Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Public Conversation Toolkit

Thursday, July 18, 2013
Summer is quickly coming to a close for me and my school will be busy with the sounds of students who are eager to learn and excited to make new friends.  Unfortunately, after about two weeks, the excitement of coming back to school will begin to wear off and that peaceful scene will quickly fade away (sigh). 

In my opinion, the beginning of school is like getting a new roommate in college.  At first, you are so eager to get to know this person that you do everything together...go to the movies, go out to eat, go to parties, study together, watch television...you get what I mean. Then, ever so slightly, things that were not so noticeable become an instant irritant.  When these little irritations are first noticed, you try to shrug them off or make excuses for them. Maybe she did not clean the hair out the drain because she was in a hurry to get to class or maybe she hasn't made her bed in a month because she is going to get back in it tonight. As time passes, you notice that those little irritations become bigger and bigger.
Eventually, the desire to be around each other erodes and you begin avoiding one another, going to hang out in other dorm rooms, or contemplating moving back home.When the honeymoon period is over,everyone's true self is revealed.

When the honeymoon period is over at school, a slow tide of irritants begin to emerge. Many of these disturbances simply come from our biases, perceptions, and past experiences that we bring with us to school.
Everyone sees things differently
Without proper skills to deal with situations that disturb us, conflicts often emerge. Sometimes these conflicts can lead to class disruptions, verbal disagreements, physical fights, and even bullying.  Because we all have different beliefs and perceptions, there is a lot of potential for disagreements in the classroom, the lunchroom, or the hallways. If educators and students lack the ability to carry on a meaningful conversation or dialogue, things can get out of hand quickly.  As a school counselor and conflict manager, I believe it is very important to train staff and students in communication or dialogue processes. Dialogue processes can be very useful for class discussions, student/parent conferences, meetings, misunderstandings, and conflicts. In my opinion, this is a skill that students need more than ever!!

What is Dialogue?

Trish Jones, Christi Tinari, and Catrina Cueves, from the Conflict Resolution Education and Teacher Education or CRETE project, define dialogue as a process where individuals or groups share information in order to gain a better understanding.  The goal of dialogue is not to change that person's opinion, but to shift how we view self, the other person, and our relationship with that person. Therefore, the point of dialogue is understanding and not to find flows, criticize, or prove your point.


Public Conversation Toolkit


Now that we are aware of the meaning of dialogue, how do you implement it in high schools?  The CRETE project provides a Public Conversation Toolkit that I would like to share with you.  

If you would like to know more information about CRETE and the great skills you can learn, please feel free to email me and I can provide you with further training information.

CRETE

Tool # 1-The Public Conversation Project (PCP) created a facilitated dialogue process out of their desire to help create understanding between Pro-Choice and Pro-Life groups in the early 1990's.

Public Conversation Project

This dialogue process is voluntary and guided by three prompts:

  • Prompt 1-What is your personal experience with this topic?
  • Prompt 2-What are you concerned about? What do you want others to understand?
  • Prompt 3-Who should have a voice in this conversation? Who is most being harmed by this topic and what would you like to see happen?
The purpose of the prompts is to help participants seek others' point of view, learn respectful listening, and promote understanding. The role of the facilitator is to maintain the environment by making sure ground rules are set, the prompts are followed, and that closure is provided to end the process.  

Tool # 2-Methodological Beliefs created by Educators for Social Responsibility and Rachel Poliner.


Methodological belief is a method that withholds arguments so that others' beliefs can be explored. This can be quite difficult for students and adults as our brain is wired for fight or flight. 

Methodological belief process:

1. Identify the conflicting issue.
2. Ask students to divide into two groups (pros and cons).
3. Explain that the goal is understanding and common ground.
4. Ask for a member of the pro group to present belief statements in support of the issue. While that person is speaking, have students in the other group listen for one thing that he or she can agree with.
5. After that person is finished, have a student from the other group ask questions of understanding.
6. Repeat the steps with a presenter from the other group.
7. Debrief

Tool # 3-Recognizing disrespectful communication  and showing respect or confirming behaviors.

According to Tricia Jones and Jessica Jameson of CRETE, disrespectful communication is often identified when we act as if the other person does not exist (indifference) or does not have a right to assert his/her identity (imperviousness).  In order to show confirming behaviors or messages of respect, one must:
  • Recognize the other person non verbally and verbally.
  • Acknowledge the other person's perceptions, comments or questions without agreeing with them.
  • Endorse or send the message that their feelings or perceptions are okay. 
Tool # 4- Use of Movies

School counselors can have a great impact on school culture by training students and staff members in dialogue processes. One other tool that I use in my school is called Peace Cafe. Last year, I invited some follow mediators to come to my school and we viewed the movie, Odd Girl Out.
After the movie ended, one of the mediators led a facilitated discussion about the issue of girl bullying by asking several probing questions.  The purpose of the questions was to lead students to think critically about the events that led up to the bullying in the film, what factors contributed to the bullying, and what were some solutions to the bullying. Also, the students were asked to talk about specific incidents when they were bullied, what led up to the bullying, and what could have made the situation better for them.  In addition, the students were asked to brainstorm causes of bullying  and possible solutions for preventing bullying at their school. The discussion was powerful and the students seemed to appreciate the process.

This year, I am going to train a group of peer helpers in dialogue processes. I feel that teaching students to use dialogue with other students will continue to have a great impact on school climate!! 

See the following resources to set up your own dialogue processes in your school...good luck!

Resources: