Building Relationships Through Conversation

Conversations are living things that evolve. Things usually start with a  provocation to initiate discussion, but it is up to the participants to move the ideas forward. The Skilled.Space conversations on “Empowering Student Changemakers” that I host every other Sunday are a great example of how we can use our collective input to build on each others’ ideas.

Getting the Conversation Started

The provocation in our recent session was about student presentations. I shared about the student-led presentations I viewed at the recent Schools of the Future conference. This annual event was held virtually this year and featured special sessions of live presentations solely by students. In addition to viewing some of these from the audience’s perspective, I also had the opportunity to mentor two of my former students for their presentations. 

These presentations covered a wide range of topics including a model United Nations program, developing curriculum on Filipino culture, and student-led DEI programming. It was clear in watching these presentations that these were topics that students were passionate about. They were engaged in their topic and communicated how they took a central role in driving these learning experiences.

Shifting the Discussion

After introducing the topic the group shifted into a discussion about the state of presentations in our classrooms. We asked, “are they really student-driven?”. One educator shared about the difference between how students engage with presenting in primary versus secondary school. At younger ages, students tend to be more engaged with their learning, but then a noticeable shift happens as students mature. As they develop their identity they become more selective about which learning experiences they choose to engage with.

This can impact how they approach presenting their learning to their peers. They are much more self-conscious about the process. It is no longer viewed as an opportunity to speak excitedly about their learning. Instead, it is a time when they are forced to be in front of their peers and susceptible to judgment.

There is also an impact from the compliance-based learning models that students engage in starting in their secondary years. Students start to understand the grading game and view presentations as another way to be graded and scored by their teacher. In these cases are presentations really the authentic assessment that we think they are? Or are they another teacher-driven assignment that the students sheepishly complete to check a box and move on to the next thing? These were great points for the group to consider as we explored the topic of students as changemakers.

The Conversation Evolves

Here is where the conversation evolved to the next stage, and I often observe education discussions hit this point. A high school chemistry teacher asked how these presentations fit into courses like theirs that are standards-heavy, particularly AP courses. There is always a sense of dissonance when perspectives like this are brought up. How do you square the transformational ideas being discussed with the practical realities we are facing in our classrooms in the present moment? It was nice to see how the group navigated this incongruity.

We explored the role of PBL models to deliver content and provide opportunities for authentic student presentations. This led to others sharing about the need for professional development in order to train teachers to deliver this complex teaching model. This led to a conversation about the challenges that cash-strapped districts face to support teachers that need PD centered on project-based learning.

Ideas were being exchanged at a face pace. Each participant gave each other the space to share their ideas and pass when they were done. It was a great opportunity to listen to a wide range of perspectives on this point. Among those participating we had a diversity of teaching experiences that helped us examine this topic from different angles.

Through this process, we were able to see the full scope of a vicious cycle that occurs in our schooling system. Students test below standard, new pedagogies are discussed to address gaps in learning, schools talk about changes to implement, funds aren’t made available to train teachers, students struggle, more testing is done, and on and on. One teacher from a lower-income district emphasized the point that the schools that could utilize funds to develop PD to support project-based learning are often in these poorer districts.

Conversations as Relationship Builders

Skilled.Space says that with their platform you can “build relationships with more conversations.” I have definitely experienced this throughout the five sessions I have led on empowering student changemakers. Skilled.Space has allowed me the opportunity to build relationships with educators from different schools and from different parts of the world. 

The relationships I have built exist on three levels:

  • The ones I’ve had with educators before engaging on Skilled.Space has flourished
  • Connections among people I’ve met for the first time in these sessions have grown
  • New one-off correspondences Iʻve had on Skilled.Space has transitioned to other platforms where we’ve built on that initial interaction

I look forward to the sixth and final session of the “Empowering Student Changemakers” series. It has inspired me to evolve the work I do in my classroom and also the relationships I have with other educators. There has been a certain energy to the gatherings that is a reflection of our shared desire to support our students as drivers of their learning in school. Come join us for the closing session and let’s build something.

To read my other blog posts on my Skilled.Space conversations go to the following links:

Starting a Discussion On Empowering Student Changemakers

Contribution as Creativity

Parent-Teacher Collaboration

Defeating the Algorithm With Conversation