Conceptualising a relationship–focused approach to the co–construction of enabling school communities
Kitching, Ansie Elizabeth
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South African schools face many challenges as they are inundated with dysfunctional behaviour. The research on South African schools indicates that behavioural challenges such as disobedience, swearing, truancy violence and bullying are evident in many school contexts. From a reductionist, individualist approach, the focus when addressing these challenges is often on causal factors and dysfunctional individuals rather than on ways in which people relate and interact in schools. It is however evident from a social ecological perspective, that in order to facilitate social change, we need to understand people’s experiences of social interaction in schools as an important context for the enhancement of well-being. The first phase of the PhD project is a base‐line exploration of the learners’, educators’ and parents’ experiences of relating and interacting in school communities. A qualitative phenomenological investigation was applied in combination with a cross‐sectional descriptive survey design. 1170 learners, ages ranging from 11 to 18 years, 150 parents and 85 educators, from 12 South African schools, participated in the research. The participants completed written assignments that were analysed through the application of global analysis followed by thematic analysis. The findings indicated that enabling ways of relating and interacting were patterned by active engagement and acknowledgement of people. Disenabling social interaction was patterned by disengagement and disregard for people. The findings indicated that both enabling and disenabling ways of relating and interacting, play a crucial role in the enhancement of mental well-being in schools, and suggest that schools need to focus more seriously on the ways in which people in schools relate and interact on the everyday micro‐levels of social interaction, as suggested by complexity theory. The second phase of the study comprised a more in‐depth investigation into nurturing and restraining relationships between parents, learners and educators in a school community. A single instrumental case study design was applied to gain an indepth understanding of the complex dynamic interactions between the members of the school community. All the learners and educators in the school were involved during the work sessions. Nominal group technique was applied to obtain information about their perceptions of relationships in the school community. The work sessions were followed by focus group interviews with 18 educators, 40 learners, the management team, six members of the administrative and terrain staff and two parents. A thematic analysis of the data indicated that nurturing relationships could be understood with reference to connectedness: respect, care and transparent communication; whilst restrained relationships could be understood with reference to limited connectedness between people: abuse of power, shifting of responsibility and disrespect for one another. The findings indicated the need for a sensitive, empathic and non‐patronising approach to people in school communities that acknowledge that restrained relationships are inevitably part of the human interaction and understand schools in terms of inter‐subjective recursive processes that pattern the relationships between the members of the school community. In the third phase, the findings of the first two stages of the study were integrated with theoretical perspectives and critical reflections on the findings to conceptualise a relationship‐focused approach to the co‐construction of an enabling school community. The approach encompasses the facilitation of continuous conversations using identified facets of inter-relatedness as focal points for the understanding of being together in school communities on a meta‐level. It is recommended that the implementation of a relationship‐focused approach conceptualised in this study, should be considered as an alternative approach for dealing with the challenges associated with human behaviour that currently prevail in schools. Further research on the implementation of the approach in schools is recommended.
- Humanities