January 26: Talking, Listening, Learning
It has been said that Burgundy kids are good talkers. I think there is truth in that. We certainly bring our students along here at school to not be shy (even if they are shy) about speaking up. When they are impassioned, as children often are, there can be a tendency for many voices to try to be speaking all at once. Fortunately we have some basic tools and signals that, for the most part, keep the passion from presenting problems, and there are many excellent conversations here each and every day that might never take place in another school. Some classes at Burgundy over the years have taught forms of formal debate. Rarely does debate at school rage out of control.
Alas, if only the adults—including federal legislators—could consistently keep decorum as well! Thanks to Burgundy Communications Manager Meghan Williams I read this story about U.S. Senator Susan Collins using a ‘talking stick’ to help shape constructive conversation, at least in her office.
There’s a great metaphor here not only in the talking stick as a symbol of respectful, shared dialogue on tough issues—but also how things can get damaged if you don’t have and follow ground rules. In the story a keepsake on the senator’s shelf is damaged; in real life, the consequences, as we have seen amply illustrated, are more serious!
While the government shutdown is an extreme example, we will all face conflict and need to prepare to face it, and work through it. Knowing how to talk to one another, and more important, how to listen is a vital learning and life skill. And at Burgundy learning this skill starts early.
I spent Sunday through Tuesday this week with VAIS heads of school in Charlottesville. One of the presenters was a college president, one of many I have heard in the past several years lamenting that the biggest ‘learning gaps’ of students heading to college too often are not academic gaps but the skills, like listening, knowing how to debate, how to analyze a position and respond, how to sift valid information from unreliable, and so forth. All ‘soft’ skills. But more and more essential. “Give me six months,” we hear employers say, “and I will bring an industrious, intelligent employee technically up to speed; but if they lack the basic people skills, they are not useful to me!”
Here at school, so much learning occurs in the give-and-take between and among students themselves. Analysis, hypothesis-making, testing of ideas and evaluation of information happen in pairs and small groups, and students are learning in ways that we believe, irrespective of rapidly evolving technologies and careers, will be instrumental for the foreseeable future!