For Educators: Talking across difference at The Agnes Irwin School
Inspired in part by the Caring Schools #CommonGood campaign's call to engage students in activities that enable them to "talk across the aisle," The Agnes Irwin School has started hosting — and evaluating — a regular "Friday Forum." Wigs Frank, Chair of the History Department, describes the gathering as a way to “help bring more understanding to our students and help bring the members of our community closer, as well as help students to learn how to listen to each other and learn better how to disagree with each other.” Read on to learn more.
What is the Friday Forum?
The Friday Forum takes place during lunch and offers students the opportunity to discuss difficult or controversial topics. For example, conversations this year have included NFL football players kneeling during the national anthem, mental health issues, and the challenges of discussing race. Students are invited to make suggestions for topics as well.
What was the inspiration for the program?
The Agnes Irwin School implemented a similar project in the mid 1990s after students expressed a desire to possess a “greater understanding of ‘difference’ in society at large,” as Frank describes. He started a voluntary Friday lunch discussion group for upper school students primarily focused on racial tension.
This idea was revived this year and allows students to talk across difference with faculty support and encouragement.
What is YOUR advice for others?
“We recommend letting students drive the initiative for it to be successful,” says Frank. The team behind The Friday Forum—Wigs Frank; Lisa Webster, Dean of Students of the Upper School; and Charesse Ford, Director of Equity and Inclusion—have also introduced student surveys as part of the revived program, so they can better assess impact.
If educators are interested in implementing a similar initiative in their school, Bridgette Will, Director of Research and Strategic Partnerships, has generously offered to be a resource. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guest post by Danielle Fowler. Originally published May 2018.