Direct and indirect educational relationships:  the varying significance of content in school relationships

Year: 2013

Author: Frelin, Anneli, Grannas, Jan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper presents results from a research project aiming at exploring the relational interplay between school personnel and students, its functions and complexity in the secondary school context. School relationships (between students and different kinds of personnel) are more or less directly related to teaching and learning. In the teacher-student relationship teaching and learning of subject content pretty much defines the relationship, whereas for other more peripheral school personnel such as janitors and bus drivers the relationship to content matter is highly indirect. However, they all have in common that these functions are created for the purpose of educating our youth. In this paper we develop a typology for understanding the degree of significance that subject matter content may have in these different types of relationships, and the sometimes unpredictable ways in which it may emerge as significant.
A year-long case study was conducted during the 2012-13 school year at a secondary school that had recently been renovated and in which work was done to improve the educational environment. Multiple data sources were used, including document analysis, mapping, contextual observations and interviews. Official statistics, newspaper articles and school quality reports were used to contextualize the case (Creswell, 2009; Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2010). For this paper, we mainly use interviews with different categories of school staff and students.
The different functions that staff had were categorized in three categories: Educators, education professionals (e.g. counselors and special educators) and education support professionals (e.g. janitors and school cafeteria personnel). Whereas the latter were connected to support functions such as getting the students to school and making them enjoy being there, they could also have other significance through the relationships that they developed with students. Here, there is a point in separating between the personnel's function as officially described, and their relation to students as played out in practice. Results show that all categories of personnel at times diverge from their assigned functions to facilitate the educational experience for the students.
Creswell, J.W. (2009). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3 ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage.
Tashakkori, A. , & Teddlie, C. (2010). Sage handbook of mixed methods in social & behavioral research (2 ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.