Relationships Matter An Interview with GILLIAN MCAULIFFE



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After sharing her thoughts about setting up learning invitations for children and talking about her love for nature and how it plays a big role in the student’s learning which she shared during the teacher’s training last June in ISMILE Belleza, I believe everybody will agree with me that indeed we all want to learn more from her.

Gillian Mcauliffe is the Founding Principal of Bold Park Community School in Perth Western Australia. She currently serves as the school’s Pedagogista, a certified Zentangle teacher.

Despite her busy schedule, responsibilities,andthe many roles she takes in her family and community, I was privileged to be up close and personal with her. Gillian was so humble to share her life and knowledge to ISMILEfamily of schools as consultant for nature- based learning. When asked if we can interview about her view on “relationships” -which is her school’s strength why it continues to be successful- we are thrilled to know that she was happily willing to share her thoughts. As we were all excited to learn and share her secrets to success, we formulated the following questions:

Q: What constitutes a relationship in the setting of education?

Gillian:“Lifeandlearningisbasedon the connections we make between what we see, experience, know, feel and understand. In life and education settings, these connections form relationships, which need to be as rich and as diverse as possible. Many experiences, many participants and the opportunities to follow connections into deep investigations, create the conditions for children to thrive.”

Q: How do relationships affect the curriculum? The learning? What makes it important?

Gillian: “Learning will be sustained and last longer if the encounters in the curriculum allow for relationships to be built between the knowledge and understanding. This is best understood by a saying from Confucius:

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. A curriculum builds strong relationships and understanding when the learners engage with multiple senses and areas of learning.”

Q: What type of relationship do you think is the most important? Peer-peer? Student- teacher?/ Parent-teacher?

Gillian: “All relationships are vital, there is no relationship which is most important as they all serve to develop a rich learning environment. However, I think that the most important part of these relationships is that they are respectful, with no participant seeking to control the other.”

Q: What programs can schools/ institutions run to foster good relationships?

Gillian: “If by programs, you mean packaged syllabus? I dont think there is one. But if the school community engages in Reflective practice and an attitude of mutual respect , relationships will be strong. Intentional discussion and pedagogy which identifies and enhances relationships in the learning landscape also will create a system of relationships in the school.”

Q: Can effective learning still happen even without close relationships?

Gillian: “It depends what you mean by effective learning. But I would say that learning can occur anywhereasitisaninternalprocess, but what you do with the knowledge depends on the connections you make and the opportunities you have. Learning facts in isolation for a test, often, is not effective asthe knowledge does not stick. Learning facts to solve a problem, on the other hand, will be with the child for a long time. In my practice, I have always felt that the true measure of effective learning is when knowledge is transferred to a new context. In a school environment, the personal relationships willallow thistohappenand be celebrated if the school is based on mutual respectful relationship.

“Relationshipsinan educational context refers to the connections built between all the participants in the project as well as the child’s internal organisation and storage of knowledge and understanding. Loris Malaguzzi, from Reggio, identifies this as a system of relationships which is intentional and considered. In Bold Park, we developed a community which, intentionally set out to present a learning landscape with the best possible conditions in which rich and ethical relationships would thrive for children, educators and families. I think that is the answer, to develop the learning landscape.”

Lastly, reading all of Gillian’s responses, made me understand more of the importance of relationships in whatever dealings we may undertake in life and that there are always more dimensions present in a relationship. Therefore, our goal is to be mindful, reflective, and sensitive partners in the community that we are involved in, and to each day live a life of love and respect to the environment that we seek to serve