Globally, educators have been exploring alternatives to standardisation and the toxicity of summative assessments, measurement and performance ratings. What we illustrate below are drawn from relational evaluation practices in worldwide schools, and from the ideas pioneered by teachers. Central to a relational orientation is a view of evaluation as co-inquiry. Abandoned are approaches in which one person or one group of persons sits in judgment of voiceless others. Favoured are continuously formative and multi-vocal dialogues and collaboration among relevant stakeholders in an extended learning community.

Three aims of relational evaluation

1. Relational Evaluation enhances the learning process

If learning is the primary focus of education, then forms of evaluation should principally promote and improve the learning process.

2. Relational Evaluation inspires sustained learning engagement

In its emphasis on co-inquiry, dialogue and collaboration, relational evaluation should enable students to realise the significance of their ongoing learning journeys, and sustain their continued participation in learning.

3. Relational Evaluation enriches relational flourishing

When the emphasis is on forms of relating embedded in the evaluative process, evaluation should breathe life into the relational process that is central to learning.

Relational Evaluation in Primary Classrooms

Primary education is a time when relational process is paramount to children’s learning and development. Featured are joyful unstructured time and play; safe, supportive and stimulating environments; open-ended exploration and inquiry; an intimate and warm connection with adults; friendship with peers; and nourishing relationships in families, schools and the community. These provide fertile ground to explore relationally rich evaluative practices in primary classrooms. Examples include learning-review meetings, formative feedback, circle time reflection and deliberation, portfolio work, peer feedback, and project exhibitions. In so doing, relational practices of evaluation are sensitive to children’s diverse needs.

Relational Evaluation in Secondary Classrooms

Secondary education can provide much needed social-emotional nourishment for adolescents by integrating relational evaluation. Relational practices in secondary classrooms can enable formative approaches to evaluation to be personalised, rather than one size fitting all. Significant practices include the Personal Record of School Experience; the I/you/we approach to learning reviews; the Harkness method of dialogue and self-evaluation; learning agreements; and other more traditional practices, such as learning journals, peer evaluation; and portfolio evaluation. Evaluative practices such as these attend to young people’s need for relational support and cultivate their responsibility for learning. Further, they are underpinned by care for students’ wellbeing and respect for their voices, thus inviting students’ participation in determining the direction of their personal development. Neither judgemental nor punitive, relational evaluation in secondary classrooms can enable students to become more open to critical reflection on both their strengths and weaknesses, and actively seek feedback from adults and peers to improve the quality of their learning. They hence hold the potential for stimulating motivation for learning and providing spaces for genuine creativity.

Relational Evaluation of Teaching

Relational approaches to the evaluation of teaching through co-inquiry, reflection and dialogue not only provide feedback on the qualities of teachers’ practice, but also sever to support their continuous learning, professional development and wellbeing. Practices that are particularly relationally enriching are those that tend to involve peer evaluation, team teaching, peer mentoring, collaborative inquiry in partnership with students, and an action-research cycle to improve teaching. Good teaching embraces a community where these multitudes of relationships are played out dynamically and lived out in the classroom and beyond.

Relational Evaluation of Whole Schools

School evaluation, when carried out relationally, can deepen a collective vision for learning and strengthen the community. For external evaluation, instead of being inspected by independent ‘judges’, relational practice involves an ongoing, cyclical process of evaluation and inquiry in collaboration with educational authorities. The evaluative lenses include an emphasis on students’ learning experience and wellbeing, the school’s overall progress, and its actions for innovation and improvement. Most saliently, this evaluative practice integrates the school’s self-review and stresses participatory, dialogic and collaborative processes. It respects the specificities of individual school communities, thus enabling school evaluation to be tailored to the contexts within which the community’s interests and needs arise. In comparison, internal evaluation will be a whole-school inquiry. It invites all stakeholders in the school to participate in a collective reflection on the school’s progress, and envision together how to advance the aims of education and support students’ learning and well-being. Combining questionnaires, interviews and focus-group dialogue, whole-school inquiry can inspire the community’s curiosity about its processes, potentials and needs for change. A sense of collective responsibility is thus invited.

“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 responsibility 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

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