NOURISHING RELATIONSHIPS THAT
Mary Elizabeth Mullino Moore
Recently I was in a group of adults who were asked to reflect on mentors in their lives—mentors outside our families. As we shared with one another, we were struck that everyone in our group had identified teachers. One named a high school coach; another, a junior high math teacher; another, an internship supervisor; another, a doctoral advisor. As each person told his or her story, we discovered that common features were found in those experiences. Our mentors had been people who cared for us, respected and believed in us, encouraged us to give the best of ourselves, listened, and said a wise or challenging word at just the right time. We also realized that many of these people never knew what influence they had on us personally. Such is the nature of educational relationships. They bear common features, but no two are alike. They have potential to connect us with the best of ourselves and with the fullness of the world.
Schools are places where relationships happen quite naturally; in fact, they are unavoidable. These relationships can be powerful shapers of identity and character, and they can also be destructive. When we discuss A Different Three Rs for Education, relationality is the one that will happen whether we intend it or not; yet, attending to relationality can focus its power and contribution to the world’s flourishing. In this chapter, I will focus on five aspects of relationality that emerge from respectful teaching and communal learning: relationships with oneself, with community and culture, with people of difference, with the earth, and with social structures.
The study begins with a word of warning, exploring the risks of relational education through a high school’s rough and tumble story of transformation (told through a movie). The study proceeds with a word of possibility, exploring possibilities of relational education through a case study in graduate education. The chapter then moves to analyze the five features of relational education noted above, drawing upon other case studies in the process. Together, the cases form a collage—a picture of relationality—from which much can be learned regarding relational teaching and learning (see also my essay on “The Relational Power of Education”) (Moore, 2005). Any picture of relationality needs to be grounded in complexities of real life; hence, I have chosen to reflect on narratives and case studies. Any picture needs also to be large, reaching in many directions; hence, I draw upon more than one case. Even so, every picture and every discussion is partial; this one is no exception. The purpose of