We can tackle chronic social, emotional and environmental disconnection by putting relationships at the heart of teaching, says Rachel Musson
We are living in the most connected time in human history. People can fly to distant lands, video call each other at any time of the day or night, shop for whatever they desire at the touch of a button, and orchestrate almost anything from a small device in the palm of their hand. We have extraordinary interconnectivity – yet we suffer from chronic disconnection.
We can see the symptoms of this across the globe. Mental health issues are rising as we become disconnected from our emotional needs. Social divides permeate our systems through poor social equality and lack of connection. The climate crisis is affecting all living systems because of poor planetary care, caused by our fundamental disconnection from the natural world. Parts of society have slowly fragmented into bits and pieces, and separated us in the process. And the same can be said for our education systems.
A growing disconnect
As my teaching career progressed, I felt unease about the fact that education was no longer preparing young people for the world; in some cases, it was doing more harm than good. Education policies mean that schools have to focus more on measurable, tangible results than on nurturing emotional wellbeing. For many, school has become more about competition and stress than about nurturing young people so that they are ready to step into the world and flourish.
On a basic level, schools are separating us from our innately human ways of connecting with the world. We are whole beings who think, feel and connect with all of our body and our senses. As natural empaths, we’re born with a deep and innate connection with each other and the rest of the natural world – yet our compartmentalised, sedentary and primarily indoor education ignores our humanity in favour of a factory-line model that functions through competition, compliance and separation.
This is neither teachers’ nor stakeholders’ fault: it is the fault of the design. Our mainstream education system is no longer fit for purpose, and we are seeing a widening disconnect between it and what is needed to give students the resilience and resourcefulness they require to thrive.
We need education that can put us back together again: that can nourish ourselves, our relationships with others and our relationship with the natural world. We need regeneration.
Regenerating education should be a process of allowing and enabling all of its aspects to be restored and rebalanced to a healthier state. It’s a bit like gardening: cultivating conditions for healthy growth – except in this case, it’s done by nurturing our relationships.
Through my own experience working with education systems across the global north and south, I’ve connected with thousands of children, educators and practices, all working to regenerate healthy learning environments for people and planet. The one thing they have in common? They put relationships at the heart of teaching and learning.
“We need frameworks that connect teaching and learning with personal, community and planetary wellbeing”
When it comes to education, it is no longer sustainable to focus on fixing a broken system. As we face the global challenges of mental health, social inequality and the climate emergency, education needs to give young people the knowledge, skills and practices they need to create and sustain a thriving world. We need to offer frameworks that connect teaching and learning with personal, community and planetary wellbeing – what ThoughtBox calls ‘Triple Wellbeing’. This framework is built around a simple design of allowing and enabling healthy relationship dynamics through self care, people care and earth care.
Now is the time for regeneration – for being more creative, more purposeful, more compassionate, and more in tune with life within us and around us. It is time to become more human and say ‘yes’ to our innate capacity to flourish.
Rachel Musson is the founding director of ThoughtBox, a social enterprise that aims to put wellbeing at the heart of learning.