What if we stop and take time to engage in real dialogue?
As I listened to James talk about dialogue during his weekly webinar, my mind went to the unrest that has grabbed hold of the heart of the USA and has captured the attention of the world. There is a heaviness in my heart as I consider how we got to this place and, as a woman of white privilege, I don’t pretend to comprehend it. And yet, what I do know is that history has taught us the only way to heal wounds, bridge divides, and understand each other’s pain is through dialogue. I think for example, of South Africa’s truth & reconciliation process that had such a profound effect on moving away from apartheid and it gives me hope. Dialogue was at the heart of their restorative process and it should be at the heart of ours too.
Of course, now is not the time though to share my knowledge and expertise as it relates to education and learning; much as I would love to stay in the space in which I feel comfortable, knowledgeable, and capable. Instead, I must face the deep wounds in our country in the same way that I view the world – as an educated, white, middle-class mother and wife. I don’t say this as a complaint, but rather an admission. There is so much that I do not know and understand. I must own this lack of knowledge and engage in dialogue with others to extend my thinking and create new meaning.
Key strategies for effective dialogue
One of the key points James made about improving dialogue in the classroom is for teachers to talk less and listen more. If ever there was a time for me to practice that, it is now. It is not my time to do the talking because I do not understand and cannot fully relate to the anger, fear, and frustration that people in significantly different circumstances to me are feeling.
I should ask questions and then wait; listen carefully; listen with compassion; listen with an open mind; and try my very best to understand. I will never completely comprehend the pain of others, but I can certainly make an effort to learn more so that I might have better insight.
There are so many of my fellow Americans who, despite sharing the same laws and constitution as my family, live such different lives. I have never had to counsel my three children about the abuse and prejudice they might suffer because of the color of their skin. I have never been paralyzed by fear at the thought of my children being misjudged for wearing a hoodie, reaching into their pockets, or running from trouble.
I must take the time to reflect on this so that I don’t forget it in a month, a year, or ever, so that I do not take for granted my own situation, and so that I might adjust my own behaviors and words to benefit my neighbor.
These are ideas and skills that James talked about during his webinar this week. It is striking to me how fitting and appropriate they are for us, not just in our classrooms, but in life. I have had conversations with my daughter in the last week that we have never had before. She is making profound statements that both of us dissect, question, extend, and explore. I honestly believe we have both grown in our empathy, our understanding, and our respect for the challenges and realities that we do not fully understand. These skills may come naturally to some, but imagine how much better off we might be if ALL of us developed our skills in the effective use of dialogue and if we used questioning to deepen our understanding and extend our learning?