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Pedagogical Relational Teachership, (PeRT) - an approach to develop relational proficiencies

Conference paper
Authors Ann-Louise Ljungblad
Published in Paper presented at ECER 2019, the European Conference on Educational Research in Hamburg. Konferensbidrag, referentgranskad.
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Education and Special Education
Language en
Keywords Relational teachership, inclusive education, participation, sustainable relationships
Subject categories Educational Sciences, Pedagogy


In a globalized, changing world the educational system needs to face conditions of uncertainty. One of the most prominent challenges for teachers is to enable student participation in relational teaching situations with their rapidly changing natures. Since the turn of the millennium, there has been an increased focus on teachers’ relational proficiencies, which concerns how a teacher enters into social relationships with respect for the individual student. International research reviews (Hattie, 2009) show that trustful teacher-student relationships are important for laying the foundation for students’ growth; despite this knowledge, there are few empirical studies which deepen the relational part of the teaching profession. At the same time as research reveals how teachers’ relational proficiencies are crucial for educational success, research also clarifies that the relational part of teaching can be learned and developed through continual daily interaction with students (Frelin, 2010; Ljungblad, 2016). Within the field of inclusive education, this paper presents a new theoretical multi-relational perspective, Pedagogical Relational Teachership (PeRT) (Ljungblad, 2019), that can support the development of new knowledge about teachers’ relational proficiencies and how they can be established in school practice to develop trustful and respectful interpersonal relationships. Relational pedagogy (Bingham & Sidorkin, 2010; Aspelin, 2017) is an approach where teaching is to be understood relationally. Within this diverse source of research, PeRT is a relational perspective on teaching and education that has emerged as a new branch that can enrich and expand our understanding of relational processes and educational relationships. The construction, mediation, and development of knowledge within PeRT stems from a relational teaching perspective grounded in intersubjective traditions of philosophy. The concept relational teachership is an umbrella term for this theoretical perspective highlighting how teachers relate to their students in ways that create relational values like respect and trust. However, the field of relational pedagogy is small and largely unexplored, and needs a more precise theoretical starting point (Aspelin, 2017); thus, PeRT was created to inspire and support the development of teachers’ relational proficiencies in modern education. From a pedagogical perspective, PeRT uses a three-dimensional model highlighting interpersonal relationships at micro, meso, and macro levels within the educational system. Through a relational-oriented approach, the spotlight is directed towards students’ participation in their education. The first dimension of the model is based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (United Nations, 1989) and the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994). The second dimension includes a model which highlights different aspects of relational teachership as well as the relationship between teachers and student. This part of the model is inspired by Bronfenbrenner´s (1979) ecological theory, which focuses on children’s growth in different environments. Bronfenbrenner describes his model as bioecological, which takes the child’s biological and psychological conditions into account. This differs from PeRT’s relational model, which highlights interpersonal relational processes within the educational system. The third dimension of the model presents a tool for relational and didactic aspects in teaching. Hence, in order to create an extended relational understanding of situated teaching, the didactic triangle is expanded by four relational questions of why, where, when and how, and forms the shape of a star. These relational questions highlight different aspects of the emergence of the student’s self (Biesta, 2007; Säfström, 2005) and problematise the conditions for how unique children can speak with their own voices. The Relational and Didactic Star has the potential to enlighten both relational values and didactic aspects of education in an enhanced relational understanding of different educational environments. To conclude, PeRT´s relational multi-dimensional model highlights the centrality of relationships at all levels in the education system. Method PeRT is founded on empirical classroom research exploring teacher-student relationships in today’s schools. In a micro-ethnographic study, Tact and Stance – A Relational Study About the Incalculable in Mathematics Teaching (Ljungblad, 2016), the spotlight was directed towards how teachers relate to students when they teach. The point of departure was the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (United Nations, 1989) and the right of children to participate in democratic educational relationships, in the sense that unique children are given the opportunity to speak with their own voices. The selection of four participating teachers was considered positive based on former students describing how these teachers meet students in a secure way that is conducive to development. Consequently, from a child’s perspective, there was something meaningful to explore in these educational environments. In the study, 100 children from compulsory schools, upper secondary schools and schools for children with learning disabilities participated. Among the participants there was a wide range of variations of physical and intellectual functionality: different learning difficulties, different diagnoses, visual impairments, as well as students with intellectual challenges and communication difficulties. Inspired by Biesta’s (2001, 2007) the incalculable as an alternative approach in the field of inclusion, the study empirically explored teaching, particularly its most complex dilemma situations. In the microanalysis, teachers’ pedagogical adaptability was captured in a movement, a gesture, a glance and a tone of voice, and this acknowledgement was understood in terms of pedagogical tact (Løvlie 2007). The findings show a similar pattern in how the four teachers related to their students, which is described as pedagogical tact and stance. The findings gave insight into how the teachers’ pedagogical tactfulness created space for the students’ unique voices to emerge. The main results show how the participating teachers created and maintained trustful and respectful teacher-student relationships. The concept of relational teachership, which originated from the pedagogical tact and stance of teachers, is introduced to emphasise the importance of relational proficiencies in education. In accordance with the empirical results verifying that successful relational teachership already exists in some educational environments, and based on the model for how the study empirically operationalised a relational perspective on teaching, a new multi-relational theoretical perspective, PeRT (Ljungblad, 2018, 2019), was created to support teachers’ relational proficiencies that nurture children´s being and becoming. Conclusion Modern education must address issues of diversity (United Nations, 1989; UNESCO, 1994). Given human diversity, all children have an equal right to participate in education of high quality, where they can speak with their unique voices and listen to the voices of others. In the field of inclusive education, PeRT can highlight relational challenges in today’s schools by focusing on interpersonal relationships and relational values. It is a radical alternative that explores teaching conditions to enable subjectification (Biesta, 2007), so that students can emerge as unique subjects. Children have a fundamental right to education and to participate in democratic educational relationships, democratic in the sense of emerging as a unique person (Ljungblad, 2016). Such a sustainable relationship allows a child to become somebody, because without a sense of self, a child is voiceless. PeRT is a relational approach to education that emphasizes respect for each unique child, and the child’s right to take part in education that enables their potential. This highlights an essential shift from child policy to child rights policy. Today, there is a need for new research, as well as theories and models that can contribute to the implementation and the realization of the CRC (United Nations, 1989). PeRT’s (Ljungblad, 2018, 2019) model can be used in teacher education as well as research within pedagogical, didactical and special educational studies. PeRT can also support schools and teachers in their quest to develop trustful and respectful teacher-student relationships and create new possibilities for socially vulnerable students. In conclusion, PeRT is an invitation to scholars and practitioners to use the multi-relational model as creative inspiration for seeking new knowledge and understanding about students participation in democratic educational relationships. Such cooperative relational work is an endeavour about how democracy is taking place. Nothing is more important to our mutual future.

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