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By Karen Taylor, PhD., Director of Education and of the Institute of Learning and Teaching,
Ecole Internationale de Genève
In my last article I reflected on why I believe in co-teaching. Whether we are thinking about co-teaching, collaborative, or team teaching, the aim is to provide structures based on the notion of shared responsibility in professional, instructional partnerships to promote inclusive classrooms. Those relationships need to be based on trust and the foundation of trust is effective and supportive communication.
In our last session with Ochan Kusuma-Powell and Kristen Pelletier of Next Frontier Inclusion our focus was on precisely this. How do we communicate with each other so as to open up a space for constructive dialogue and creative thinking about how to best serve our students?
Ochan and Kristen worked with us on how to pose questions that serve as an invitation to move collaborative teaching teams forward. Drawing on the work of Costa and Garmston (2015), we explored five elements of quality communication through mediative questioning by:
- using an approachable tone of voice
- using tentative language
- using plural language
- engaging in positive presuppositions and
- posing open-ended questions.
A challenging proposition and yet, as our session went on, it became increasingly clear that the methods of cognitive coaching and the use of mediative questions are pertinent to more than collaborative teaching relationships. They are simply about quality interactions regardless of the context.
Open, and effective dialogue relies on openness to what others are saying and a willingness to share our ideas for feedback from them. So, we are back to trusting relationships. We also need to be able to listen to the way others respond to our ideas and to listen actively to what others are saying.
Engaging in active listening and mediative questioning enhances the quality of group decision making and offers the possibility of generating new ideas. It encourages people to think deliberately about who they are collectively and how they function as a group. In this way we can arrive at a shared understanding about aims and objectives. By keeping our focus on a cognitive level, on the questions at hand, we depersonalise discussions in a positive way.
One of the things we all appreciated about the session was the concrete practice in mediative questioning. It is not always easy, nor obvious. The slower pace of our thinking and our exchanges were calming and I believe we all came away from our afternoon together with a deeper appreciation of what quality communication means. Of course we were thinking about what our learning could do to improve the learning experience of our students. At the same time, it was abundantly clear that the skills of mediative questioning and active listening are of benefit no matter what the context. I can hardly wait for the next session!
In the meantime, I am going to continue to work on making sure that I have understood your meaning, that I respect your contribution to the discussion, and that I reflect on what you have said before I respond. These are not just lessons about co-teaching methods; these are life lessons.