"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Posts tagged with "Children"

Learning about Dialogue in Middle School

I first learned about Global Learning Partners (GLP) and Dialogue Education about ten years ago when I started working for them. Since then I have applied the principles and practices not only in my work life, but also in my personal life. Most recently, I started using it in my role as Student Council Advisor at my local middle school.

Since our staff and consultants work globally, we deeply value any in-person time we get with each other. In 2017, we had one of these valuable face-to-face work sessions in Raleigh, North Carolina. During this trip Dr. Jane Vella invited us to her home for a mini-learning session. There we were asked to participate in a learning task about a concept from her book “On Teaching and Learning.” The concept of resisting vs. suspending immediately resonated with me. I instantly started jotting notes and planning ways I could introduce this concept to my politically diverse family members and to the Student Council I was involved in!

I spent the next few weeks designing a Student Council activity for 7th and 8th graders. Here’s what I did:

  1. I began by having one of the Student Council members read the following excerpt from Jane’s book “On Teaching and Learning.” Then, we discussed it to ensure everyone in the group understood the text.

“When we listen to someone speak, we face a critical choice. If we begin to form an opinion we can do one of two things: we can choose to defend our view and resist theirs. Try to get the other person to understand and accept the “right” way to see things (ours!). OR we can learn to suspend our opinion and the certainty that lies behind it. Suspension means that we neither suppress what we think nor advocate for it.”

     2.  Next the kids brainstormed a list of current “hot topics” they were interested in. Their list included:           

a.      Building a border wall along the United States/Mexico border

b.      School dress code

c.       Is Big Foot real

d.      Should 7th and 8th graders be allowed to have recess.

     3.  I asked two 8th graders to model resisting and suspending using helium balloons. They picked one of the hot topics and began a dialogue. Pulling the helium balloon down in front of your face modeled resisting and lifting the balloon above your head modeled suspending opinion. (See above image.)

          They wrote their position on the hot topic on their balloon. When they modeled resisting, the words were in their face indicating defense of their own view and resistance of the other’s view.

     4.  Then, I asked the kids to write examples of evidence of dialogue on Post-it notes. Some of their examples included:

a.      Hearing what someone says

b.      When people are talking and listening

c.       A conversation.

     5.  Next, we discussed what exactly listening is and what are actions associated with listening. Once again, they jotted their ideas on Post-it notes and took turns presenting their answers to the group.

     6.  Finally, it was time to practice what they learned. The kids split into groups of four (with two teams of two) and picked a hot topic of interest. One person in each team held the balloon and the other person engaged in dialogue. If the kids engaging in the dialogue started to show signs of resisting, the balloon holder would pull the balloon down as a reminder that they weren’t suspending or truly listening to the other person. The student would then work harder to practice modeling suspending.

I was so happy to see the Student Council kids truly engaged in this activity from start to finish! The learning was powerful and impactful. Days later, I had teachers approach me to let me know that kids were still talking about resisting and suspending in their classrooms.

I’m excited to continue using the principles and practices of Dialogue Education to enrich the work and learning of Student Council this year!

How do you engage young people in their own learning?

*****

Rebecca Kerin-Hutchins (rebecca@globallearningpartners.com) is a co-owner and Finance & Contracts Manager for Global Learning Partners. She is also the Student Council Advisor at Barre Town Middle & Elementary School. She resides in Vermont with her husband and four children.

Shared Power: Differences in Dialogue with Children and Adults

“Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children?”​

I heard this question many times as a graduate student, but never thought I would have to answer it myself. I had no idea I would soon be working as an Afterschool Teacher with a diverse group of eighteen 4th and 5th grade students. This job forced me to reevaluate the lessons I learned as a student and practitioner of Dialogue Education and a learning-centered approach. Every day, amidst the chaos of my classroom, I thought to myself:  “Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children—especially these kids?”

By daily asking this question, I began to live my way into an answer; an answer that has fundamentally changed my understanding of dialogue, and my understanding of power.

When I first encountered Dialogue Education, I thought it was all about letting go of power. The teacher, forsaking professorial domination in pursuit of real dialogue, becomes a co-learner and creates space for learners to discover their own power. Then the teacher “gets out of the way,” relinquishing power to learners until the process is complete in an event called “the death of the professor.” In my mind, Dialogue Education invited me to let go of power as a teacher for the sake of learners and their learning, as an act of love.

Then, at my new job, I received the opposite advice: I was instructed to hold on to control as much as I could. “These kids are tough,” more experienced teachers told me. “They will push you around if you let them, so they need to know you are in control.” As much as I cringed at this advice, these teachers knew what they were talking about. The more power I let go of, the more my students took advantage of it. When I didn’t hold on to control, students would cause problems for each other and someone would get hurt. When I held on to as much control as I could, I protected students from each other, and from themselves. This, too, was an act of love.

And yet I was not content to dictate classroom dynamics, even if it led to increased order and productivity. I still believed in dialogue as well as a learning-centered approach to teaching. So I did not forsake Dialogue Education, but wrestled to re-contextualize the principles and practices for a rowdy crowd of elementary students. In doing so, I realized how Dialogue Education is not mainly about letting go of power, nor is it about holding on to control: it is about using power well so that it can be shared, which may mean letting go of power or holding on to control, depending on the situation.

This has changed the way I employ the principles and practices of Dialogue Education as taught by Global Learning Partners. Take the principle of “Safety,” for example. Sometimes, safety requires “getting out of the way” to allow softer voices to be heard. Other times, safety requires “getting in the way” to prevent louder voices from dominating. Or take the principle of  “Respect.” Sometimes, respect means allowing learners to make their own decisions. Other times, respect requires taking away this privilege when they are actively disrespecting one another with harmful words and actions. In my own class, I learned that cultivating safety and respect does not only require a soft heart; it also requires thick skin.

So, what does Dialogue Education look like with children?

It still looks like applying the principles and practices, only with younger learners who often require power to be used differently for dialogue to emerge. Ultimately, this points to the necessity of a learning needs and resources assessment, and the importance of the “WHO” in every learning situation. Before we can say what Dialogue Education looks like with children, we must ask, “Which children?”

With the children in my class, I first had to close the space so that learners could safely and respectfully engage without yelling and flying objects getting in the way. Only then could dialogue emerge. In other words, I had to use my power in such a way that this specific group of learners could use theirs. On the occasions when I succeeded, the result was an environment of giving and receiving what one another had to offer—a power that was shared, even enjoyed.

As teachers, we need to ask ourselves what will maximize learning in each situation. My goal now is not always letting go of my power, nor is it holding on to control—it is to use my power well, for and with the specific learners in the room. The principles and practices of Dialogue Education call us to use our power well and intentionally so that others can use theirs, until the power of every learner can be shared in love.

What other learning-centered principles and practices have you found to be effective with children?

How may this be different or the same when working with youth?

*****

Drew Boa works at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. He is in the process of publishing a curriculum for youth about sexual health and wellness, which he began designing while taking "Advanced Learning Design" with Global Learning Partners. He loves Dialogue Education and is a daily practitioner!