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Our mission is to encourage and support people, communities and schools to attend to their relationships as the best way to ensure the educational success of every child.
The heart of our work is one on one with people-it’s about building relationships, it is not about meetings-it’s about conversations.
—Robert Putnam-Better Together

Center for RelationaLearning

What is Relational Learning and Leadership?

The Center for RelationaLearning has helped thousands of individuals, and scores of schools and community organizations develop competency in what we call relationalearning and relational leadership. We have spent over 40 years developing our understanding and practices of learning and leading relationally.  We believe that fully partnered relationships hold the keys to success in education and life and our publications, research, programs and collaborations highlight and support the primacy of relationships in making our schools and communities places of justice, equity, hope and achievement for all.

We offer this website as a portal to encourage people to attend to relationships as a major way to improve themselves, their communities and their schools.  The site offers a listing of services, articles, and publications.  It works as a resource and guide to improving teaching and learning relationships, building educational partnerships between school, family and community and developing the skills and dispositions needed for relational learning and leadership.

Each year we collaborate with many schools and communities to design and support the implementation of locally based approaches to building relationships. Some of these associations have continued for years.  We work in Australia, England, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand as well as New Mexico and most states in the US.  Over the years CRL has developed unique offerings: Learning Journeys, Better Together Conferences and International Dialogues.  We would be happy to share our approaches.

Below is a summary of our work in 2017.

Follow our calendar and website for relationship building opportunities in 2018.


Highlights 2018

In 2018, the Center for Relational Learning continued to build capacity for relational learning and leadership with study tours, the 4th International Dialogue, consulting and writing.



Dr. Otero spent 10 weeks in Australia consulting with schools to demonstrate practically how families, schools and the local community could build positive relationships that increase the ability of everyone associated with educating children and young people to work better together. Six of the 10 weeks were spent as a senior project consultant to 11 Catholic Schools in Sandhurst Catholic School system and two weeks helping all 40 plus Lismore Catholic Schools in New South Wales launch a whole school community approach to Parent and Community Engagement. This was the 6th year of working in partnership with Sandhurst Catholic Schools and the first visit to Lismore Catholic Schools, the home of Bryon Bay, and all things great and good about Australia.


Launch of Whole School Community Approach in New Mexico

In April, Associates Robert Csoti and David Rothstadt presented the whole school community approach (the Australian version of community schools) to 40 school and community leaders from New Mexico. The presentation was based on the experience and collaborative learning of Dr. Otero and these two Melbourne Australian principals over the last ten years. The timing of the presentation sparked a cord with the Interfaith Task Force for Public Education, located in Santa Fe, and this voluntary group of citizens committed to form an Alliance for support of whole school community approaches across the Santa Fe Public Schools.



Proposal for Funding Relational leadership program for Rural School leaders in New Mexico that helps schools build partnerships that focus on learning as a continuum from Birth. This proposal was conceived and developed by Dr. Otero, Lois Vermilya, CRL

Associate and director of the Family Development Center at UNM, and Dr. Sheri Williams a collaborator from the Educational Leadership Department of the University of New Mexico.

Working with associate Torres Webb and focused on four years success in bridging community to school and school to community in Far North Queensland, Dr. Otero and Torres Webb are developing a tool box of successful parent and community engagement strategies that build on the framework and philosophy of a whole school community approach. Among these tools are tried and true relational learning and leading strategies such as Learning Walks, Community Conversations, Parent Cafes, Temperature Reading, and Activating Wellbeing. Look here on the website for release of this publication in May, 2019.

A book chapter was written by Dr. Otero, Dr. Sheri Williams, and Dr. Viola Flores on how school and university partnerships can provide responsive and equitable schools in rural, multicultural contexts. The reference is Williams, S., Otero, G.*, & Florez, V. (2018). Mobilizing to shape rural outcomes: Perspectives of school, university, and community partnerships in rural America and Australia. In R. M. Reardon & J. Leonard (Eds.), Making a positive impact in rural places: Change agency in the context of school-university-community collaboration in education (pp. 215-241). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. *indicates adjunct professor at Flinders University, Australia


Study Tours

Again, several study tours occurred focusing on personal and professional development toward a whole school and community approach to ensuring every child’s achievement,

wellbeing, and life chances. New Mexico is full of diverse history, cultures, communities and schools that present participants with a unique experience in understanding how schools, families and communities can work better together for effective life long education. Elwood and Noble Park Primary Schools in Melbourne, Australia conducted their 7th study tour in April. Sandhurst Catholic Schools conducted their 3rd Study Tour in May. These special tour brings school leaders with parents and pastorial wellbeing staff together for two weeks to build a culture of partnership for learning. Finally, in beautiful September concluding as always with the Taos Pueblo Feast Day, the 10 annual study tour from Catholic Schools in Melbourne, planned with associates from INNATE education occurred. That brings the total number of educators from Catholic Schools in Melbourne who have participated in these learning journeys to more than 250!


4th International Dialogue on Relational Learning and Leadership

With several new sponsors and dynamic planning team, the 4th International Dialogue on Relational Learning and Leadership was held in Cairns, Australia in July. A powerful and unique aspect of the dialogue was a full day visit with the people of Yarrabah, the largest Indigenous community in Australia. Proceedings from both the 3rd and 4th Dialogues are being compiled and will be available in April, 2019.



An Exciting 2017



Working closer to home with the Santa Fe Public Schools to determine a vision for the future using the community conversation process the Center has promoted for years as the best way to engage family, school and community as active partners in determining what values, principles and practices should guide learning in a diverse community like Santa Fe.  The superintendent of Schools, Veronica Garcia, is a long time friend of the center and an experienced Relational Leader.  Project Northstar will hopefully create the interest for school communities in Santa Fe to explore the Whole School Community Approach to Education the Center and associates are exploring in many Australian Schools.


Given the success of the Whole School Community Approach to education over the last seven years, the co-authors spent much of 2017 revising their book, Creating Powerful Learning Relationships: A Whole School Community Approach, first published in 2010. Look for the new revised edition with lots of ideas and approaches to connect family, school and community to be available from Hawker Brownlow early in 2018.


Collaborating with Family Development Center at UNM under the direction of Lois Vermilya, and Leon Bell, principal of Thornbury Primary School in Melbourne to offer a two day collaborative leadership workshop and on-site consulting with schools that had experience with the Developmental Play and Early Childhood Learning approach of the Weimagination Center during their learning journey visits. The 12 day visit occurred at the end of August.  There is great interest in continuing to develop collaborative leadership around children from Birth to year 8.  Look to more opportunities to network and learn together in 2018 both in Australia and New Mexico.


This year saw the convening of the 3rd International Dialogue on Relational learning and Leading for a Sustainable Future.  The two-day conversation was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 6 and 7.  Over 40 participants, mostly from Australia and New Mexico, explored the three continuing themes of these dialogues, the primacy of relationships in learning and life, and the importance of developing a hopeful and sustainable future.

The purpose of the International Dialogues is to share stories, practices, research, beliefs and values and to ‘claim’ the primacy of relationships for learning and leadership formation.

Relationships are fundamental and foundational to how and what we learn—to our humanity, to our connections and engagement with people, place, and the natural world.

Three themes have guided the dialogues and will again be the focus for the 4th Dialogue to be held in Cairns, Queensland July 9,10 and 11, 2018. 

 ·       Relationships are an enduring resource

·       Hope as a way of becoming fully human

·       Sustainability is an evolving pathway


Associate Miguel Acosta initiated a parent leadership program for 16 parents using the Abriendo Puertas curriculum and many of the strategies Miguel and associates have developed over the years to build the power of parents to lead learning in their families, communities and schools.


Writing a book chapter with colleagues from the University of New Mexico titled,  “ Mobilizing to Shape Rural Outcomes: Perspectives of School/University/Community Partnerships in Rural America and Australia”.  The chapter will be part of the book, Making a Positive Impact in Rural Places: Change Agency in the Context of School-University-Community Collaboration in Education, edited by R. Martin Reardon and Jack Leonard, Information Age Publishing, 2018.


APRIL:  The Association of Independent Schools in the Northern Territory conducted a two-week tour in April.  The diversity of the group – comprising principals, teachers, parents, assistant teachers, academics, school board and community members, and the leadership team of the association – and the affinity with Native American communities and schools brought great insights and enhanced to process of adapting theoretical learning to everyday educational practice.  The full report is available on the website.

MAY:  Sandhurst Catholic Education Office conducted their third study tour in May.  This tour is unique in the fact that every school leader comes with a parent and this year a priest and other wellbeing officers.  The tour was a full two weeks and was the largest group (25) to date.  This tour is planned for the next two years and will result in system wide implementation of family, school and community partnerships across the system.

JUNE:  June saw 15 primary principals from a cluster of catholic schools in the southern region of Melbourne explore relational leadership.  The tour was only one week in length yet the depth of learning spiritually, culturally, personally and professionally was apparent to all.

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER:  September and early October saw the annual visit of not one but two Better Together Study Tours from primary schools from Werribee and Caroline Springs and from secondary schools part of Catholic Regional College.  The highlight each of the past 8 years has been the Feast Day at Taos Pueblo and this year both groups had the opportunity to stay at the famous Mable Dodge Luhan House where Dr. Otero ran a multicultural learning center from 1976 to 1996.  The combination of great food in the family style dining room, ghost stories that can’t be ignored, watching live the Grand Final in the yoga room and witnessing the 400 year old ceremonies at Taos Pueblo brought to life all the hopes and expectations that make this annual tour the profound personal and professional experience that more than 150 educators have benefited over the years.


AUSTRALIA:  As in year’s past, Dr. Otero spent several weeks in Australia during each of the four terms. Regular and on-going consulting and coaching continued with Nobel Park Primary School, Elwood Primary School, Thornebury Primary School, Willaura Primary School, St. Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School, St. Patrick’s Catholic Primary School, Catholic Regional College, Catholic Education Melbourne Wellbeing division and Far North Queensland Regional Education Office.

During these visits planning and follow on from study tours helped systems, schools and individuals translate their experiences in New Mexico to their communities, families and schools. Three weeks of on- site consulting with 15 study tour schools from Sandhurst Catholic Education schools and communities provided the opportunity to consider what works after a tour back in regional Victoria and what strategic intentions will help participants build the capacity to make connecting family, school and community a salient feature of every catholic school.

 COACHING CONFERENCE:  Dr. Otero presented two major keynote presentations, one at the annual Coaching Conference held at the MCG in May and one at the Joining the Dots Conference held in Melbourne in August.

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PRINCIPALS ASSOCIATION – ANNUAL CONFERENCE:   Dr. Otero had a special opportunity to serve as conference facilitator and presenter at the annual meeting of the South Australian Principals Association in would you believe, the Borossa Valley, South Australia. This yearly three day conference was focused on building relationships that connect family, school and community. Over 80 principals attended the conference. Music was front and center and a country music song was written and performed for Dr. Otero. Lots of positive ideas for leading relationally and learning with play, games, story, dialogue, art, and ceremony.