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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 3, January/February 2004

It's all about relationship

by Julia Johnson

In a recent telephone conversation, my son, a civil engineer working for a land developer in Florida, recounted a troubling situation at his workplace. One of his colleagues, in a supervisory position, habitually yells at contractors at the job site. My son finished his story with, "Who would want to work with someone who treats people like that?" Later in that week, a friend said that her child is in a classroom where the teacher yells. In the next week, I attended an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) workshop where the presenter said that 50% of Canadian marriages end in divorce and that "relationships" is one of the major problem areas in which their counsellors have to provide guidance. Being well or unwell is directly affected by the quality of the relationships we have as we journey through life.

The word relationship, for most people, conjures up images that fit the definition as found in the dictionary: " 1 the quality or state of being related; 2 connection by blood, marriage, etc.; 3 a particular instance of being related, kinship." Most of us use relationship when we describe the situation we have with someone with whom we are close or intimate. I have come to appreciate the value of relationship as expressed by the definition, "connection... etc." In that context, the word relationship has a more general perspective and goes beyond the close and personal intimacy two people share. This general perspective is an inclusive definition and takes in all the connections we make with everything around us as we go about our daily living: connections with people, with small and large groups, with organizations, with things, with ideas, and with our planet, Earth. Even an innocuous conversation with a passer-by is a relationship.

We are social beings, and being connected to something or someone is necessary for our survival. However, a relationship can be the very thing that can erode our wellbeing. Everything one does, thinks, or says is a result of the relationship experiences one has with someone or something. In the life of a teacher, relationship experiences become the intuitive guide to how classrooms are managed, how interactions with students and colleagues occur, how curriculum is taught, how communication is thwarted or encouraged, how new ideas are accepted or rejected, how support is provided, how quality is recognized, and how perceptions are formed. We are the sum total of our relationship experiences, and it is from this context that teaching occurs and the degree of personal wellness is revealed.

We teach who we are. In the classroom, this view of teaching is easily lost when the focus becomes the course material that needs to be taught, the skills that need to be learned, the tests that need to be given, and the grades that need to be achieved. None of these teaching activities is as important as they are deemed to be. What is important is nurturing relationships. Honest and truthful relationships carry people through difficult times. The effort invested in building relationships at work brings joy to the workplace. Even more important is modelling reverence of relationship to our youth, not only as relationship relates to humanity, but also as it relates to the scientific and economic world in which we live. When the reverence of relationship is modelled, compassion is learned. And when compassion is the product there is greater respect and understanding for the need to care for oneself, to care for others, and to care for the planet upon which we live. Thus begins the wellness journey for one and for all.

Julia Johnson, a learning resource teacher, Red Bluff School, Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate.

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