve this. Their over arching view seems to be that we live in a fragmented society, but with more cohesive schools, we will end up with a more cohesive and stronger society. This is better for everyone.

Post-Film Social & Conclusions

As always, some the best discussions happen with a glass of wine towards the end of the evening. I was discussing and reflecting on my own position:
  • As Head of Year, I frequently find myself in the role of 'bridge builder' (see blog <here> ). I am now far better at helping staff restore relationships for themselves. If I intervene, the common result is my relationship with the student improving - even if I have simply backed up a colleague, told them off and put them in detention. Rob recalled a teacher featured in the film discuss how as HoY and having certain characters frequently in detention, strong relationships were developed. The time spent, and conversations had, even if largely about the behaviour incidents, helped form strong relationships. It's also why I now spend a lot of time, 'just checking in' with certain characters in my Y11 cohort. When they do break the rules, it can be easier to remedy.
  • A few people commented on how it was very refrshing that there was no mention of Progress 8 or OFSTED. However some did ask, should Lucy Powell be sent a copy? Would, could, should this be a key part of a Labour education policy?
I came away with a copy of the film and book, but there was a personal 'where next?' too. Could I recommend for whole staff CPD? I fear there would be a significant number who would dismiss the film as too obvious and a waste of time in a school like ours where many relationships are good. Could we overcome this to focus on what I feel are the existing key findings from this study? Could we help staff to improve relationships? Should this be part of the new staff induction? For trainees?

I look forward to reading the book as well as keeping up with the developments of the project. Thank you Rob and team for a great evening.

Buy the book and film <here>
Read more <here>

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