Here is a reminder of how the Practicing Faith Survey defines relational practices, those focused on love of one’s immediate neighbor:
“Loving our neighbor is a fundamental part of Christian faith—Jesus made it part of his summary of the law and the prophets. Christian relational practices focus on the wellbeing of others around us. This is more than being nice; it is about intentional choices to commit to the wellbeing of others. This may include:
- looking out for fellow students who are struggling and coming alongside to support them
- asking others how we can pray for them
- intentionally including new people in our circle of friends
- thanking and encouraging others around us (students, teachers, and other school staff)
- taking time to listen to others
- including new people in our circle of friends and looking out for those who are excluded
- helping to build a community that is not only attuned to our own interests”
It may seem as if relational practices are mostly what happens around the edge of teaching, that we teach math or physics and also hope that students treat one another well in terms of their behavior. Yet the connection between teaching and learning and how we relate to others is more intimate than that. Through the ways you design learning activities, you can implicitly or explicitly reinforce a focus on individual success or caring community.
This begins with the kind of culture of learning that you build in your classroom. Consider the following true story about an encounter with two teachers at one Christian school:
“At a parent-teacher conference, I spoke to two of the science teachers in quick succession. The first—I think he was a chemistry teacher—shook our hands, introduced himself, found out which student was ours, and reached for his grade book. He opened it, ran his finger down the list of names until he found the right one, then read aloud, one by one, each grade given for each assignment across the semester. He then commented briefly that it had been a successful semester’s work and waited expectantly for any questions we might have.
We then traveled about ten feet to the right for an audience with the physics teacher. He shook our hands, introduced himself, found out which student was ours, and then commented that there was another student, sitting in the row behind our child in class, who had some learning difficulties and often found it difficult during long science classes to keep track of what was going on. He had noticed our child choosing tactful moments to turn around and make sure that this other learner knew what was happening. He particularly appreciated this, he said, because he had been emphasizing throughout the semester that the class should function as a Christian learning community, and that meant that each should not be there just for their own grade. There should be a shared focus on making sure that all were included and enabled to learn.” (Adapted from David I. Smith, On Christian Teaching, 2018)
These two teachers may have been equally competent at explaining science. Do you think it likely that they were also equal in terms of their impact on students’ investment in attending to those around them?
Now what if we take this concern for love of neighbor and move from classroom culture to specific teaching interventions. Take a look at the following teaching activities, developed by teachers as part of a larger project on teaching faith and science:
Take some time to articulate for yourself (or, preferably, in conversation with a colleague) how each of these activities might be helping to foster student investment in Christian relational practices. Then consider how they might be adapted to the subject area that you teach. What could you do that might push in a similar direction? How could you not just do this to or for students, but with students, inviting them into the project of intentionally seeking to approach the learning environment as a space where we can learn love of neighbor together?
Use this as the beginning of an audit of your own teaching. Which of your teaching moves encourage students to think of themselves as solo competitors, each getting their learning for the sake of personal success? Which moves help to nudge students to invest in one another’s wellbeing? You can find more examples of teachers thinking through these same questions in specific teaching activities at the links below: