An exploratory study: non-violent communication strategies for secondary teachers using a Quality Learning Circle approach
Type of content
Teachers play an important role in facilitating learning. The way they establish relationships with students is crucial to ensure that the classroom environment supports both academic and personal growth in students (Evans & Harvey, 2012). In recognising the importance of relationships inside of the classroom and their effects on student behaviour, the purpose of this study took two pathways. First, this study involved an exploration of how a person-centred approach could help facilitate positive relationships within an educational context. An approach called Non-violent communication (NVC) was chosen because of its potential to enhance the teachers’ empathy, interpersonal communication skills, as well as foster less judgemental perceptions and reactions to challenging student behaviours (Rosenberg, 2003a). Second, a Quality Learning Circle (QLC) model was used as a method to practise and share the teachers’ experiences of learning NVC together in a collegial and experiential way. A collaborative approach was chosen to counter teachers working alone in the hope that sharing responsibility in direction and decision making would encourage empowerment among the teachers. Therefore, in addition to critically analysing NVC, this study also examined the impact of a QLC on teachers’ professional learning. It is a study which has a content focus (i.e., learning about the potential of NVC) and at the same time, a process focus (i.e., exploring the potential of a small group approach to teachers’ professional learning to share and gain insight into their practice). The study involved four secondary school teachers from two New Zealand urban schools. These teachers attended seven QLC meetings throughout one school term, and completed entry- as well as exit interviews to determine the impact and potential of both the content (NVC) and process (QLC) of the study. In addition, fieldnotes were taken to help document the teachers’ journeys throughout the QLC. An interpretive paradigm, which centred on thematic analysis, was used as a means to analyse and interpret the findings in order to shed light on how NVC contributed to positive teacher-student relationships, as well as how the QLC afforded the teachers with a novel way to engage in professional learning. The teachers reported that learning NVC helped them to avoid using judgements and increased their emotional awareness inside of the classroom. In particular, they used processes within NVC to help regulate their emotions when they encountered difficult situations, as well as purposely engaged in more open dialogues with their students. Furthermore, they also used NVC as a tool to critically reflect on their own teaching beliefs and how those beliefs impacted on the interactions they had with their students. The teachers also confirmed that the collaborative, experiential, and supportive aspects of the QLC provided an environment where they could safely practise a new approach. Through coming together in this way the teachers created a space where they could openly discuss ideas, share experiences, and co-create solutions to common contextual problems. The implications of this study are twofold: First, it highlights how empathy-based programmes have the potential to increase teachers’ emotional self-regulation skills and perspective taking abilities. Second, it demonstrates the benefits of structuring teachers’ professional learning in a way that encourages active participation, ongoing learning, and the creation of a collaborative culture. As teachers are increasingly encountering stress and isolation within their profession, both elements of this research are pertinent to their wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of the students they teach.