Postgraduate students' reflections on the promotion of relational well-being in South African school communities
Relationships, according to national and international research, play a crucial role in the promotion of holistic well-being in school communities. However, the central role of relationships in school communities is not fully appreciated in the South African context. Concurrently, a gap in research on the promotion of relational well-being in South African school communities exists. The importance of addressing this shortcoming is especially evident when viewing recent research literature and media reports on dysfunctional behaviour in school communities, such as violence, bullying, child abuse, inappropriate sexual behaviour, and alcohol and substance abuse. These dysfunctional behaviours indicate the extent to which relational well-being is currently compromised in South African school communities. This study intends to address the above mentioned gap in knowledge regarding the promotion of relational well-being in school communities. The aim was obtained by involving a group of postgraduate students, enrolled for a Master’s or Doctoral programme with a focus on relational well-being, and who work in school environments in various capacities and contexts. The research was informed by a combination of theoretical lenses that offer a holistic, multi-dimensional, strength-based approach to the understanding of relational well-being, and acknowledge the complexity of relationships. A qualitative phenomenological research design was applied using the World Café method, to facilitate a space within which these students could reflect on the promotion of relational well-being in school communities. A total of 29 participants, selected by means of purposive and convenience sampling, were involved in a World Café event, and twenty of these participants completed an open-ended questionnaire, developed with the aim of crystallising the data obtained from the World Café. Thematic analysis of the data was conducted and four main themes were identified: Firstly, the participants reflected on the complex, integrated nature of the process of promoting relational well-being, from an eco-systemic perspective. Based on this understanding, they viewed members of the school community as inseparably integrated and bi-directionally influencing one another, as also indicated by complex dynamic interactive systems theorists. They also mentioned that certain environmental influences could impair relational well-being. Secondly, they reflected on the promotion of relational well-being as a collaborative and inclusive process that involves all the members of the school community and requires all of them to take responsibility. The teachers’ and school managements’ role as leaders in facilitating the process was specifically highlighted, although the parents/caretakers were also seen as bearing a responsibility in this regard. Therefore, home-school collaboration was emphasised. Thirdly, they reflected on the challenges relating to the promotion of relational well-being in school communities. These challenges encompassed the need to equip and support teachers and parents to be able to promote relational well-being, addressing the imbalanced focus on academics and achievement in schools at the expense of relationships, and the need to promote relational well-being more proactively by addressing the way in which limited time and large class sizes jeopardise relational well-being. Lastly, perceived key elements of inter-relatedness for the promotion of relational well-being in school communities were highlighted. These key elements include respectful engagements, acceptance of one another, positive communication based on trust, a sense of belonging or connectedness, and care and support. In view of the findings of the study, recommendations are made to the Department of Education as well as to school management teams. Finally, recommendations regarding future research are offered.
- Humanities