18-day training in development of relational competence for professional staff in schools and kindergartens

March – November 2019


Project management:
Familylab Hrvaška           Familylab Slovenija         Familylab Srbija
Dušanka Kosanović         Ivana Gradišnik                Ivana Muškinja


Project description

Familylab Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia, with the support of the international organization Familylab Association, have designed a one-year training project with an aim to offer professional support, inspiration and training to kindergarten staff, school teachers and other pedagogues, in the field of relational competence development, establishing, building and maintaining relations with children, adolescents and parents with whom they are working every day within their pedagogical practice.

The aim of the project is to make progress in the development of the relational competence of pedagogues and to enable them to connect, to learn and to exchange values which are the basis for promoting the mental health of children, adolescents, adults and the entire society.

The training cycle consists of six three-day modules. Two of the modules will take place in each of the participating countries in accordance with the schedule (see below).

The use of methods in the training will depend on the approach of individual trainers and lecturers. Otherwise, all modules are based on group work which includes: an expert lecture of the lecturer on the announced topic, case work, discussion and reflection in a large group as well as work in smaller groups.

The project connects three countries which have a lot in common many concerning the educational topics involved. By including foreign lecturers and experts whose main field of expertise is relational competence we guarantee a high quality content and program implementation. With activities being held in three different countries we want to connect the participants and – in addition to training – enable them to enable them to learn about and to exchange their experiences and constructive dialogue focused on the welfare of children, adolescents and adults – i. e. on pedagogical topics that are crucially important in our societies.

Registration of participants takes place until 20th December 2018.

The training starts in March 2019 and ends in November 2019.


Project goal:

  1. To inspire and empower educators and teachers (professionals in kindergartens and schools) in the development of their relational competence – a crucial element in establishing quality relationships with children, adolescents and parents.
  2. To connect teachers / pedagogues from the three countries while sharing and learning from shared experiences.


What is relational competence?

Relational competence is knowledge, skills, awareness and personal engagement necessary for the construction of thoughtful, vital and nurturing relationships in a professional, pedagogical context – relationships between children / adolescents in educational institutions and adults working with them, whereby we are led by the goal of recognizing and respecting the dignity and the integrity of children and adolescents as well as the dignity and the integrity of adults who teach and / or care fort he children. The goal of the relational competence development is to find and connect what is good and necessary for both sides in the field.

We have learned a lot about relational competence from Jesper Juul and Hella Jensen, two family therapists and experts who teach about this topic all over Europe and are also known as authors of numerous professional articles and books, including the book “From Obedience to Responsibility” which focuses especially on relational competence.

According to authors, the professional relational competence is:

  • the ability of the pedagogue to see the child in his unique wholeness and to adjust his/her behaviour according to the image he/she sees without giving up his/her leadership
  • the ability of an expert to be authentic in contact with the child
  • the ability and willingness of an expert to assume responsibility for the quality of the relationship

The qualities that are crucial for understanding the relational competence in people working with children / adolescents are:

  • our ability to “see” children – to see who they really are instead of what they should achieve
  • leadership in the class / group
  • authenticity
  • adult responsibility for the quality of the relationship
  • engagement in communication and awareness that we hold an important position in the life of the child
  • building a relationship
  • our willingness to direct life in kindergartens and schools with as much humane touch as possible (and as little methodologically and pedagogically spiced touch as possible)

(Summarized from: Jesper Juul and Helle Jensen, “Relational Competence”, 2017.)

We believe that most professionals in the field of education provide the best they can. We know this because we know them personally as our friends, colleagues, acquaintances; in our experience they are the many participants of Familylab’s seminars, trainings and supervision meeting where we have met; these are the people who directly reflect the status of education in society. From these meetings we have learned about their experiences and life in kindergartens and schools. During many years we have recognized some of their needs to which we can now (at least partially) offer some answers with this project. These needs are often not taken seriously (even when they are at least recognized and named in teachers’ teams or staff rooms), therefore, there is no adequate response to what teachers and teachers need in the context of development and learning in the field of relational competence.

What are these needs?

Some of the needs that we have recognized in our work with pedagogues so far relate to the need to empower themselves to:

  • preserve and protect their integrity and dignity
  • preserve and care for the integrity, dignity and well-being of children and young people
  • approach misunderstandings and conflicts that occur in relations with children and parents
  • recognize symptoms and sources of stress, to help themselves and find suitable support
  • stand up for themselves and develop self-esteem
  • develop a genuine authority in the classroom, which does not arise from the position of power and their role
  • build relationships with both individual children and the class as a whole
  • build relationships with parents and others who take care of the child
  • see problems in the workplace as an opportunity for development from which it is possible to learn, especially from experiences that are difficult and unpleasant
  • learn to create support groups where trust is created and to co-create a community that supports teaching staff, etc.

We see that those needs coincide with what is essential for the work of a professional: on one hand there is a personal responsibility, on the other there’s a responsibility for working with children and adolescents.

This is the common thread of this project.

Children and adolescents spend a large and important part of their lives in educational institutions. This means that educators play an important role in their lives also because they sometimes spend more time with them than their parents. Considering this fact there is no doubt that these adults have an extremely important role for which nobody prepares them, nor does anyone care about how they feel in this role. In this respect we do not provide sufficient education, nor do we provide integrated additional support for professionals who are so important in our society – they are those who care for our children and help shape them from kindergarten to the end of their educational path. Kindergarten children, elementary school pupils and high school students – it is common for all of them that they are inexperienced in life and vulnerable, therefore they need adults who are interested and competent to be good enough leaders in their lives. This is primarily the task of the parents but the shere amount of time which children spend in educational institutions inevitably means that educators have a great influence on the lives of children and adolescents. In short: there is an educational effect through everything that children and adolescents are exposed to. A swimming school where the main goal is to teach the child how to swim is also educational. It is important to remember that trainers and coaches too have a strong impact on children; they influence, shape and raise the children with their persona, with who they are, how they behave and how they communicate.

How adults communicate – whether in a private or a public sphere, or even when they do not have an intent to educate – has an educational influence. The influence of adults, as in any relationship, takes place on two levels: the first is the so-called »content level« – it has to do with teacher teaching mathematics or history – where content is transferred; on the other, the so-called »relational« or »process level«, therein lies the possibility of developing a relationship between teacher and student. This process part represents the most human and the most significant part of the overall communication between them as it determines how the student and the teacher feel in contact with each other – whether, for example, a feeling of fear and discomfort (which may occur in both) pervades in this relationship or, perhaps, there are curiosity, interest, trust and support. The teacher may feel very bad during the lecture because he has the feeling that he speaks to himself, the clasroom is noisy, and noone is listening to him (he tries to give the pupils the content but he can not make the contact).

Such a situation is not good for anyone. It affects the self-esteem and selfconfidence of both teachers as well as pupils some of whom may despise the teacher, some ignore him, some feel sorry for him and some try to listen – which all together creates a certain atmosphere. This is an example that shows how difficult it is – on a human level – to be a teacher. And still, teachers are only being prepared for the content level during their formal education.

It turns out that children love those subjects where they were taught by teachers whom they liked in one way or another. Often it happens because the children feel good in their contact and communication with them, they feel accepted and worthy; or the teacher was interesting, “strict but fair” and so on. To put it differently: when a good relationship is established content flows much easier. This means that part of the way to successful teaching is related to how everyone involved in the learning process feels, which does not mean that everyone must always be happy and that we are always concerned with everyone’s feelings – it simply means that everyone is appreciated, accepted and welcome in a relationship.

Sometimes children who show emotional or behavioral problems in a kindergarten or a school (which often has to do with their family situation) are really hard to appreciate and accept and be welcomed in a relationship. This is difficult with a reason because these children and adolescents often reach beyond our ability to handle them and to relieve the common nightmare in which we find ourselves. The abilities of educators and teachers mostly depend on their natural talent, life experience, their willingness for additional training and good will. Therefore it is understandable that some find it easy while some are in a lot of trouble while solving complex situations, while all of them are usually left to their own devices. It is customary for a teacher to send a child to a school psychologist, but this move does not resolve their relationship.

Both pleasant and unpleasant situations arise also in dialogue with parents and here it is both sides that need certain competences in order to be able to detect and resolve the situation.

These examples show that educators and teachers are faced daily with:

  • with children and adolescents who are sometimes in difficult emotional states (which can be a consequence of more or less disturbed family relations or a result of periodic crises that occur in every family)
  • with children and adolescents who pass through various life experiences, experiments, smaller and bigger losses and traumas
  • with the different values that children experience while growing up in their family
  • with parents (some constructive, other less) with different experiences and beliefs about education and teachers, with those who are ready for cooperation and dialogue, and those who are ready for criticism and attack
  • with the general value system of the society we live in

People working in educational institutions face not only pupils; they face their whole beings which is the reason why they see symptoms – a behavior accessible to perception (for example aggressive behavior towards others, peer abuse, auto-destructive behavior which is often difficult to perceive, frequent mental absence, learning difficulties, depressive states, psychosomatic problems, absentism, etc.).

When we talk about the welfare, prevention and mental health of children and adolescents we simply have to be interested about the extent to which we, as a society, hold important the very people who teach them – because they spend a lot of time together and are to some extent familiar with them.

The school system is primarily interested in children’s mental capacities which isn’t wrong, but it is also not enough for mental health. The fact is that children come to school as complete human beings which means that they also experience stress, fear, tension, anxiety, anger and sadness and can not get rid of these just because the school expects them to. Sometimes these states are even provoked by the experience in school and in contact with teachers.

Such emotional states prevent the process of learning, memorizing and reproducing the learned material, which is the part that is most appreciated in school. Teachers in our hyper bureaucratic system are responsible for teaching the content, for questioning and testing and filling the forms; they are torn between the pupils and the higher-up structures to which they answer to. We as a society are not much interested in how they actually feel in school – both children and teachers in countless everyday situations and meetings of human beings. We as a society are not dealing with that professionally and constructively, the result being the fact that there are a lot of psychologically and emotionally wounded and affected in our educational system, and that is on all sides.

In this permanent gap between the anticipated intellectual response and the reproduction of the content on one hand and the comprehensive human needs of children and adolescents on the other hand, life is taking place in pedagogical institutions in a way that is often exhausting for all those involved.

Professional workers in kindergartens and schools most often rely on their own wisdom and attained practices when, for example:

  • the child is very restless
  • the child can not hold the lid on his/her emotions at some point
  • the child in the group/class is a victim of bullying
  • the child in the group/class behaves aggressively
  • one of the child’s parents dies
  • children living with one of their parents have to write an essay on the subject of family
  • a tragic event occurs in kindergarten / school
  • the child has a parent who’s addicted to alcohol or drugs
  • … and much more

By developing relational competence we learn how to appropriately react in similar and many other situations with children and adolescents, and how to take responsibility for these relationships. Learning these competences does not mean taking a lecture in psychology. It is more like finding a genuine, human response to children and adolescents within myself – what do they need from us adults with whom they are spending their life?

Some adults who spend time with children professionally fear these responsibilities which is why they do not do this. This discomfort can be reduced by learning about what it means to take the responsibility for a relationship – this is the responsibility for what is happening between the teacher/educator and the child (for example, interest and presence – the will to step closer and start a dialogue with an aggressive child instead of excluding hi mor her), not the general responsibility for the child’s life.

The more we develop our relational competence the more we develop our self-confidence – the confidence that we can talk to and be with children and adolescents in a way that has a good and healthy impact on us as well as them.

Training schedule:

Module 1: 1st – 3rd March 2019, Novi Sad (Serbia)
Lecture and workshop: “What is relational competence and how it develops?”
Jesper Juul (Skype 2. 3.) and Dušanka Kosanović

Module 2: 22nd – 24th March 2019, Zagreb (Croatia)
Workshop: “Development of empathy in the group / class”
Helle Jensen

Module 3: 17th – 19th May 2019, Zagreb (Croatia)
Workshop: “Sources and means of support for pedagogues”
Christine Ordnung and Dušanka Kosanović

Module 4: 30th August – 1st September 2019, Zagreb (Croatia)
Lecture and workshop: „From Obedience to Responsibility“
Dušanka Kosanović and Jesper Juul (31. 8.)

Module 5: 18th october – 20th October 2019, Novi Sad (Serbia)
Workshop “Adult leadership in a group / classrom“
Christine Ordnung and Dusanka Kosanović

Module 6: 8th – 10th November 2019, Maribor (Slovenia)
Final workshop – integration of the content learned
Dusanka Kosanović


Daily schedule:

Friday: 14.00 – 20.00 (with short breaks as needed)
Saturday: 9.00 – 18.00 (with lunch break and short breaks as needed)
Sunday: 9.00 – 15.00 (with short breaks as needed, no lunch break)


Who is this training for?

The project is aimed at interested and motivated professionals in kindergartens and schools. We want to involve them in the process of learning about relationships – especially those between teachers / educators and children / adolescents and their parents.

The training is tailored for enthusiastic and internally motivated staff in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools – educators, teachers / professors, professional workers – who are open and interested in learning in the described field and place personal and professional development high up on the life values scale. The training group will comprise of the same number of participants from Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia; thus a limited number of participants can apply from each country. It is important to participate in all of the modules (the entire training program).

It is necessary for participants to understand English language because the lectures by foreign lecturers will not be translated. If you understand English but do not speak it fluently we will take care of the translation of your questions / comments in the course of education or training.


Registration fee

An international organization Familylab Association recognized the importance of the project and supported it by subsidizing the organizational costs.
The fee for 18-day education (6 three-day modules) is 690 € + VAT (22%) per participant.
Travel costs, accommodation and food are not included in the price.



“Relational Competence”, Jesper Juul and Helle Jensen (Mathias Voelchert GmbH Verlag, 2017)



Please send your application by e-mail to one of the following addresses by 20th of December 2018. After receiving the application we will contact you as soon as possible.
The group will be formed according to the order of the received applications. The number of participants in the project is limited. – contact Ivana Gradišnik, Slovenia – contact Ivana Muškinja, Serbia – contact Dušanka Kosanović, Croatia

You can download the application form here.

For any additional information or consultation please contact us at the above addresses.



Finally, let us briefly underline the importance of relationships in the staff room. These relationships are important because they create an atmosphere in school / kindergarten and influence how teachers / educators feel at their workplace. We all agree that various workshops and lectures on communication or prevention of violence which we organize for children and adolescents in schools where the atmosphere among adults is bad and where most people or some do not feel well are a laudable effort. Most children learn a lot in such workshops. But children are part of the system of a particular school and staff room is an important point of this system – its atmosphere floods over its walls and gives color to the school / kindergarten; it determines how people feel at their workplace. When we are teaching our children and adolescents about interpersonal relationship skills and would like them to learn things which we ourselves did not even try to learn or did not dare (for example, how to stand up for ourselves, how to solve conflicts, initiate dialogue, ask for help, step back in the name of the quality of the relationship, etc.), our teaching often has a very limited reach or is even condemned to fail, whereas our children and adolescents throw these unlearned lessons straight back to our faces.

Therefore, when we talk about the importance of relations in pedagogical institutions we have in mind all the relations in all of their integrity which take place in all possible directions: between principals and pedagogical teams and individual teachers / educators and children and adolescents and all other employees in a kindergarten / school. This perspective is extremely important in this training because we are well aware that during the process of developing their relational competence the participants will sometimes encounter feelings of helplessness and will crash with the limitedness of their particular pedagogical world. They will feel the constraints that arise from many moments, some of them being: inadequate culture of dialogue, fear of authority, obedience, concerns about loosing one’s job, a whole set of constraints resulting from the neglected educational system, inadequate practices, unprofessional approaches, lack of interest in professional development, etc. With this project we will not be able to directly influence these and similar constraints. But we do believe that if we strengthen and encourage awareness and belief that a different, better, more empathic and more professional pedagogical reality is possible then our goal will be achieved.


Please, share this information with educators and teachers who might be interested.

We look forward to your participation and mutual learning!


Best regards,

Dušanka Kosanović, Project Manager, Coordinator for Croatia
Ivana Gradišnik, Coordinator for Slovenia
Ivana Muškinja, Coordinator for Serbia


Jesper Juul and Helle Jensen:

Towards a New Culture of Education 

About this Book:

Conficts, grueling power struggles with diffcult children, and destructive behavior daily challenge both teachers and parents. The main cause for disobedience and lack of discipline is a deeper-seated relational confict between adults and children. Children want to learn; and they want to cooperate – provided their personal integrity and individuality are acknowledged and maintained in a respectful manner. This requires truly true dialogues with children. Juul and Jensen emphasize the signifcance of relational competence as the core concept, changing the very nature of how we see education. They offer relevant alternatives to conventional education and solutions for diffcult situations. They seek valid alternatives and give teachers the support that is so urgently needed.

The introduction can be read here:


About the authors:

Jesper Juul, born in Denmark in 1948, a family therapist, a supervisor and an author, was the founder of the renowned Kempler Institute of Scandinavia, now Danish Family Therapy Institute ( and represented by the and in the German speaking world. For over three decades this institute, besides training family therapists, provided hundreds of Scandinavian teachers with training on how to treat children and adolescents. Juul is one of the most infuential family therapists and authors on the art of upbringing and family topics in Europe. His books have been sold in record-breaking numbers. His international project called Familylab is committed to enabling parents and professionals to transform emotional love and commitment into loving behavior and is active in many countries and on several continents (

Helle Jensen
is a Danish psychologist and a family therapist who works in many European countries. Her joint work with Jesper Juul is focused on the area of the relational competence development in professional pedagogical staff and in the field of counseling and family therapy. As the president and founder of the Danish Association for the Promotion of the Life Wisdom of Children she teaches professional pedagogues about the development of empathy and presence in order for them to successfully transfer these values into the lives of children and adolescents with whom they work. Currently she is involved in the implementation of the EU program “Hand in Hand” which aims to strengthen the social, emotional and intercultural competences of eight-grade students, and runs the “Empathy Training” program (


Christine Ordnung is a German music and movement pedagogue and a body therapist. After training in family counseling according to the principles of Jesper Juul and the practice of personal work with families she founded in 2010 the German-Danish Institute for Family Therapy and Counseling in Berlin. The main area of her work is directed towards working with families and pedagogical staff in kindergartens and schools, especially in the field of relational competence development.

Dušanka Kosanović
is a Croatian psychologist and a family therapist. She completed her family therapy studies at the German-Danish Institute for Family Therapy and Counseling in Berlin. She is the leader of Familylab Croatia. Her main field of interest is working with individuals and families, teaching and supervising teams in caring and educational professions and the business sector, as well as working with individuals, family members and groups in the field of psycho-oncology. She conducts trainings, seminars and workshops on the topic of relational competence and lectures to professionals in Croatia and abroad.

Project coordinators:

Ivana Gradišnik is the founder and head of Familylab Slovenia. After graduating at the Faculty for Social Studies she has been involved in journalism and literary translation for several years until in 2007 she founded Familylab Slovenija. Since then she has been dealing with leading the organization and coordinating the events and educational programs for parents and pedagogic workers. She also conducts seminars, lectures and workshops for parents, does counseling for parents, runs publishing projects and writes articles and columns on the psychology of everyday life, the upbringing of children and the family relations.

Ivana Muškinja
is the founder and leader of Familylab Serbia. She is an expert in psychosocial approach in social work and a consultant on systemic family therapy and has ten years of experience in working at a pre-school institution.  She focuses on consulting work with individuals, couples and families, and is in charge of designing and implementing programs for parents and professionals in the field of education and social care.