Students and staff are here to work together. Resonant learning relationships will involve both. Let us not put their “experiences” in different silos.
Resonant learning experiences involve both students and teachers as well as the objects of their enquiry, which, as we begin to make sense of them, begin to speak to us. Where teaching and learning creates a buzz, each individual’s experiences will differ, but excitement will spread. Let’s take a moment to explore mutuality and what it does to us as we learn.
“A great danger even innovative theories of education is that they think of the world around us as essentially finished. There may be problems, but these are basically holes that can be filled. Teachers are also finished, and they guide students to those holes and show them how to plug them. Students need to be given the tools to do this, and shown how to use them,” explains Jens Beljan, one of the leading theorists of Resonance Pedagogy. “What this ignores is that the world only comes to light through the very process of exploration. The way we ask questions about it makes it appears in different ways. We are co-creators of the world at every point of our shared intellectual journey, and in this process, we are expressing ourselves, and in the process of expressing ourselves, we are changing.”
That’s a lot to take it, so let me try and disentangle Beljan’s claim. His main point seems to be that our search for answers and for meaning needs to be visible to us as our search, a process that is shaped by who we are. I am naturally skeptical of notions of “authenticity,” because they tend to assume that there is some “true self” that is known to me and unchanging. But that doesn’t seem to be what Beljan is saying. Our particular search for answers – in teaching, in the classroom, in our own disciplinary context – is also a way for us to express ourselves. In the social and cultural world that is our classroom, our expressions of self will be tentative, emerging, responsive, and they will immediately have an impact back on who we “are.” By offering ourselves up as someone hoping for meaning, we are showing ourselves as people that others can relate to. Did I get this right?
“You’re on the right track, yes,” says Beljan, to my great relief. “It’s a big deal, isn’t it. Many people out there are repressive, or aggressive, or auto-aggressive – that’s their way of expressing themselves, and it’s not a healthy one. We need to be aware of ourselves as expressive, responsive and ‘unfinished’ beings, otherwise we’ll not be able to enter into resonant learning relationships.” Beljan adds that a further restriction to our personal and interpersonal development is “reductive” behaviours, where we only express what we feel is compliant with objective external standards. These, however, do not care about us or even oppress us. All in all, this sounds like an entrenched trend that is hostile to the emergence of resonant relationships.
One other thing I am suspicious of, besides essentialising notions of authenticity, is anthropological generalisations. Is what Beljan saying really true for all of us? Some of us are shy, introverts.
“This is not about being on stage or putting on some kind of glamorous show,” adds Martin Auferbauer, a sociologist and teacher trainer at the University College of Teacher Education in Graz. “I would go so far as to say that everybody wants to be seen though, to be respected and acknowledged as a human being. We don’t want to impose, and we don’t want others to push all our buttons, but that’s not what it’s about.” The educational version of human dignity, then? Perhaps. But this is all getting a bit highfalutin for me. Let’s go back to planet Earth and ask these two fine gentlemen what their ideas mean for our practice. They are both teachers themselves after all, so they must surely know.
“My main conclusion would be that what I’ve said is true for both students and staff,” says Beljan, “and so we should always consider them both, in equal measure, when we make decisions that will ultimately affect the world they share.” In other words, have someone in senior management responsible for the “student and staff experience”? To be discussed. (With you?)
Martin Auferbauer’s recommendation is more specific, perhaps: “Give your teaching staff enough space to talk about their teaching experience. Teaching is demanding, and we need time to process. This is best done together. The term I like to use is professional quality of life, and this is a big part of it.”
Thank you both – lots to think about. Where do we go from here?