The Art of Relational Learning

At Central, students receive an education rich in relationships—with each other and with faculty.

Education is fundamentally a relationship between student and teacher, athlete and coach, master and apprentice. When I spend time talking to our students, parents and alumni, they make clear what they value by describing what is or was important to them. The stories are varied and nuanced, but they bear a remarkable resemblance and portray familiar patterns. They remind me that relationships are Central.

First, the stories are invariably about people. They are often tales about the role a faculty mentor played in unleashing creativity, opening new academic or professional pathways or encouraging higher achievement. Coaches frequently play leading roles as achievement is celebrated, character formed and leadership nurtured. Members of the staff help pave the way for success by offering personal support, often in ways that are invisible. Central is an academic community composed of people who pour into each other’s lives the key ingredients for shared success.

Second, learning relationships push back the borders that limit us. As I wander through the reception following commencement each year, I am amazed by a particular phrase surfacing in one conversation after another: “I can’t believe I got to do so many things.” An academic community devoted to relational learning stretches everyone. Those advising students introduce new possibilities that encourage them to take risks and find the rewards of pursuing a new challenge. That may be found in the selection of a course, participation in a new activity or pursuing membership on a team. Likewise, faculty members grow through their own interactions about teaching methods and scholarship that deepen the well of academic resources. By pushing back the borders, we push each other to think in new ways and try new things.

Third, relational learning draws us into active engagement. As we place students into settings where teamwork is essential, we provide a context for learning that closely mirrors the world they will encounter over the course of a lifetime. Relational learning takes place in many settings—classrooms, labs, studios, the Internet, global sites, athletic fields, concert halls, churches, internship sites, community-based programs and workplaces. It also involves many partners who work with our students beyond our walls. Learning through experience in a variety of settings extends the reach of the curriculum and amplifies the work of the faculty as students apply their learning and return with insights gained through experience.

Central College has long been dedicated to creating an environment for learning rich in relationship, active in engagement and increasingly without borders. Our task is to facilitate learning by providing a setting suitable to enabling that which matters most—learning through relationship.

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