Structured Dialogue

The origin of Dialogue came from the Greek word dialogos. Bohm (1965) suggests that individuals engaged in the dialogue process go beyond their singular understanding to develop a common meaning. Participants in this process are able to examine complex issues from different perspectives. Senge (1990, 1994) continues to explain that participants in dialogue develop knowledge about each others’ assumptions in order to improve organizations, enhance communications, build consensus and solve problems. Dialogue is not a discussion characterized by polarized opinions. We balance sharing our own ideas (advocacy) with listening and asking questions of others (inquiry). The leader and participants seek common understanding that leads to collaborative planning and problem solving.

In schools, we find it is important to add structure to the dialogue process. In PLC schools, dialogue generally follows the administration and analysis of the PLCA-R, PLCDR or the PLCA-DS. This conversation allows for the expression of common or alternative, even opposing viewpoints. In effective structured dialogue, difficult issues surface and are identified, and solutions drive next steps related to school or district goals. Ongoing conversations occur frequently and in numerous venues, such as in teams and at the department, school, and district levels.

Numbers alone rarely tell the story, and rich dialogue within a culture built upon trust and shared responsibility can contribute significantly to the development of a PLC. Chris Argyris (Argyris, C., 1990. Overcoming organizational defenses.) a pioneer in the study of dialogue, recommends a balance of inquiry and advocacy. This requires inquiry into others’ perceptions, as well as presenting one’s own thinking. Ideally, what ensues is a genuine sense of curiosity, most evident through probing and questioning.

Over time, participants are more likely to let go of some of their deep-seated beliefs and assumptions, build trust, expand their ways of thinking based on the experience and views of others, and establish relationships that promote integrity of action.

Here are some suggested steps for a leader to establish a process for structured dialogue.

In addition, this graphic helps to explain the process and intention of each phase of the dialogue process. As one can see, conversations become deeperĀ  using the process and lead to intended results.