The Importance of Conversation & Dialogue in Education
Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard with Laureen Golden
How might conversation and dialogue support the professional development of educators?
In order to give the essence of why conversation and dialogue are so important and what educators can achieve from them, we can distinguish the usual continued professional development of educators and something that can be more engaging like thinking about purpose: Why am I an educator? What am I trying to do with pupils? Why am I being an educator with them?
This is why Fullan & Hargreaves’ definition of professional learning and developments is so relevant: they make the difference between the traditional type of training or education for educators, which is sometimes more technical, and professional development, which can be something more about engaging values and purposeful activities.
And to get into this development conversation is extremely important.
When teachers are in conversation they’re really able to start thinking about their own values and whether or not they are living this values. Also, they’re going to see if they’re living in contradiction (Mc Niff & Whitehead, 2010):
Also, coming into conversation makes for a more level playing field: if everyone can participate, the locus of power is changed: power is distributed versus centralised as when you’re having a trainer or an expert lecturing . The latter is very top-down-ish, but when you’re actually having a conversation there isn’t one expert and knowledge is being built collectively within the conversation.
So, in terms of conversations for professional development, Learn to Change is quite engaged in doing this. We have initiatives that we have created and others that were inspired by previous activities with partners. Here are a few of the most powerful activities we have explored:
- Conversation Series, where we meet people and have 1:1 conversations on a topic that inspires.
- Learning meetings or “Weblabs”, which are not usual webinars since we’re inviting multi-stakeholder and intergenerational groups, gathering educators, students and parents, to talk and share their stories from the field; from there we have processes and cooperative structures that guide the collaborative learning. In the end, we can take lessons learnt though our conversation and put the learning out in different sources.
We are pursuing other techniques piloted in other teacher education venues . We like how these activities mobilise our bodies. We speak differently while walking, everyone is looking in the same direction, the movement is shaping the conversation in a positive way.
- Socratic Walks Socratic walking is an activity for professional development that we feel is very powerful: participants identify a problem or question about a topic, and those people who are interested in the question will be invited to walk and experience the Socratic method of questioning. Making itineraries is useful so that the length of the conversation is predictable. Through Socratic conversation we are
- exploring underlying assumptions behind our thinking,
- unearthing causal inferences we make so casually… but rarely think of, and specifically
- excavating and observing our attributions (or our “attributional patterns”) meaning ‘how we explain why things happen the way they do’.
- Constructive Rants is another kind of conversional development. With this activity, if there’s anyone in a group that is experiencing difficulties, is entering a zone of bad mood and pessimistic outlook, a the constructive rant activity gives the possibility for participants to go out and do the complaining while they’re walking outside. But then when they come back inside there is no more complaining, we enter another way of dealing with problem with other patterns, and understandings in our line of view to find emerging solutions to problems.
Thus, in conversation and dialogue for learning, we’re ideally in a non-formal and spontaneous interaction focusing on meaning-making. It’s important to see how we are dealing with divergence: is there “congeniality” (how we respectfully deal with divergence)? The extent to which the conversation is congenial will determine for a great part how democratic the conversation can be. Convergence, and a high level of acceptance of divergence without it being a problem in the relationship affords high congeniality.
Conversations are alive because you know how you start a conversation but you don’t know what to expect along the way, and it takes a lot of adaptation to be able to continue a conversation, learn from it and make meaning with others. This is a very important skill for educators.
Conversations are often chaotic and uncharted: they’re “Chaordic”, a kind of dance between Chaos & Order. Chaordic (a term coined by Dee Hock of VISA) is based on the blending of the words “CHAos” and “ORDer”. The term refers to the capacity to navigate through chaos and order, to get the upside of each.
In order to be able to engage well in a conversation, and to learn from it, we have to think about our own state of preparation and our inner condition: are we in a state where we are able to do all these things?
So there is some work to be done inside ourselves. Learn to Change developed a tool to help people with this inner preparedness: they are the Cards for Democracy for All, and the Cards for Democracy – Teachers Edition. The C4D 4 All are freely available and the the C4D Teacher’s edition is free for our members.
The full set of Cards for Democracy in PDF format is available for download to members of Learn to Change.
If you are already a member, click on picture, download and print your own set now!
About the article
This article is inspired from an interview of Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard entitled The Importance of Conversation & Dialogue in Education hosted by Laureen Golden.
You can listen to Pascale and Laureen’s own words here:
About the article
Illustrations, Video recording and Editing by Laureen Golden