Teaching/Learning Relational Dynamic

Teaching/Learning Relational Dynamic

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5649-8.ch004
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Abstract

The authors contend that relationships are the basis for the teacher transformation that can occur in antiracist teacher professional development. Because self-understandings are developed contextually in relationship with others, sensitive instructor attention created the trust that was essential for teachers to critically examine long held assumptions about race, themselves, and their students. Furthermore, instructors designed the program to build trust among the teachers as teachers additionally learned through interactions with each other. Intentional community building also developed the community of practice that allowed for teachers' gradual participation in the critical work of antiracist education both in the program and in their own classrooms.
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I think the strength of the program, [was] hearing from people who were not in my school division, who grew up and were educated in different contexts, coming together under the common umbrella of the [master’s degree] program. Because we are all there for different reasons, how we each interpreted and interacted in that avenue, and getting those different perspectives, was really eye-opening. It really gave me a greater sense of the commonalities of the struggle, and the differences of the struggle, that we were all trying to address. --Alumni interview

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Introduction

They learned through their own self-reflection. They learned in dialogue with each other. They learned from the stories and writings of others, and, although they learned from us, we mostly acted as midwives guiding them to the next stage of their social development as P -12 educators. The relationships we shared with our teachers, and they with each other, were fundamental in the transformations that we endeavored to bring to life.

Although all teaching and learning is enhanced by the development of positive teacher-student relationships, transformative teaching and learning are dependent upon them. This is because transformation is radically more complex than the simple transmission of information. It is not the accumulation of facts but a change in perspective and behavior.

Philosopher Paul Holmer (1978), distinguished between knowledge “about” and knowledge “of.” He lectured on esteemed experts who knew everything there was to know “about” love, i.e., how heart rates change when seeing a beloved, how love may wax and wane, how love can be categorized as romantic, platonic, etc. They may even know all there is to know about great lovers and love poetry. But, alas, these experts did not know how to love, how to feel love or how to give love. They had no knowledge “of” love. This is not to imply that knowledge “of” is a simple matter of application. Instead, knowledge “of” a subject means that it becomes part of who one is; it becomes part of one's psyche and one's way of being.

The goal of our professional development program was not only to make our teachers knowledgeable “about” racism and inequity, but to impart knowledge “of” racism and inequity (particularly for the predominantly white teachers), such that their stance toward these issues was constitutive to who they would become and informative to how they would relate to others. It would change the way they understood themselves and others. Additionally, these changed beliefs and perspectives would result in new behaviors and stances toward the world.

Mezirow (1990) contends that such transformation is a result of critical self-reflection in which one critiques the assumptions that underlie belief and behavior. Critically examining these assumptions can lead to transforming one's perspective and way of being. The apex of adult development for Merizow is to be able to engage in such reflection, and then change one's perspective to see and accept differences, be more inclusive and accepting of others' perspectives, and be able to hold all of these differing views together in an integrated understanding of oneself and of one's relationship to others.

Mezirow (1990) cautions, however, that such critical self-reflection can be threatening to one's sense of identity. Identity is not a static, genetically determined construct. Instead, identity is developed in relationship to others and is constantly being renegotiated as individuals interact with their physical and social environments (Siegel, 2012). When an experience or new idea is too different from, or contrary to, fundamental self-beliefs, one's sense of self is challenged. To avoid the existential discomfort such new knowledge can elicit, people tend to ignore, deny, or manipulate the alternate view in such a way that it preserves current self-understandings. They organize their thinking and perception in a way that preserves their current sense of self, therefore relieving cognitive dissonance.

This is where the importance of relationships and the communities they constituted came into play. For our program learning was self-creation, co-creation, and transformation. It was knowledge “of”, not simply knowledge “about.”

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