Dialogical Relations: Our Learning Oriented Conversations at JO

A very busy two weeks have passed us by.  Here are a few of the highlights:


  • Music students engaged in the Canadian Schools Alliance song writing workshop;
  • Students from the Galileo Project finalizing plans for a J.O. Student Lounge;
  • Student Council, Music and CST all moving rooms (on the same day!);
  • An exceptional Spring Concert;
  • A very creative drama production, “The Dining Room”;
  • A Fine Arts Week that also showcased in the cafeteria the work of our talented visual arts students. 

In a book I recently read, Eichmann in Jerusalem, the author, Hannah Arendt, had something interesting to say about how identity is constructed:


Plurality is the law of the earth.  My discovering my own identity doesn’t mean that I work it out in isolation but that I negotiate it through dialogue.  My own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relations with others.


Who we are and what we do is, in large part, greatly affected by the discussions we have with one another; as Chris Kelly is fond of saying, “relationships are the primary medium for success.”  Hannah Arendt reframes relationships as dialogical relations and it is through the power of these relations that we, this month, will begin to draft our vision for J.O. 2009-2010.  We will do this by discussing in departments and committees the past, present and the future: drawing from the past, anchoring the future in the present and sharpening the focus of our picture of the future with a clear long-term goal.


Dialogical relations are for us what Dennis Sparks calls “learning-oriented conversations”.  In his article, “Leaders Use Every Opportunity to Promote Learning-Oriented Conversations,” he writes that leading through learning occurs when we “listen to others in a spirit of openness about the topic at hand” and when we “listen to learn.” 



A large proportion of the learning conversations that I have been a part of in the past two weeks, one to one, at School Growth and Pro-D meetings, have centered around the topic of  assessment (again, an example of our stated commitment to “focus on our professional practices” ).  One of these conversations was with Ron Turner who, before I had my first coffee Monday morning, accosted me with kindness and an article penned by Ken O’Connor: “Reforming Grading Practices in Secondary Schools.”




O’Connor states that it is essential to be clear about the primary purpose of grades, which is to communicate students’ achievement of learning goals. However, due to “excessive entanglement between achievement and behaviour, achievement grades are often misinterpreted.”  He concludes with the premise that grades must be about achievement only with behaviours reported separately.


Ron’s article, for me, also brought credence to Arendt’s notion of a co-dependency around defining one’s identity: on a sunny Friday afternoon, at 3:30, in my office, I’ve just spent 20 minutes engaged in a learning-oriented conversation focused on O’Connor’s article with Lester Leung.  It is dialogical relations like this which aid in constructing professional identities.


In the end, when we create community through building trusting relationships (even on a late Friday afternoon), co-develop a vision to guide the sustained direction of our learning community (what we are engaging in this month) and create a culture of inquiry mindedness (as we do when colleagues pass on educational articles of distinction) we are engaging in the form of good work that will improve the life chances of the students we serve.


Have a nice weekend.