Academic journal article Education

Conversations for School Personnel: A New Pathway to School Improvement

Academic journal article Education

Conversations for School Personnel: A New Pathway to School Improvement

Article excerpt

Defining "meaningful conversations" is the first task. Although an attempt is made to dissect the term, it is synergistic with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. School stakeholders are invited to have "conversations" that afford the interchange of thoughts and ideas that promote dialogue, communication, and even heart-to-heart discussions. Such discourse should be "meaningful" or significant, purposeful, valuable, and filled with intention. With even a brief inspection of the term, it becomes easy to see how "meaningful conversations" could foster a model for comprehensive and transformational school improvement.

Much has been written about the importance of open, ongoing dialogue. Block (2008) discusses the challenge to create connectedness and caring out of isolation and self-interest and calls on the need for interdependence. Stone, Patton, and Heen (1999) assert that a typical response to many conversations is to avoid or confront. From the field of neuroscience, David Rock (2006) suggests that in order to increase performance, language must improve people's thinking about their work. This is echoed in the work of Kegan and Lahey (2001) as they offer the necessity of various languages needed to ensure better working environments. Each points to the need for communication that invites rather than refuses.

Meaningful conversations, then, is a coming to the table. The beauty of this table is that it is a round table where everyone can sit face-to-face to use their voice on behalf of children, the future. The table is inclusive. Included is all school personnel and an extension is made to the community. The school leadership team helps to set the table so that all school personnel (internal stakeholders) and the community (external stakeholders) can collaborate together on the manifold wisdom, talents, and good will on behalf of following generations. The meaningful conversations are not all alike or for the same purposes.

In most cases, the table is set for academic achievement, the primary focus of the school. With a spirit of partnership, meaningful conversations are the safe spaces that are set aside for purposeful, intentional, focused, and authentic discourse that includes: committed listening; rallying around the vision; sharing of perspectives; sharing of passion; planning and working through agreements for action; nurturing and celebrating the value of others; and resolving and managing conflict.

When describing meaningful conversations, gather around for the table is spread, enters the authors' minds. When organizations create the space for two or more to assemble formally or informally, to be of one accord, the people will partake. For all who have ever experienced even one meaningful conversation, they long for another. Meaningful conversations endure in the heart minutes, hours, years, and even decades after they occur. These are the conversations that crack open hard exteriors and let in new light. They give rise to the "aha" moments and generate a synergy that was previously nonexistent.

With each new context, the participants can revisit them and experience them again and again as they afford greater insight and paradigmatic shifts. Interestingly enough, silence is as much a part of meaningful conversations as words. The thoughtful and pregnant pause has its place. The silence gives birth to that which is quiet and deafening, ethereal yet tangible. The air surrounding meaningful conversations becomes electric; consciousness of time disappears due to the flow and complete absorption of concentrated unity or even the challenge of the moment. Participants are only aware of the communion and commitment of their hearts and souls.

When one thinks about all the conversations that occur in schools and about schools, how would these be categorized? Would one categorize the conversations of one's school as meaningful or trivial, positive or negative, fruitful or wasteful, constructive or devastating? …

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