Foto Sonja Graafstal
Foto Sonja Graafstal

Educating with Sonja Graafstal

Sonja Graafstal is a lecturer in the Pedagogical Sciences programme. She teaches the third year of the bachelor's degree and coordinates the master's specialisation in Relational Development. Here, she tells us more about why she enjoys teaching and her biggest challenges.

In the third bachelor year, Sonja teaches a practical course in which students spend ten weeks working with a client at an institution. Sonja: "Students learn how they themselves can be the instrument in the relationship with the client. Often, the problem is put on the client, and they have to change their behaviour. We put the focus on the professional and ask: 'What can you do to change the client's behaviour?'" 

Sonja likes to keep students on their toes. "I ask a lot of questions that can leave students confused and sometimes even a bit irritated. Then I think good, you are thinking. I really find that one of the most fun things." 

"I ask a lot of questions that can leave students confused and sometimes even a bit irritated. Then I think good, you are thinking."

The master course Sonja teaches originated from her quest as a foster parent, where Sonja was curious about how to connect with children when words did not lead to behavioural change. She started studying and came into contact with the methodology of Carine Heijligers, with whom she obtained her PhD last February. In the thesis, they describe how the advisor is the tool to initiate development in the client. "We pass on the core of the thesis in the master course, where we look broadly at the context around the client and the role of the advisor. The course is very scientific on the one hand and very practice-oriented on the other. I try to translate scientific theories into concrete advice for advising. I think science should feed practice, and I also want to bring out the struggles in practice in education so that we can look for answers together. I see it as a triangle: education, research and practice, which ideally mutually influence each other." 

"I think science should feed practice, and I also want to bring out the struggles in practice in education so that we can look for answers together."

Sonja wants to get students thinking, but that is also where her challenge lies. "When exams are coming up, students get a bit insecure. They wonder what the 'right' answer should be, and that's actually what I don't want. I'm looking for a way of testing that brings out the students' own ideas while showing that they have integrated the lesson material." 

Since Sonja received her PhD, her research time has been cut short. She regrets not being able to do more research to answer practical questions. "I find it incredibly unfortunate and am curious to know if several PhD teachers are affected by this. In my opinion, research and teaching should permanently go hand in hand." 

Contact information

Organizational unit
Faculty of Social Sciences