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Maintaining an Open Dialogue is Key as Korowal Teachers Learn New Skills | Blue Mountains Gazette

We place the student’s voice at the center of their social network

It is rare to be able to dedicate a block of time for all staff to meet in a school, especially when unpredictable events force last minute changes.

Nonetheless, Korowal School set aside five days earlier this year for all-staff training, and believes they are richer for shared experiences.

Aided by the Open Dialogue Center in Sydney, Korowal embarked on Open Dialogue training.

This was led by Professor Niels Buus, previously from the University of Sydney and now from Monash University.

Alongside Professor Buus were Sarah Farrell-Whelan and Lisa Clement, who both completed their Masters in Open Dialogue under Professor Buus and work at Korowal, and University of Sydney researcher Andrea McLaughlan.

Ms. Farrell Whelan has been practicing open dialogue as part of Korowal’s wellness program for three years. Through Network Meetings, it brings people together.

“We invite people to talk and listen. We put the student’s voice at the center of their social network, including parents, caregivers, peers and teachers, who are all part of the decision-making process,” explains director Barb Fitzgerald. Characteristics of open dialogue practices include open questioning, coming from a position of not knowing, and appreciative listening.

The process also allows time for feedback and reflection, and slows the rush to a solution.

“We are genuinely interested in the people gathered and we provide a space for responsiveness. We are committed to providing opportunities for young people to feel heard and gain confidence,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

Dialogue is at the center of the Korowal Oracy program, launched in 2019. Open dialogue is systematically practiced in meetings and classrooms. Learning “to speak” and “by speaking” is the very essence of orality.

Teachers now include more student-to-student discussions in classes. They share ideas and reflections and together sharpen their thinking and expand their learning.

It is a gradual and layered process, accommodating the most shy to the most outgoing students.

According to staff, the Open Dialogue training was intense and satisfying. “Now we put on the training wheels and start practicing our skills,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“Even amid the current uncertainty, we have created a new and exciting way to be in Korowal.”