Promotes seeing all learning as relational. Focuses on building relationships that support life-long learning. Supports the idea that all learning should be a journey in building relations, establishing connections, and comprehending the interdependencies of our lives. Systematically develops relationships that create a climate of safety, affiliation and belonging. Addresses the development of the whole person – mind, body, spirit. Is personal, practical and playful.

What people remember when learning is their personal experience. Whether it’s the playground, the fifth-grade teacher, the first successfully solved algebra equation, wood shop or the relief of finally getting out of school, learning occurs within the context of relationships and the interconnection (or lack thereof) of the moment.

Current, official learning environments are flawed. Students are increasingly disengaged and disaffected. Teen violence, suicide, drug use and pregnancy rates are high.

General academic performance, teacher morale (and pay) are low. Curricula are seen as lacking or irrelevant.

In an effort to support creative, productive, desired changes in the experience of those in a learning environment, RelationaLearning™ was created. If a person has the skills to navigate the relational elements of the learning experience, he or she can carry those skills from classroom to classroom, to non-traditional learning environments, to work, and to the larger community.

The five critical learning/ educational relationships are:

The learner or leader to self

The learner or leader to content/ subject matter

The learner or leader to instructor/ teacher/ boss

The learner or leader to peers/ other learners/ other leaders

The learner or leader to the wider community/ context/ situation

What is the strategy to make relationships
the context for teaching and learning?

Getting people to recognize the wisdom of their own experience is the basis for building their capacity for inter-relating effectively in learning environments of all kinds. The method for building that capacity is rooted in the relational approach, in the context of the learning moment, in restoring a balance of instructing and educating.

The RelationaLearning™ model outlined below suggests that all learning progresses through four levels of relationship. We are always in a relationship but the quality of that relationship and therefore the quality of learning varies greatly. As we move through each level, we can identify the added power that relationships can bring to our learning.

The best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn. That is the only thing that never fails. That is the only thing which the poor mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.
—T.H. White

Synopsis of the Four Phases

Phase I: Recognition

At the recognition level (the level at which most teaching currently occurs) content is explained through lecture or attained by reading or downloading information from a computer. At this level, the memorization of facts can and often does occur. This information is of little value, however, unless learning is advanced to another level by applying the learning to a project or a problem, refining it through interaction. If not taken to higher relational levels, the learner has simply obtained facts for forgetting.

Phase II: Understanding

At the understanding level, the facts or concepts are tested through application, interaction and interrelationship. Facts are not simply for short-term memorization. They can now be understood as they relate to other facts and concepts as well as other human beings and the world at large. They are now making sense because they seem to be relevant, useful and of potential value to our lives.

Phase III: Valuing

At the valuing level, we begin to incorporate the concepts with our personal, internal value structures. We have begun to discern the overall value of the learning to us personally and have begun to translate that learning outward. We know that we do not live in isolation and we must integrate this learning with our lives and the lives of others. This is the level at which true human potential for RelationaLearning™ begins to emerge. Both students and teachers begin to have a different experience. Both parties are learning. This level represents the beginning of self-governance by the learner. This is the beginning of creativity and authenticity. This is the level at which the learner begins to decide what really matters.

Phase IV: Co-Creating

This level represents a call to the self, to find one’s own place, way and meaning in relating to the world personally and collectively. This is the highest level of learning and truly equates with RelationaLearning™. Unless learning is pursued to this level, it cannot be fully utilized. At this level, learning is shared with others in meaningful, productive ways that enhance the functioning of the learner, others, and the community. The learner is now part of a larger structure of personal freedom characterized by key elements from each phase: awareness, adaptability, interaction and conscious creation.

For more information about RelationaLearning™, see Dr. George Otero and Susan Chambers-Otero’s Position Paper.

Are you ready to put Relationships First?

We’d love to talk to you about RelationaLearning and all our resources.

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The Center for RelationaLeadership™ and RelationaLearning™ offers a big collection of publications, articles and projects.