By Kim Pearce, President, CMM Institute, and Former Director, National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI)
In myriad ways, this has been an unprecedented year. As I write this in mid-November, new Covid cases are increasing in every State in the U.S. and in many countries around the world. Schools around the world have had to adopt new, and in many cases unprecedented, practices, including complete or hybrid online teaching and learning. And yet, even in these most challenging of times, there are examples of teachers and schools continuing to use deliberative practices. I’d like to share three examples in hopes of inspiring educators to recognize that it is possible to effectively teach deliberative skills/practices to very young children, despite the circumstances we are living in.
The first example comes from Romania. Researcher Carmen Greab and PhD student Iulia Georgescu are working with pre-kindergarten and primary school teachers to teach them how to incorporate deliberative pedagogy into online teaching. They have been working with teachers throughout Romania teaching them how to use deliberative teaching practices and CosmoKidz conversations to develop students’ social-emotional/deliberative skills. They invited 22 teachers from counties representing both rural and urban areas to attend a two-hour workshop to better understand the challenges teachers are currently facing in the online environment. The information they received has helped them plan three online teaching modules beginning in late November for teachers throughout Romania. The modules include the following:
- Week 1: Deliberative Teaching practices for developing civic and socio-emotional skills, Theoretical perspectives and conceptual clarifications.
- Week 2: Deliberation in the classroom practices - Practical examples for using deliberation in the classroom as well as developing instruments for measuring various skills and values in students.
- Week 3: Adapt and develop a deliberative teaching practice for their classrooms.
Among other things, Carmen and Iulia hope to create a community of teachers across Romania who will work together to develop and implement deliberative teaching practices during and after the pandemic has ended. It strikes me that teachers in other countries, including the United States, would also benefit from the kind of community of support that Carmen and Iulia are creating.
The second example comes from Mountain Vista k-8 school in Oracle, Arizona. First- and second-grade master teachers Amy McDonald and Katrina Telles have been teaching deliberative skills to their students for the past seven years, including a deliberation club that they developed two years ago and offer to fourth- and fifth-grade students. Last year, they expanded their work for the entire faculty and staff, hosting a number of deliberations about campus-wide issues. This year, there were heated conversations about when and how to safely open their campus. The superintendent was so impressed by the deliberations that Amy and Katrina moderated the prior year that she asked Amy and Katrina to lead the entire faculty/staff in a deliberation on the topic of how to safely open their campus. The deliberation was the first time that the faculty and staff were able to meaningfully discuss various perspectives and points of view and come to decisions that didn’t polarize the campus.
The third example is an entire pre-kindergarten through 4th grade school in Independence, Louisiana. Independence Leadership Academy has become an entire CosmoKidz/deliberative campus. Every class and every grade have brief but daily conversations about their social worlds; this year the conversations have included topics related to Covid—social distancing, experiencing loss, and working with difficult emotions. The younger students are learning the communication skills and abilities that make it possible for them to deliberate while the 3rd and 4th grade students have ongoing conversations about topics that include three choices that involve discussions about what they like/value as well as the trade-offs and concerns. These conversations are occurring with students attending classes as well as the students who are receiving online instruction.
These three examples highlight that teachers and schools in the United States and beyond are not deterred by the challenges of Covid, but see the opportunities deliberation and deliberative pedagogies provide in helping students and colleagues learn and grow in the midst of a very challenging time.