Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success In College (And Law School)

Peter Felten (Assistant Provost, Elon) & Leo M. Lambert (Former President, Elon), Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College (John Hopkins University Press 2020):

Relationships 2What single factor makes for an excellent college education? As it turns out, it's pretty simple: human relationships. Decades of research demonstrate the transformative potential and the lasting legacies of a relationship-rich college experience. Critics suggest that to build connections with peers, faculty, staff, and other mentors is expensive and only an option at elite institutions where instructors have the luxury of time with students. But in this revelatory book brimming with the voices of students, faculty, and staff from across the country, Peter Felten and Leo M. Lambert argue that relationship-rich environments can and should exist for all students at all types of institutions.

In Relationship-Rich Education, Felten and Lambert demonstrate that, for relationships to be central in undergraduate education, colleges and universities do not require immense resources, privileged students, or specially qualified faculty and staff. All students learn best in an environment characterized by high expectation and high support, and all faculty and staff can learn to teach and work in ways that enable relationship-based education. Emphasizing the centrality of the classroom experience to fostering quality relationships, Felten and Lambert focus on students' influence in shaping the learning environment for their peers, as well as the key difference a single, well-timed conversation can make in a student's life. They also stress that relationship-rich education is particularly important for first-generation college students, who bring significant capacities to college but often face long-standing inequities and barriers to attaining their educational aspirations.

Drawing on nearly 400 interviews with students, faculty, and staff at 29 higher education institutions across the country, Relationship-Rich Education provides readers with practical advice on how they can develop and sustain powerful relationship-based learning in their own contexts. Ultimately, the book is an invitation―and a challenge―for faculty, administrators, and student life staff to move relationships from the periphery to the center of undergraduate education.

Inside Higher Ed, Relationship-Rich Education: Authors Discuss Their New Book on the Importance of the Human Connection in Higher Education:

Q: You write repeatedly of the faculty, and the importance of supporting faculty. Today, we see lots of colleges laying off faculty and questioning their rights. What do you think of this disconnect?

A: We emphasize the centrality of faculty because the classroom is still the most important place for seeding meaningful relationships with students -- and especially first-year students. Faculty are the primary actors in higher education who can disrupt transactional approaches to college (“What do I need to do to get a B in your course?”) and who can create more transformational learning opportunities for students (“How can I apply what I am learning in the class to make the world better for others, not just myself?”). Faculty inspire learning, which is the heart of higher education, and that inspiration in turn forges many of the most meaningful relationships that students will carry with them for decades after they graduate.

We also need to prioritize educationally purposeful relationships in our faculty reward systems much more highly. Elon University, for instance, employs the “teacher-scholar-mentor” model of faculty work. If the critical work of supporting and mentoring students is not one of the “buckets” that promotion and tenure committees are considering, then we are not valuing an essential aspect of education and faculty work. Period.

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