Dialogue not Debate

Earlier this year, our Chaplain Louisa Parrales launched Forest School’s Dialogue Not Debate Project, working in close partnership with the Faith and Belief Forum (F&BF).  The aim of the initiative has been to formulate a project that can help resource young people to develop their thinking.

The project was sparked by an idea that a student raised about how to have a ‘good’ conversation about their faith with others when they fundamentally disagreed with some of the things that were really important to them.

Working with the F&BF, this was shaped into a project to support the students and empower them to produce a bank of teaching resources that can then be shared at Forest and, critically, also more widely through the F&BF networks.

The students who have been involved in this process have been on something of a journey in answering this brief.  They have come to the realisation that creating resources on this topic is not going to be as straightforward as they had originally thought.

This is because the students – through the workshops they been engaging in over the course of the last several weeks – have come to understand that that the way to approach facilitating these ‘good conversations’ is, appropriately enough, best supported through creating opportunities for dialogue rather than through educating or ‘telling.’

I think that I have become more confident speaking about issues.  I know what I should say and what I shouldn’t say when speaking about sensitive and controversial issues.

Y12 Participant

I feel we have really spread awareness about the issue in an interactive, informative, and engaging way.

Y12 Participant

I have been inspired to actively make changes like the way we design assemblies to address these issues.

Y12 Participant

Last week, the students presented their proposals and ideas for resources which can be used by Forest pupils and accessed by the wider community through the work of the F&BF.  The panel consisted of Jeff Kayne, Deputy Head Pastoral, Kate Spencer Ellis, Head of Sixth Form and Amy Ark from the F&BF network and, of course, our Chaplain Louisa Parrales.

I believe that there should be more opportunities to talk and actually discuss these issues within school. This will facilitate discussions and dialogues, allowing people to view and understand other perspectives that they may not have considered before. A way we could do this is by dedicating lecture series to ‘controversial’ topics and facilitating discussions using Dialogue Not Debate tools.

Louisa Parrales, Chaplain

It was inspiring to hear students speak about their journeys and to engage with them about how to take this project further. We pride ourselves on taking Student Voice seriously and this is an excellent example of how we have student voice has given momentum to an important school priority.

Kate Spencer Ellis, Head of Sixth Form

The project will continue into next academic year with students continuing to develop their thinking on how to facilitate constructive conversations around identity and beliefs and skills for community cohesion. The F&BF will also continue to mentor the students in facilitation skills, project design and leadership skills that will help create a lasting and valuable resource at the end of the project.

The students have worked through topics that have been new and challenging in the 7 workshops. They have explored the importance of dialogue, explored how identity and understanding can help to open up dialogue. They have also explored the importance of dialogue when exploring controversial issues. Students have spent time during each workshop to develop their own project topic. As part of this, they worked through a design and development process to define and refine the objectives and activities of their ‘Big Ideas’. The project is a flagship project that I would like to promote as a model for other schools to follow. Louisa and I have been working on gathering feedback from the students each week to develop our own approach and ensure that it is informed by the students. We are hoping that by empowering the students to create opportunities to hold dialogues with their peers around topics of faith, prejudice, and diversity, that they will promote and model skills for dialogue with their peers.

Amy Ark, Faith & Belief Forum