The Power of Three
Way back in the 15th century, the aristocratic Italian Borromeo families created a coat of arms. Their coat of arms bears three interconnected rings to show the indissoluble friendship and unity. The removal of one link would break the balance and harmonious relationship. I only know this because I was trying to persuade my husband to visit this stunning island, but it wasn’t all bad, as we agreed on Paris. It is interesting to note that this symbolic representation and cohesion is also found in early Buddhism and Viking cultures.
I recently presented at the Florida Reading conference in Tampa, FL. on Global Awareness through Picture Books. A keynote speaker was Dr. Doug Fisher, a Professor at San Diego State University, whom I’ve seen speak numerous times, and he is always inspiring, ardent, and knowledgeable. Another keynote was Pam Allyn, who is also an advocate of literacy for all children, and founder of LitLife and LitWorld. This was the first time I’ve seen her speak, although I follow Litlife on FB, and she was engaging, passionate and funny. Both were enlivening and empowering in their work with children and adolescents in our schools.
On separate days, both literacy advocates spoke about three overarching points to consider in the teaching of literacy for purposeful and intentional change. Doug spoke about the teacher, student, and content, while Pam spoke about literacy skills, social emotional development, and engagement.
Upon reflection of the conference and especially these two speakers, I thought about the intersection of their core ideas, and how they these overlap with my beliefs of relational pedagogy. There is the student-teacher relationship, teachers’ relationship to the content, the students’ relationship to the content.
Teachers can nurture the relationships with students by listening, observing and responding in respectful and caring ways to ensure high levels of learning. Additionally, it’s imperative they nurture student to student relationships. Teachers can reflect on their relationship with content by thinking about their biases toward, and level of knowledge of the content.
These three interconnected rings mentioned above are also now known as the Borromean rings in mathematics. The removal of any one of the rings loses the strength, and therefore a loss of unity and effectiveness. All three rings are stronger together and dependent on one another. The sum of the parts in unison are very powerful.
So using the principal of the Borromean Rings to group both speakers ideas into one, in my opinion, unifies each of their three ideas and message, and are intrinsically and powerfully interconnected. For me, what unifies and is the foundation of these ideas are the relationships, relational pedagogy
What is Relational Pedagogy? According to Gold (2005), “It is a co-creative process, ‘organic’ in the sense that relational pedagogy is responsive to the needs, passions, and interests of learners.” (as cited in Papatheodorou (2009, p. 4). It is a responsive, and synergetic process. The relationship is a constant and consistent connection, and always developing.
Schools and teachers must focus on building relationships with children through care and trust, and teachers must have not only an awareness of the child’s circumstance, but a lens to ensure that children, are as happy as can be at school, feeling they are safe and cared for, especially if upheaval or chaos are in their lives.
Our relationships with children can either hinder or enhance their lives, but we must provide a calm and supportive atmosphere for students’ growth and responsibility. As teacher, when we understand the needs and the capacity of our students, we therefore plan and guide interactions and instruction in safe environments where students are meeting relevant and challenging content, and developing as learners.
By building a nourishing and responsive culture built on authentic relationships with students, we can support them when they are confronted with conflicting influences that often impact their academic lives. It is the caring and trusting and relationships that unify and form a harmonious link for the interconnecting rings to sustain development, and thrive.
If you are interested in learning more about Relational Pedagogy here are a two resources:
Patheodorou, T. & Moyles, J. (Eds.). (2009). Learning Together In The Early Years: exploring relational pedagogy. London, UK: Routledge.
Noddings, N. (2003). Caring: a feminine approach to ethics and moral development (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA; University of California Press.