Relationships at School – a Cornerstone of an Empathetic Society

Relationships at School – a Cornerstone of an Empathetic Society

Kids dancing

The researchers found that having strong social connections was important for both happiness and meaningfulness…

A question was asked in relation to an instagram post by Teal School with regards to Evolutionary Purpose. The question was “What Do We mean by building relationships in schools?” In response to a very important question: This post explains what relationships mean from a Teal School perspective and is co-written by both Teal School founders. The quote above is from the article linked at the end of the blog.

First of all, we humans are social beings, we need each other. We need connection, interaction, love and compassion. And we need not only to get these things, we need to give them. We have a basic social need to be altruistic, since that give us a sense of meaning and purpose. Aristotle wrote that finding happiness is achieved “by loving rather than being loved”, and science has proved him right many times. He also told us that before you can love others you need to love yourself.

One of the most significant relationships we have as humans is the one we have to ourselves. It determines the quality of our relationships with others. People who value and love themselves have a much easier time valuing and loving others. People that are empathetic and understanding towards themselves are empathetic towards others. People who are not governed by fear, but by love and compassion, show more vulnerability and can form closer relationships.

In a classroom, relationships play a significant role. There are many relationships teachers to students, 25 or more. Student to student: 1 student to its 24 or more peers and to their teacher. (So, in a group of 26 in total we have 325 possible relationships). These relationships need to be recognised, and the tools to take care of and develop these relationships should be part of school life. Must be part of school life.

As a teacher, unfortunately you cannot pretend the relationships aren’t there, shh-ing them away or only depend on the right seating arrangement to deal with symptoms of non-functioning relationships. You cannot wish for all parents to be able to, or have the time to, teach their children empathy and give them the right guidance to develop the inner compass of morality. And moreover, you are the one there, in the classroom, with the 325 possible relationships. You need to deal with it – and you need to see it as the best gift you can get, and give! (We know you know this and that it’s hard having time for this in the traditional school system – keep reading, we want to change that!)

This is so important we need to state it again: the relationship we have with ourselves will determine the relationships we create with others. Therefore, when talking about relationships in school, we need to start with creating a safe environment where we as adults “hear, hold and heal” each kid. Show them they are worthy of love just the way they are. That they are valuable just by being the amazing human beings that they are, in happiness, in sadness, in anger and in joy, when making mistakes and in success. No fear and no shame are inflicted, must never be. No punishments or “disciplining”, no blame, no accusations.

Other than what we as adults can show, be and practice in our relationships with the kids we also use tools for developing empathy and compassion. Among those are listening practices, to listen with presence. That includes teaching undivided attention through meditative or mindful practices. Listening inwards to what your body, mind and soul is telling you. And practicing non-violent communication to develop a non-judgmental authentic approach to listening and communicating. Expressing gratitude and giving praise also strengthens relationships and research shows the giver sense more meaning, which in turn gives more happiness and wellbeing. In a Teal school relationships are also strengthened by the fact that diversity is the norm. No one is expected to follow the same learning path, everyone is different.  

Both tools and time are needed for relationships to grow, the one with yourself and the ones with others. At Teal School time will be allocated to social and emotional learning on a daily basis, to work on all these relationships a child experiences during their years of schooling. Nourishing these connections will give more self-love, self-esteem, feeling of meaning and purpose, happiness and it will empower cooperation, develop empathy and problem solving in groups. This also means bullying will be greatly reduced since we work with the root of the problems and not the symptoms.

In our societies the scale is largely tipped towards academic learning, but we need a balance of both. By acknowledging the whole human being Teal School takes a holistic approach to learning. Opportunities to build relationships will be encouraged across ages as it mirrors the real world.

Teal School engages also the wider school communities in relationship building. Learning how to nurture relationships and handle conflicts, both amongst children and adults does not end at the school gates but continues into the communities we exist in.

Our focus on developing self-love, empathy and healthy relationships is important not only for every child we can give this gift, but also for our society now and in the future.  

If you would like to know more about what research say about our need for meaning and purpose we recommend this article: Can Helping Others Help You Find Meaning in Life?

And this is a practice you can use in class to put focus on and talk about our need for connectedness: Reminders of Connectedness

We are happy to discuss this blog on Facebook, in our discussion forum in Slack or if you write a comment here (it won’t show until we approve it, though).

Shabana and Sarah


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