The following article was written by Jerry D. Strickland about his recent participation in a Deliberative Pedagogy workshop recently at Miles College, in Fairfield, Alabama.
As I enter my 12th year of teaching with Birmingham City, I ponder the friendships and professional relationships I have entered into during that time. One of the most fruitful of those many relationships I have been honored to have been a part of is also one of the earliest. Ms. Peggy Sparks and her devotion to the Kettering Foundation and their deliberative pedagogic brainchild, the National Issues Forum has created, both in my classroom and in many others throughout the district and the state, a democratic methodology that is at the forefront of the transformative changes we hope to see in education. Perhaps nowhere has that dedication been more evident than at the recent Deliberative Pedagogy workshop held at Miles College.
The workshop incorporated many different facets with the National Issues Forum as the focal point and the main teaching method. There were representatives of the Kettering Foundation that presented the idea of deliberative forums as teaching tools; professors from UAB and Lawson State that provided content knowledge along with other strategies and sources, or offered technical support and peripheral duties; teachers and their direct superiors from the Birmingham City School district (including myself) who have worked with Ms. Sparks in bringing her initiative to life; representatives of the Alabama State Department of Education whose presence will be explained momentarily; and finally, and perhaps most importantly, there were in attendance student teachers who were close to graduation from many of the colleges and universities in the area.
As a two day workshop, the schedule of the workshop was impeccable. The first day was spent familiarizing the attendees with background knowledge of such subjects as social awareness, state standards and best practices, as well as teaching methods and theories. Additionally, the first day of the workshop was used to create a certain level of curiosity in the idea of deliberative forums as a teaching tool. The second day then was that deliberative forum, and a debriefing where the attendees were given the opportunity to discuss, dissect, critique, and otherwise learn and cement the strategy for future use.
The first day of the workshop was a true learning experience for both the seasoned teachers and educators that have used the National Issues Forum in the classroom and the student teachers that were there to be introduced to the concept. We were given a bit of a crash course on deliberative pedagogy as a theory of education by diverse inclusiveness, that is participation by all those involved; which is just how the presenter from the Kettering Foundation led the discussion. We moved in a democratic, collective manner from what deliberation is (academic, social, moral, and civic), to why we should use it (no answer has intrinsic value so all participants can feel worthy), to what stands in our way (will it be on the test?). The presentation managed to introduce the concept as a “best practice” which new teachers (and old ones) will hear incessantly in their classrooms from administrators. It gave them a reason to use it in other words; a reciprocal, critical thinking tool, with opportunities for kindness, respect and caring, that supports all learners. Surely there were a few converts to the NIF on that first day.
As I mentioned before, there were State Department of Education representatives mixed in among the teachers, and prospective teachers. On the first day, they made their presence known through a fantastic presentation that followed up the Kettering Foundation’s. Their presentation hit on all pertinent standards: the Alabama Course of Study; the College and Career Ready Standards; National Council for Social Studies; Common Core; and the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework. They went further though, and illustrated how all the standards – from responsible participation in society; to speaking and listening, or reading an informational text; to cultural time and change all fit into the National Issues Forum umbrella. Once again, this created a sense of use for the veteran and new teachers alike.
As we have already mentioned, the second day of the workshop was used for the implementation and modelling of the National Issues Forum. The NIF went over well; with a topic on income inequality and the ties to education, it would have been hard not to with such a group of teachers. The really important part of day two for me and many other teachers I spoke with was the opportunity to dissect, and then critique the forum model. I worked with one group that enraptured by the idea of the forum; and another that took pieces and parts with them that they felt would work in their individual classroom or career path. Either way, the theory and practice of deliberation went with them.
Ms. Peggy Sparks and I have spoken many times in the past about finding a way to bring the National Issues Forum to life in such a way that both veteran teachers, strong and confident in their classrooms, and new teachers, looking for best practices and strategies that will enable them to teach, could use it in a classroom. We spoke in the past about modelling deliberative forums for teachers, so that they could see firsthand the value of deliberation. At Miles College during the two day workshop on deliberative pedagogy, I believe we began building that bridge into the future. I look forward to my continued work with Peggy, the NIF, and the teachers who will assuredly carry the forums into their future classrooms.