Interactive 7.1 David Foster Wallace: This is Water
Caring for each other
The nature of schools is that they are inherently relational. As a teacher, you will function because you are inextricably linked to your students. Rarely, if at all, do teachers act in isolation.
Working on learning in the classroom involves concerted action by at least two people, the teacher and a student. Although student learning can be accomplished without actions taken by teachers, simply by a relationship between the student and that which is to be learned, the work we attend to here—teaching in school— necessarily involves intellectual and social collaboration. (Lampert, 2010, p, 22)
Gregory Cajete asks educators to consider how do we learn to get along? We extend his question to our practice of TI, wondering: as teachers, what is the nature of the intellectual and social collaborations in which we engage? What interactive tone do we set in our teaching? How might we include or avoid emotional and spiritual connectivity? What power issues, seen or unseen, might be at play in our classroom? How do we listen to our students? How do we develop learning communities that thrive and sustain?
Engaging meaningfully within community is a key aspect to the TI process. This includes relationships with students, colleagues, mentors, the environment, and our relationship with self in order to keep TI in motion and open up to new ideas. In order to engage meaningfully in community, we must develop our sense of relationality, engage in careful and generous listening, and interact with each other in a spirit of accountability. This applies to our relationships with students and also to our relationships with other people, animals, and all things.
While Chapter Six spoke of interbeing, here we will spend time understanding relationality. These concepts are clearly related (no pun intended!). In the context of TI, interbeing is used to describe connectivity on a personal, soul or even cellular level. Relationality has its roots in interbeing and moves us out towards relationships with other sentient beings. The words are in many ways interchangeable; when questions of interbeing are followed carefully, one eventually will arrive at relatedness, and vice versa! We enter relationality with an attitude of mindfulness. Through this lens, we are able to see subtle nuances of relationships that might have gone unnoticed without such careful attention.
Relationality, the state or condition of being relational, is often used in reference to how people and/or things connect. In TI the concept of relationality is founded on the notion that we do not simply have relationships with each other or are related to each other. Instead, the focus is on understanding that it is the relationships themselves that actually make us who we are. We use the term in alignment with Shawn Wilson (2008), who writes, "rather than viewing ourselves as being in relationship with other people or things, we are the relationships that we hold and are a part of" (p. 80). In this sense, relationality is not simply being aware of how we might connect to each other in an A+B=C type of equation. Rather, our view expands to include a more layered, web-like understanding of relations, where we attend carefully to respecting and use our relationships to build new and stronger ones together.
TI is based in a view of relationality that resonates with an indigenous educational paradigm (Archibald, 2008; Cajete, 1994; Ermine, 1995; Fixico, 2003; Hampton, 1995). From an indigenous pedagogy based in the belief that we are all related, relationality is central to our education systems and to being better teachers. When we are aware of this deep relatedness, a positivist approach that isolates knowledge as discrete facts becomes troublesome. As Wilson writes, in an indigenous paradigm, “the concepts or ideas are not as important as the relationships that went into forming them” (p. 74). When we are trained to look only at the bits, we lose sight of not only the whole picture or our wholeness, but also of the interrelatedness, the movement between, and the vibrancy of who we really are.
Hanging out in unbounded questions can open us to think beyond our own sense of self and worldview. The following video (Interactive 7.1) was created based on a commencement speech delivered by writer David Foster Wallace to Kenyon College class of 2005. He describes how we consciously choose what we think about others. He also discusses the importance of developing empathy for others who are different than ourselves. In TI, we sometimes try to leave aside our view of the world for a while asking: What might be true of another?