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Relational Work

This study uses relational work in the tradition of Philip (2019) to include the work of building, sustaining, and revising relationships between students and teachers. It pays specific attention to critical reflection on teachers’ positionality, how power relations influence relationships, and an aspires toward creating just learning environments.

The Goal

Researchers and practitioners universally acknowledge the power of student-teacher relationships, but little research has examined teacher sense-making and learning about relational work. This phenomenological analysis seeks to understand how experienced secondary mathematics teachers– who appear to care deeply and effectively about relational work– make sense of relational work.

Research Questions

  1. How do experienced mathematics teachers describe their theories, ideas, and commitments around student-teacher relationships?
  2. How do experienced mathematics teachers make sense of opportunities for and episodes of relational work?
  3. How does student feedback influence experienced mathematics teachers’ sensemaking around relationships?

How are we addressing the Research Questions?

Over the 2018-2019 school year, I am conducting both formal and informal interviews with two focal teachers and their Algebra 1 students. I am also collecting ethnographic field notes from following focal teachers through their workdays, including classroom observations and collaborative meetings, for one week each month.

So What?

This study can contribute to the field’s understanding of how affirming student-teacher relationships are built and sustained over time, from the perspective of teachers, and particularly in high-stakes situations like freshman mathematics courses. It also has the potential to build on existing literature about teacher sensemaking and learning in practice, contributing to theory-building and practical implications for the research and practice of teacher learning.