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Relational Path to Regenerative Education

The landscapes of knowledge and learning have shifted hugely in recent years, with the development of technology, digital media, and more importantly, the enlivened human consciousness of our connections with each other, and our relations with the planet. Yet, practices of public education largely remain fixed to a model of a century’s duration, unresponsive to the emerging conditions and perilous in terms of preparation for the future. If regenerative practices in education are imperative, what is the most promising direction for transformation?

As we have been deeply immersed in the exploration of regenerative education, we were invited to Humanity Rising Global Solutions Summit on 14th June to discuss the conceptual foundation for educational transformation, and how relational practices such as deep listening and dialogue might contribute to systemic change. Through this dialogue, we illustrated the potentials of a relational vision for regenerative education. Favoured by this vision is the thriving of innovation, co-inquiry, inclusion and collaboration for the global good.

Virtual Conference: Education as Relating

Education as Relating: A Global Online Conference on 4-6 November 2021

The world is ready … the future is at hand … for replacing assembly-line classrooms with the vitalising powers of relating. The directions are clear: from standardisation to dialogue,  from control to co-creation, from regimentation to collaboration. Here lie the wellsprings of creativity, caring, and curiosity.  As we prepare for a global future in which inclusion, innovation, and improvisation are essential for a world in harmony, come and join in this virtual conference designed for sharing and exploring practices, experiences, and inspirations in all aspects of education – within classrooms, communities, and outward to the globe. Let’s shape the future of education together.

Education as Relating – A Global Online Conference
4-6 November 20219:00 am – 1:00 pm US ESTNew York time

See Call for Proposal HERE

Register at the event HERE

Learning to be fully human only happens relationally. (by Scherto Gill)

Spirituality has been a very fluid notion. There are multiple, shifting, open, and contested definitions of the term. Take two contrasting definitions as an illustration: the first is from a non-religious perspective, and the second is a religious approach. From a non-religious perspective, spirituality is concerned with the awareness a person has of those elements in existence and experience which may be characterised as inner feelings and beliefs. By contrast, from within a religious or faith tradition, spirituality is concerned with everything in human knowledge or experience that is connected with or derives from a sense of God or of gods. The non-religious definition is too broad, which makes spirituality roughly equivalent to anything important for the moral and value characteristics of a person’s life. This would mean that any view about the meaning of life and about the nature of morality would be regarded as spiritual. In comparison, the religious definition appears to be too narrow as it rules out any conception of spirituality that is not theistic. There are many variations in the ways we understand the spiritual in between these two conceptions, but none alone is sufficient to address the depths of human spirituality.

At the same time, there has been a shared recognition that spirituality constitutes the dimension of human experience through which we are connected to something that is beyond ourselves, for some, it is God, or the gods, for others, it is the divine, sacred. Here we simply use the term the transcendent to capture the spiritual. In this light, we may argue that spirituality signifies a special kind of connection with the transcendent. We stress the word ‘special’ here because not all connections need to be characterised as spiritual, an example of which is some ritualisitic connections that are more likely to be cultural rather than spiritual. To distinguish, the spiritual is best conceived as a particular kind of connection that makes the transcendent a part of human life in an especially intimate way. For example, if that connection became part of one’s self-identity, then this would count as spiritual. If the nature of one’s consciousness were altered through contact with the transcendent, then this would be characterised as a spiritual connection. If the way that one loves and cares for one’s self and other people were transformed by such a connection, then it would be considered a spiritual connection. If it were to change fundamentally how one does one’s work, and serves the community, then this would also be described as a spiritual connection.

Understanding spirituality in this way, we can see that it is through spirituality that we not only connect to the transcendent, we are also connected more deeply to ourselves, to each other, to all living beings in nature, and to the universe. In living out these connections, each person can become more acutely and self-consciously aware of one’s self as an ‘I’, or a ‘soul’. Equally, in appreciating, taking delight in, and valuing our spiritual essence, the wonder and mystery of life, we can express and experience love, joy, goodness, and peace in the world. Thus spirituality is an indispensable aspect of human becoming, an aim of education that has been highlighted by the Brazilian educationist, Paulo Freire, in his book entitled Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

For education to enable us to become more fully human, as conceived by Freire, it can only happen relationally. This can mean a number of things:

First, learning must be a relational phenomenon where students and teachers collaborate in dialogue and co-inquiry, including exploring what it means to be and become more fully human together. As this is a relational phenomenon (in Freire’s words, our ontological vocation), it is underpinned by values such as curiosity, mutual concern, love, caring, and empathy. These values can only be lived in a relationally generative environment which in turn enriches the relational processes at the core of such learning.

Second, to align the aim of education with nurturing students to become more fully human affirms humans as spiritual beings by rejecting the objectification of human beings as ‘things’ to be known and acted upon, such as being moulded, tested, and measured. This means to evaluate learning, it can only be done in a congenial way, not testing, or grading. Relational evaluation of education is one way to acknowledge students’ spirituality, and to support their holistic human development.

Third, for education to enable students (and teachers) to become more fully human, schools and other educational establishments are to be constructed as learning communities. Freire proposes that this require a consciousness through which students can become agents of curiosity, investigators, subjects in an ongoing relational process of quest for the revelation of the reality. A learning community is a place where relationships are not defined by the roles people play, or positions they occupy, instead, the relational flow throughout learning is characterised by co-intention to learn, co-investigation to self-transcend, co-creation of knowledge, and co-action for social transformation.

Aims of Education and Conditions to Achieve them (by Scherto Gill)

Education contains the seed for both continuation and transformation. The tensions between these have varied extensively over time and across cultures. Ideally, education would sustain core human values which are often embedded in our traditions, including faiths and religions, and our ways of beings; equally, education can transcend the limitations in our personal and political lives, inspire our creativities, empower the young, and contribute to fairer and more just societies. For education to enable greater transformation, it must start with a renewed conception of aims of education, which is connected to our understanding of learning, and the practices of teaching, and the design of the spaces and processes within which learning takes place, and students flourish. So how we determine the aims of education is a key to the entire educational enterprise.

There are three most fundamental ends of education, which I summarise as A-B-C.

A stands for Awareness. Education should be aimed at cultivating an awareness of ourselves as spiritual beings whose worth are not dependent on who we are, where we come from, nor what we are. In other words, it is an awareness of our humanity beyond localised contingencies. This is the basis of our shared dignity. When this awareness of the spiritual ‘I’ is primary over and above our other identities defined by ethnicity, gender, religion, class, place and culture of origin, language, sexuality, and ability, we can feel peacefully and profoundly connected with one other. Faith communities have long contributed to this aim of education. For instance, According to Pope Benedict Sixteenth, “Without the acknowledgement of his spiritual being, without openness to the transcendent, the human person withdraws within himself, fails to find answers to the heart’s deepest questions about life’s meaning, fails to appropriate lasting ethical values and principles, and fails even to experience authentic freedom and to build a just society.’

B stands for Becoming. Brazilian education philosopher Paulo Freire had eloquently argued that for education to contribute to a cohesive and harmonious world, it ought to aim to support us to become more fully human, understood in terms of our holistic well-being and flourishing. Education can truly nurture those human qualities and the more it is attuned to students’ personal and collective well-being, the more education is inclusive and the more it supports cohesive, and just societies.

C stands for community. As OECD director Andreas Schleicher once highlighted, education is not transactional phenomenon, but rather it is a relational phenomenon. Thus the purpose of education includes enriching the relational process at its core. This means fostering learning community where children, young people, teachers, administrators, parents, caregivers, and others are equal participants, contributors, and partners of learning. A learning community is permeated by a culture of care, mutual concern, respect and solidarity. Such a culture expresses itself as openness, empathy, joyfulness, and friendships across difference. Schools cannot institutions, schools are spaces for communing, a faith-inspired word.

These three aims of education give rise to UNESCO’s four pillars of learningLearning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together.

Learning to know/to do suggests that knowledge and skills are included as contents of learning, but they are not ends in themselves, and instead, they are meaningful as part of human qualities, and our well-being.  Learning to be and to become more fully human can empower young people to serve as agents of social transformation whose experiences in schools would pave the way for them to grow into strong advocates of ethical lives in the communities. This is connected to learning to live together in harmony, including helping the disadvantaged, , supporting those at the margin.

For education to promote values, diversity, inclusion, democracy, participatory governance, situated values-systems, emancipation, and social justice, there are a number of conditions and approaches to strengthening and improving transformative role of education. I highlight three here:

First, governments and leaders must be partners and collaborators of education (rather than dictators projecting social control over educators, students and parents). There will not only be resources and dedicated support to educative endeavours and holistic well-being in education, there will also be continued processes in place so that education is a joint-venture co-created between governments, leaders, educators, and members of the communities, through ongoing structural design, as well as economic socio-political, and cultural negotiations.  

Second, for education to be transformative, teachers’ professional development, both pre-service and in-service, must be continuously supported and nurtured. In the light of the ABC aims, teachers’ professional learning must go beyond teaching subject knowledge, and imparting skills, but include developing practice and proficiency in the following: enabling dialogue and collaboration, modelling deep listening, encouraging diverse narrative sharing, and fostering critical thinking. In other words it involves helping teachers to shift from knowledge transmitter and skill instructor, to initiators, facilitators and partners of learning.

Third, relational processes must be placed at the core of education, pointing out that learning can be a joint co-inquiry and collaborative meaning-making. Schools will thus be developed as safe and courageous spaces for learning and exploring, and thriving cultures of co-inquiry. To do so, we must listen to our children and young people, nurture their voices, support them to be reflective researchers, and later the co-authors of our collective future. By tapping into the resources of the community, and by participating in the lived realities within the community, students not only augment their well-being, but further learn about the meaning and relevance of their learning to world of work, and to transforming their lived realities. Thus they bridge the arbitrary division between education, life in the world and social transformation.

Ultimately, when education is directed at the aims discussed here, it can truly contribute to a culture of inclusion, equity, and collaboration, as well as enable children and young people to be actors in our collective future-making.

Dialogue with the Authors

Date: October 27, 2020
Time: 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm New York Time


Read an introduction to the webinar event : HERE

Read the Reviews and Endorsement on the Publisher’s website: Beyond the Tyranny of Testing: Relational Evaluation in Education

written by Kenneth J. Gergen and Scherto R. Gill Published by: Oxford University Press

Save 30% with promo code ASPROMP8

“full of exciting ideas that have the potential to transform education.” –— Tony Wagner, best-selling author

“A most timely and welcome volume.” — Prof Sharon Todd, Maynooth University

“An important, well-written, and much-needed book.” — Prof Peter Dahler-Larsen, University of Copenhagen

“A splendid book.” — Prof Edmund Gordon, Teachers College, Columbia University

“Standardisation broke education.” Relational evaluation will fix it

Standardisation is the culprit of our education’s brokenness. This well-known diagnosis of our educational system came from Sir Ken Robinson who passed away in August 2020. He inspired educators from around the globe with his TED Talk that examined why our current approaches to education and schooling inhibit children’s creativity. He suggested that current education, due to its being standardisation-based and exams-focused, tend to breed competitiveness, and champion individual ‘success’. Hence there is no space for exploration nor imagination.

In our book Beyond the Tyranny of Testing, we point out that the culture of testing and grading is tyranny because it enslaves educators and learners in the production of scores. The system deliberately chains all stakeholders to the cycle of dehumanisation to a breaking point where at the present moment, students and educators’ ill-being becomes a hidden pandemic alongside Covid-19.

Agreeing with Sir Ken Robinson, we propose that the only way to ‘cure’ this educational plague is by reconceptualising evaluation from a relational perspective. As we argue, it is within relational process that learning can be meaningful, and each of us become who we are. When we place the relational at the heart of teaching and learning and all other relevant experiences, education can be truly transformative. Where schools encourage the relational flow, there will be endless dialogue, myriad forms of collaboration, appreciative listening, mutual recognition of our humanness, and precious friendship over and above our identity labels, and designated roles.

When the relational orientation underpins education evaluation, it not only serves to enhance the depths of learning engagement, inspire continued interests in learning, and above all, enrich the relational process itself. As many classroom practices illustrate, relational evaluation is a co-inquiry where learners, educators and others in the community value each other’s presence and the meaningfulness of learning activities.

As Sir Ken Robinson envisaged, this is a truly a great way to fix our education’s brokenness.

Tony Wagner

What is the alternative to high stakes tests and top-down accountability measures that tell us very little about the quality of a student, teacher, or school? Gergen and Gill offer a provocative answer: relational accountability rooted in collaborative inquiry. Beyond the Tyranny of Testing  is full of exciting ideas that have the potential to transform education.

—Tony Wagner, best-selling author of The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators.

Xinping Zhang

The traditional approach to assessment in education relies on three basic mechanisms: the first is its focus on the authority of the assessors, assuming that they who make judgements of others are the wiser, more capable, and superior, while those who are being judged are ignorant, incompetent, and inferior; the second is its emphasis on an objective, scientific approach to evaluating performance, as if the more loyal the evaluation is to measurement-based evidence, the more accurate the conclusion; the third is its focus on the inadequacy of the persons being assessed, pointing out where they are at fault, and showing them their shortcomings. In Beyond the Tyranny of Testing, Gergen and Gill not only challenge all three mechanisms, and critique their dehumanising effects, but more importantly, they propose a relational orientation to evaluation that provides a truly transformative vision of education. By highlighting that education is fundamentally relational, Gergen and Gill convincingly argue that evaluation must accordingly be conceived as a relational process. This leads to their proposing relational evaluation as collaborative meaning-making, valuing, and co-inquiry. As they illustrate, such a relational orientation can profoundly transform classroom practices, teachers’ professional development, and whole school evaluation. Beyond the Tyranny of Testing thus has the potential to revolutionise education, and I am convinced that it is most timely for such a revolution to happen. In particular, this would replace hierarchy with collaboration and dialogue, measurement with the co-creation of meaning, and the deficit view of persons with an appreciation of multiplicity and difference. This book can heal the trauma suffered by learners and educators under the system of traditional assessment, and bring new hope to the world.

— Professor, Xinping Zhang, Dean, Nanjing Normal University, China

Sharon Todd

This is a most welcome and timely volume that succeeds in developing an alternative approach to assessment, one that is not based on narrow definitions of performance, but one that centres on relational qualities of collaboration that lie at the heart of all good education. Gergen and Gill ask essential questions about the real purpose of assessment that fundamentally challenge the climate of managerialism and measurement which currently haunts the global educational landscape. The book does not simply provide a critique, however, but proposes workable changes to assessment in ways that offer a much needed re-humanisation of classrooms and schools. This is a volume written from the heart as well as the mind.

— Sharon Todd, Professor of Education, Maynooth University, Ireland

Edmund W. Gordon

Gergen and Gill have provided us with a radically different way of thinking about education as a whole. Building on the idea that education is ultimately relational process, they redefine what education is , and develop a framework for educational evaluation from a relational perspective, with implications for pedagogical and curriculum transformation. The book offers an alternative to our traditional approach to assessment which views teaching and learning as a process of depositing knowledge and measuring what is retained. Such an alternative is grounded in illustrative and implementable evaluative practice in classrooms, of teachers’ learning, and about the whole school’s processes. A splendid book!

— Edmund W Gordon, Richard March Hoe Professor of Education and Psychology, Emeritus Teachers College, Columbia University; John M Musser Professor of Psychology, Emeritus Yale University