It is an understatement to say that we at St. Francis are big on conversations. From exchanges between four-year-old friends over a toy to lower school conflicts to middle school peer mediation to some of the bigger issues of high school, we are constantly sitting down with students to have conversations about the impact of their actions on themselves and others. In recent months, we’ve also been focused on the concept of finding ways to help students appropriately negotiate hard conversations with one another. We wanted to create a framework that is consistent with the school’s Mission and values, and a set of tools that students can use to be truly in dialogue with one another. Compassion is at the forefront of our Mission statement, which begins, “St. Francis School cultivates a joyful, compassionate, intellectual community.” Embedded as students are in a society of TV talking heads and blistering social media posts, they need this kind of education now more than ever. This work takes different approaches, of course, at the different levels.
At the High School, we recently unveiled a poster entitled “How to Have Difficult Conversations.” You can take a look at it here. Adapted from resources from Spalding University and the Teaching Tolerance website, the poster was introduced at a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training we brought outside facilitators in to do with our students two Fridays ago. Students then had the chance to break into advisee groups and do some practice work. “How to Have Difficult Conversations” is divided into two parts. The first is a chart to determine whether students are ready to have a difficult conversation, divided into “I Am Ready If” and ”I Am Not Ready If.” For example, I am ready if my motive is to expand understanding, or if I am curious about the other person’s perspective. I am not ready if my real motive is to be right, ‘fix’ the other person, or prove my point. The second is “Strategies for Conversations”: Reiterate, Contemplate, Respire, and Communicate. At the end, the poster notes, “Remember that any story we tell ourselves about another person is only part of their story, if it’s truly a part at all.” The posters hang in each classroom at the High School, to provide expectations for our students and strategies to meet those. We plan to continue modeling these difficult conversations and helping students practice having them; this, as much as what we teach within our academic curriculum, feels vital to accomplishing the final piece of our Vision statement, which is that our students “grow into mindful, informed young adults.”
The strategies for these conversations look different at various ages, but the goals remain the same. Guided by our Mission statement, we work with the students to develop a joyful and compassionate St. Francis School community.