Speaking Each Other’s Languages: How Dialogue Helps Us Shape a Better Future

Chad Detloff, GEBG Director of Professional Learning and Curriculum
October 17, 2023
Speaking Each Other’s Languages: How Dialogue Helps Us Shape a Better Future

Unfortunately, global educators are (yet again) navigating with students and faculty the tragic realities of war, taking place far from most of us in the GEBG Community, yet with intricate ties to our communities here at home. As schools engage with their students’ confusion and perhaps even despair, many have shared their desire to support students through dialogue on the topic. However, from years of classroom experience, I know that an absence of learned and practiced intercultural dialogue skills can lead to class discussions or debate that stoke ideological flames and center rhetoric, often resulting in turmoil and sometimes even fraying the social and ethical fabrics of our schools.

With the support of a E.E. Ford Foundation Grant, GEBG has over the past year and a half deepened its work with both educators and students in our schools around the pedagogy of intercultural dialogue. Most of our programming in this area acknowledges the linguistic roots of the term “dialogue” as an entry point into defining what it is, and—more importantly—what it is not:

>> “Debate” comes from Latin roots and the contemporary Italian “battere,” meaning “to fight.” As a result, a “debate” acts as a fight to prove that one’s perspective is better or more correct than that of others.

>> “Discussion” comes from Latin’s “discutere,” loosely meaning “to investigate.” We can think about a “discussion” as a judicial examination or a methodical dissection of a concept or topic into its various parts.

>> “Conversation,” again from Latin roots, suggests togetherness: as we walk beside one another, we perceive and seek out a shared experience that values sameness, perhaps suggesting that equality, as opposed to equity, is the broader goal of the exchange.

>> The Greeks gave us “Dialogue,” something slightly, yet powerfully, different: “Dialogue” is a flowing of words and meaning without a particular end in sight.

“Dialogue” allows us to know not where we are going or how long it will take us to get “there” and instead to see the path that we walk together as something shared in its purpose, yet distinct in its character. “Dialogue” doesn’t intend to prove, explain, or universalize—it’s an experience that inscribes a commitment to the disposition of open-mindedness and the skills of intercultural communication, both of which ultimately develop empathy in concert with a stronger sense of self.


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I have had the great honor of learning alongside educators through our own forms of dialogue. These experiences include collaborating with our Global Dialogues Program Educator Advisory Council (from the program’s Leading Partner Schools listed below) on a forthcoming publication on model practices for embedding intercultural dialogue across our schools and communities, as well as with our ongoing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Through these groups, educators from across GEBG’s 350+ member schools in 24 countries have shared their process for implementing intercultural dialogues in a multitude of school settings.

In general, educators often begin a dialogue by sharing the nature and purpose of the dialogue with participants, providing a prompt for consideration, and establishing and maintaining space and supportive facilitation for students to engage in dialogue themselves. GEBG’s research on the impact of student dialogues is that students most frequently report practicing three specific skills as a result of intentional dialogue: actively listening to try to understand, sharing their own perspectives in a respectful way, and thinking about the topic or issue in a new way.

Below are a handful of rationales/reminders for bringing dialogue—not debate, discussion, or conversation—into the work that you do with your students, colleagues, and other community members. As global education can be, dialogue is, at times, in perceived opposition to the dominant cultures of our schools and communities—and to me, that seems a good reason to use it as a tool to expand the ways in which we engage and learn from perspectives and experiences that constitute the world in which we live.

Dialogue particularly helps students…

>> unlearn some of the binary logic that, while natural to our cognition, can cause us to resist or reject cognitive dissonance, ultimately feeding into us-vs-them narratives and shaping toxic systems; Dialogue teaches students how to engage, not what—or even “how”—to think.

>> dismantle a specific binary—that of “right” and “wrong”—which can feed perfectionism, particularly in young people who might see “perfection” in dialectical opposition to “failure,” a notion that we as educators regularly reinforce, often without awareness, when we develop assessments that value a singular version of knowledge, predominant narrative, or uniform product over the authentic messiness of contradictory concepts, multiple perspectives, or differentiated performances/products.

In our Intercultural Dialogue PLC in spring of 2023, Ana Farach—Middle School Spanish Teacher at Holton-Arms School (MD)–redesigned her curriculum to reframe the purpose of speaking another language by prioritizing cultural humility, communication skills, and intercultural understanding over grammatical “accuracy.” She did this through developing a lesson that centered around the unique New-Mexican Spanish-language dialect and utilized Project Zero Thinking Routines in order to give students the opportunity to explore and identify the value/s beyond “debate,” “discussion,” or “conversation” that languages provide to their speakers.

Dialogue particularly helps teachers…

>> redefine the role of the teacher and student—again, not as a binary, but as part of a conversation, a path we walk together where expertise has many forms, and all parties are exploring together. Dialogue supports the “guide on the side” vs. “sage on the sage” paradigm.

>> refocus our curricular work around global competencies, not just the specific knowledge and skills that traditionally act as curriculum targets. (At GEBG, we define a “global” course as one that focuses on global content and/or global competencies, ideally both, and this Curriculum Guide was developed to support any educator looking to make their class or program more globally oriented.)

In our most recent Intercultural Dialogue PLC, Jessica Williams—Director of Global Programs at Providence Day School (NC)—reenvisioned the school’s advisory curriculum, utilizing dialogue to develop global competencies like humility and empathy. One compelling topic for dialogue in this setting was neurodivergence and its role in interpersonal and collective empathy development.

Dialogue particularly helps our institutions…

>> balance the importance of individual thought and identity with the value of shared practices and beliefs. Dialogue creates space for people to be their whole selves while simultaneously affirming a commitment to community and belonging, across experiences—from classroom activities and faculty professional learning to lunchroom chats and difficult conversations.

>> create an environment in which emotional intelligence is equally important as intellect or performance. Through intentional and widespread employment of dialogue, schools tell all of their community members—faculty, staff, parents, students, alumni, board members —that their school is about cultivating the whole person, and that development is ongoing and life-long for all community members and for the institution itself.

Again in an Intercultural Dialogue PLC cohort, Marta Filip-Fouser—Dean of Teaching and Learning at Brewster Academy (NH)— spoke of cultivating a “culture of dialogue” at her school, using resources like The Stanley H. King Institute to develop skills and attitudes associated with “deep listening,” allowing both students and faculty alike to slow down and use pedagogies like reflection to process and share learning, both in and out of the classroom, formally and informally.

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One of our current PLCs focused on “Global Education in the World Religions Curriculum” met just last week and discussed how dialogue might be one of the most powerful solutions to finding peace in areas and eras of deep conflict. Facilitated by the PLC’s leader—Melody Fox-Ahmed, Director of Global Programs at National Cathedral School (D.C.)—educators engaged in their own intercultural dialogue as teachers of world religions, allowing them to practice the skills they hope to more intentionally embed into their curricula. Many of the schools involved in GEBG’s Student Dialogues program have similarly turned to dialogue as one way to support students and strengthen community at times of divisions and fear. These educators are committed to intercultural dialogue as an essential pedagogical tool for engaging students in our world and for holding on to our shared humanity.


GEBG Global Student Dialogues Leading Partner Schools

Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, PA
Appleby College, ON
Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, MA
Brewster Academy, NH
Castilleja School, CA
Columbus School for Girls, OH
Flintridge Preparatory School, CA
Friends Seminary, NY
Groton School, MA
Holton Arms School, MD
Holy Innocents Episcopal School, GA
Lower Canada College, QC
McDonogh School, MD
Miami Country Day School, FL
Pace Academy, GA
Palmer Trinity School, FL
Polytechnic School, CA
Providence Day School, NC
Rye Country Day School, NY
St Andrew’s Episcopal School, MS
St Mary’s Episcopal School, TN
St. Mark’s School, MA