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Dialoguing across difference

October 18, 2018

As a learning community committed to discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence, we believe in recognizing, respecting, and celebrating the unique array of experiences, perspectives, and contributions that each person brings to our community. It is imperative that students feel our school is a supportive space where their unique voices and perspectives will be received with respect, integrity, and compassion.

As such, it is crucial that we equip students with the requisite skills to constructively dialogue and learn with those whose opinions and beliefs might be different from their own.

To that end, last year we embarked on a schoolwide process to build individual empathy and collective capacity for conversations around challenging topics. For this important work we have collaborated with Essential Partners, a consulting firm that is known internationally for their expertise in using structured dialogue to bridge differences and build community. Last March, the Upper School worked with Essential Partners to use these protocols to discuss feelings of safety and security after the mass shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida.

This moment—with the national conversation saturated with political discourse in advance of midterm elections—presents a timely opportunity to not only continue the meaningful dialogue work started last year but broaden it to include our entire community. Next Thursday, October 25, both the Middle School and Upper School will participate in their first facilitated dialogue of the year, focusing on personal values and beliefs.

To ensure that students feel comfortable, empowered, and supported in this work, these conversations will happen in trusted advisory groups and be co-facilitated by a faculty and staff member who have been trained in Essential Partners’ dialogic techniques. Faculty and staff will not be participating in the dialogue themselves but will provide and hold the framework for student discussion.

I want to underscore that these reflective dialogues are not about debate or persuasion, but about equipping students with the needed skills to create respectful dialog with people that may have different perspectives. They are personal, not partisan. They are an opportunity to talk about personal experiences and how they have shaped held values. They are an opportunity to listen to others’ experiences with resilience and curiosity, particularly if it involves hearing something that differs from a personally-held point of view.

An Invitation for Parents

Thursday’s activities will begin with an assembly for the Middle and Upper Schools where John Sarrouf of Essential Partners will connect our conversations with his wider work in communities and schools around the world. Then at 1:45 pm, while students are in their meetings, Essential Partners will also host a dialogue in the Discovery Studio for parents interested in experiencing the process first-hand. That session will end at 3 pm. Finally, at 6 pm in U201 (second floor, Upper School building) Essential Partners will host an information session open to all parents, where you will have an opportunity to ask questions about the day’s activities.

There is room in this process for everyone, and we would love to have you involved. Over the next week, we encourage families to consider some “dinner table” conversation starters that might help spark student reflection and sharing on the 25th. You might consider talking about any one of the following:

  • What school core value—respect, integrity, compassion—resonates most with you, and why?
  • Share a story from your past that you think of as one of the first moments you remember caring about an issue or a political idea.
  • Who in the world (other than your parents) do you most admire and why?
  • What local issue in the community is most concerning to you?
  • If you had more time to volunteer, what would you do? Why is that important to you?

Thank you for supporting your students as we undertake this critical work, which is directly linked to our strategic vision to cultivate self-directed and bold life-long learners who make meaningful contributions to the world. I hope to see some of you next Thursday, October 25, at the parent dialogue at 1:45 pm or in the 6 pm evening information session.


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