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Fostering Relationship Intelligence in the Classroom:
By Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson

Life is about relationships! In J. Krishnamurti's words, "Life is change through relationship." Every moment, each of us is in constant interaction, interconnectedness and exchange with someone or some thing - even if it is "just" with our own mind. The quality of these interactions determines whether we, and our world, are thriving or merely surviving. Keep reading this article >>

This Month's Ask the Author Column
Answered by Sura Hart
Reader Question: I've been studying and practicing NVC for five years now. It seems it was easier to practice when I was first learning. Now after five years, I have the skills, but I don't find myself able or willing to practice with my family. In fact, I find myself getting angrier and more impatient with them. What do I need to do in order to really live this work? Read author's answer >>  

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Fostering Relationship Intelligence in the Classroom, continued

The world of the classroom is also all about relationships. And the quality of relationships in the classroom has everything to do with whether our students are thriving, or merely surviving. It also determines what our young people are learning about themselves and about the world in which they participate.

Relationships in the classroom, when tended, can teach students how to take good care of themselves and also how to care about others. When teachers give attention to classroom interactions and to developing relationship skills, students can learn to work well with others, solve problems together, sort out conflicts, and be leaders and peacemakers.

And if caring relationships are not cared about in the classroom, students will learn, on the playground or on the bus or someplace else, how to survive as best they can.

Relationships Intelligence Competency Improves Academic Competencies
Having taught and observed for years in classrooms, we have seen that when teachers value Relationship Intelligence competencies as much as academic competencies they usually get the following results:

  • Growing respect and care for one another
  • Less conflict and more co-operation
  • More engaged learning and academic achievement

In our first book, The Compassionate Classroom, we showed how taking time to establish safety and trust and nurture caring relationships at school is essential for learning to take place. And while many teachers complain they "have no time" for dealing with relationships, we see it as the fast-track to spending less time on behavior problems and more time on engaged learning.

One 3rd grade teacher of 15 years, weary of the amount of time she was spending managing behavior, and believing that the quality of relationships in the classroom held the answers, decided to start off the school year devoting the entire first month to activities to meet students' needs for safety and trust, belonging, connection, and building community.

They created a class vision of how they wanted their class to look, feel and function. And they worked on decorating the classroom together. They talked about needs they wanted to meet (safety, trust, learning, fun, friends, respect) and made Group Agreements to help meet those needs. They put on a play, and played community- building games.

Some people, including some parents, were worried that these students were losing precious learning time. However they came to see that spending time in this way led to students achieving far more than expected, and more than any of this teacher's previous classes.

What is Relationship Intelligence?
Relationship Intelligence is a natural capacity we all have to engage power with each other for mutual well-being. It comprises a set of capacities that we are born with but that are rarely developed to the level of competencies. The ability to relate intelligently is deeply encoded in the DNA of human potential because our survival depends on it.

  • Relationship Intelligence calls us to develop these four skills:
  • To take responsibility an care for my needs
  • To care about others' needs
  • To value all needs equally
  • To find strategies that can meet everyone's needs

How to Foster Relationship Intelligence in Your Classroom
In The Compassionate Classroom, we identify four primary relationships in the classroom: the teacher's relationship with him or her self; the teacher's relationship with students; relationships of students with each other; and students' relationship with themselves including with their learning. At the foundation of all the relationships in your classroom is your relationship with yourself.

We know that teachers and parents teach primarily by example, and secondarily by what they say, and through formal instruction. Children begin life with what Maria Montessori calls an "absorbent mind" and they continue to pick up cues from everything around them and especially from the adults who care for them.

When teachers develop their RIQ skills, the relationship intelligence quotient of students goes up markedly; instead of remaining a dormant "potential", it is activated. As well, the empowered actions of teachers with highly developed RIQ provide inspiration, encouragement and powerful modeling for students.

Start where you are: Develop Your Relationship Intelligence
The real preparation for education is the study of one's self. - Maria Montessori

If you want to develop your RIQ, for your own growth and empowerment, and to benefit your students, we recommend the following practices:

Meet Your Needs
Meet and greet your needs as they arise, moment to moment. To familiarize yourself with your needs, study Needs lists, sort through the Needs cards, check in with yourself throughout the day (and especially when feelings are strong): What needs are calling?

Take a weekly inventory of your needs to see: How well am I meeting my need for .... rest?... movement? .... nutrition? ... fun?... balance?... inspiration?... support?... empathy... self-acceptance? See what requests of yourself arise from your inventory.

By taking responsibility for your needs and doing your best to meet them, you not only empower yourself to live fully, but you bring an alive, authentic, open presence to your students.

Learn to Learn from Mistakes
Where your thought and attention goes, energy flows. Are your thoughts taking you where you want to go? Do negative thoughts about yourself stimulate unpleasant feelings and keep you in a rut? Or do your thoughts take you to more acceptance, self-compassion, self-regard, discovery and joy?

To change how you talk to yourself you can start noticing how you talk to yourself when you make a mistake. If you find yourself getting angry when you make a mistake, calling yourself names like "stupid" and "idiot", you are not only making yourself miserable, you are getting in the way of learning what the mistake could teach you.

An exercise from The No-Fault Classroom, "Learn from Real-Life Experiments", guides students and teachers in using The No-Fault ZoneTM Game Map and Needs Cards to explore a situation that didn't turn out the way you wanted.

The first step is to describe what happened, using Observation language, with no judgment. The next step is to sort through the Feeling Cards and lay down on the Map the Feelings up for you. Then sort through the Needs cards and lay down on the Map the Needs that motivated you in the situation. You can then lay down the Needs that were met by what you did. And then lay down the Needs that weren't met. In this way, you can sit with all of the Needs present in that situation, and then you can also consider what you might do differently next time.

Be an Inner Space Explorer
We created The No-Fault ZoneTM Game to provide a visual Map for students and teachers to explore Inner Space together. On the Map you can: track where you are at any moment; take a read of your Feelings; recognize Choices that take you to The Fault Zone, and other Choices that take you to The No-Fault ZoneTM --that field "beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing", where we have the most fun.

Exploring Inner Space with your students can be an exciting and fun journey. As you develop your Relationship Intelligence, we predict you will experience increasing enjoyment and delight within the world of your classroom, and beyond.

Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson have worked together for more than 20 years, developing and facilitating parent- and teacher-education workshops and materials. We have co-authored three books and created The No-Fault ZoneTM Game, a hands-on tool for learning and practicing clear, respectful, compassionate communication. Learn more or join their mailing list at www.k-hcommunication.com

Keep learning these vital communication skills with these books and training resources:

Resources from Hart and Hodson:



"While many teachers
complain they
'have no time' for
dealing with relationships,
we see it as the fast-track
to spending less time on behavior problems and
more time on
engaged learning."

- Sura Hart and
VIctoria Kindle Hodson



Ask the Author, continued

Answer from Sura Hart:
I'm hearing a lot of disappointment... and maybe even discouragement? I imagine it's because you're so longing for loving connection with your family, connection that you know is possible and had hoped that you'd be able to bring about by now, with your study and practice of NVC. Wondering if this is your heart's longing?

And after five years of practice and developing skills, I'm wondering if you perhaps expected and still expect that you should be able to practice NVC with the people who mean the most to you? If so, that expectation and "should"ing on yourself could easily be the source of rising frustration and anger. The combination of wanting the connection so much and thinking it should be happening. And you should be the one to make it happen? And perhaps there is more should thinking, relating to what family members should be doing as well?

Underneath all the "should" thinking, there are beautiful needs... for connection... greater understanding and enjoyment of one another... perhaps also for a level of fluency and competence in NVC that you're wanting? Maybe also for more ease? And for self-acceptance?

See what happens if you just sit with your needs in this situation. Sort through the Needs cards, or scan the Needs list to gather all the Needs alive for you. Focus your attention on the Needs, and see if you can set aside the "shoulds". And see how you feel then.

You ask, What do I need to do in order to really live this work?

My answer: Continue to give yourself daily doses of empathy and self-empathy. Really. It's the fast-track to NVC competency in my experience. Get some empathy buddies, with whom you can give and receive empathy on a regular basis. Or a practice group. And take time each day for self-empathy: Sit yourself down or take yourself for a walk.... Feel your feelings, and Meet & Greet, your Needs.

Sura Hart is an internationally recognized trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication, the contact person for CNVC's efforts to integrate NVC into U.S. schools, and the co-author of The Compassionate Classroom and The No-Fault Classroom. She designs and facilitates trainings and curricula for students, parents, teachers and school administrators around the globe. Sura has been a classroom teacher in public and private schools and has created after-school programs on leadership, effective communication, healthy sexuality and conflict resolution for at-risk youth. Sura lives in Seattle, Washington, and can be reached by email or at her website.


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