School Forum: Step 6. Running the Forum
Step 6. Running the Forum
As the forum progresses, there will be a need to monitor the process to avoid getting bogged down, drifting away from the group goals and norms, ending up with some members dominating, or losing the connection to wider school practice. This step focuses on group process.
As the group discussion develops across several meetings, monitor consciously whether the process is drifting away from the original goals and norms of the group. For instance:
- Affirm contributions to the discussion by various group members, and refer back to them when periodically summing up the discussion so far. Consider using email to recap discussions after the meetings.
- Remind participants (as necessary) to critique ideas, rather than attack the people who express them. If needed, discuss verbal strategies for critiquing ideas without attacking others (e.g., “What concerns me about that idea is…” rather than “That’s a stupid thing to say because…”). Some ideas for productive engagements are included in Considerations for Interactions.
- Watch for signs of particular participants becoming excluded or stressed as the discussion progresses. Notice, for instance, if someone begins to speak up less. Consider how to offer reassurance and bring them back into the discussion, or whether to adjust the pace or break into smaller groups for a while.
- Consider how you can sustain engagement by varying who leads the discussion and by varying the mode of engagement (for instance, having participants take a few moments to talk over an idea with one other person and then bring it back to the whole group for discussion).
- Think about how you might ask people to remain engaged between meetings. This could involve reading something before the next meeting, looking for a certain theme in the media, or looking for opportunities to practice the kinds of interaction being modeled in the group when in discussion with others.
As well as spending time exploring faith and science questions, give some time to questions about how the group discussion connects to school practices. For instance, you could plan to discuss questions such as:
- In general, how do, or should, teachers deal with contentious matters when there may be students or parents who hold differing views?
- To what degree do teachers need to present the full range of positions that Christians hold (or have held) on issues? What should teachers do if they personally believe some of those positions are in error? Omit them? Argue against them? Say nothing in favor or in opposition, but let students decide for themselves? Bracket one’s own beliefs, and present a sympathetic reading of each position? Play devil’s advocate against all sides? Some other option?
- What are the non-negotiables upon which everyone should agree if they are to be a member of the community? What is the relationship between official school pronouncements on issues and the breadth of discussion the school allows? Is it better to have more general statements in order to allow for greater dialogue, or should the school hold very specific positions and try to encourage dialogue in some other way?
- If they think the views expressed in the classroom differ from those they themselves hold, how frequently, and in what manner, should parents make their voices heard by teachers or administrators? If their personal views differ from those of their children’s teachers, how should parents discuss matters with their children?
- How closely should parents expect the school to align with personally-held positions on particular issues (especially if the school’s community includes families from a wide range of denominational backgrounds)?
- How much responsibility do students have to speak up in class when contentious issues arise? How much do students feel they need to know about a topic before they are willing to make their voices heard? What should students do if they disagree with teachers on certain matters (since teachers are authority figures, are grading students, and may be looking for “right” answers)? What if a student disagrees with some or all of her or his classmates?
- What is the best way for students to present their views in class? Should they try to persuade others of the correctness of their positions? Should they hold back and say that all positions are equally valid (even if they may not think they are)? At what point is it okay for students to judge their position as “right,” and another person’s as “wrong”?
- In all of these instances, how can we help to create a community of people capable of holding truth and love together?
After the final content-oriented group session, consider meeting together one more time to debrief about the forum, and discuss how to leverage the experience to benefit the school community at large. Think concretely about how the group’s engagement can be carried further, for instance through future collaboration between Bible and science teachers. Consider what might be learned from the forum process for future teaching and parenting practices, as well as for discussions outside the forum (whether in person or online). Conclude with prayer for one another and expressions of gratitude to God and one another for what transpired during the group’s time together.