Resonance Pedagogy

“Finally, a language to talk about what we do”, say resonance pedagogy practitioners

Educators across institutions say it’s reassuring to put your teaching practice into words. What is it about sharing that helps us gain confidence? 

I’ve spoken with teaching staff across a range of institutions in recent months, all of them fans of Resonance Pedagogy, and here’s one thing almost all of them said about their first encounter with this approach: finally, there’s words for what we’re doing already, and a language that helps us get a clearer view of what we want to do. Some of these words are quite simple: Stimme (voice) and Berührung (touch), for example, while others are your typical German language monstrosities: Weltbeziehung, Weltreichweitenvergrößerung, multikonstellatives Affizierungsverhältnis. But they seem to serve a purpose: 

  • Having a word for a vague impression gives us a sense that there’s something there. We’re not making it up. 
  • If there’s a word, someone else has used it already. Any language is shared, and it’s reassuring to know that we are not alone. 
  • Words are empowering too. If we can put something into words, we can approach the world around us with a greater sense of purpose, and our interventions will be more targeted. 

This might sound a little abstract, but bear with me. For me, the language of resonance pedagogy is in itself an experience of resonance. It’s a way for me to feel connected with teachers around the world who share some of my values and aims. 

Is there a downside to it, though? Could it be that all these fancy Resonance Pedagogy terms around “prioritising relationships” and “listening to student experiences” are just glossy new tags for things we’ve known for a long time? After all, Catholic educational traditionsGestalt pedagogy [pdf], Waldorf educationsustainability training and even performativity research can be linked to ideas in Resonance Pedagogy. One of its foundational books itself draws attention to a whole range of comparable approaches. Criticism of alienation goes back a long way, and relational paradigms have been proposed many times in Education. Mutton dressed as lamb, then? 

Parallels with other areas of educational discourse can be reassuring too. They show us that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and there is a lot for sus to build on as we plan our next seminar session or a new unit for next year. 

What makes Resonance Pedagogy stand out for me is that it builds a very big bridge. Its origins are in analyses of social acceleration and the unhappiness it creates (Hartmut Rosa’s first big research question: why do we constantly save time but never have any?), but unlike other sociological theories it doesn’t just criticise but proposes an alternative and translates it into specific, practice-focused ideas. We get a direction of travel, and some sandwiches for journey. 

“There are overlaps, for example also with Universal Design for Learning,” says sustainability researcher Christopher Baird. “What they share is an interest in learner agency and providing students with more autonomy to focus on what matters to them, and what speaks to them. But here’s the crucial difference: Resonance Pedagogy sees the role of education as being the adaptive transformation of learner and world; UDL emphasises the optimisation of the learning process, which risks numbing the resonant qualities of the classroom.” 

Expanding our knowledge of educational reform ideas can massively expand our horizon and inspire exciting ideas, but I draw the line when I see that someone is thinking about a new idea for teaching primarily as a means to an end. Resonance, to me, is about specific situations; I won’t pretend I know the outcome before the process has even unfolded. 

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