Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dialogue vs Discussion: A New Tool for the Toolbox

Something that I share with aspiring administrators and current school leaders is the importance of being a connected educator. Creating an online network allows school leaders to find people in similar positions who have had similar experiences who can give advice, perspective, or simply listen. 

One group that I am a part of is on Voxer and is called Women in Education Leadership. This group has been invaluable as a “safe place” for us to discuss ideas, situations, and lean in. I am amazed at what these school leaders are doing or have done and the benefits that we reap for our students, staff, and ourselves as we learn from each other.

Recently, one of our members, Melinda Miller, shared a strategy that she uses at her school called Dialogue vs. Discussion. 

I love how she distinguishes between Dialogue and Discussion and that her staff has created a common language to deepen understanding of the role of a conversation among stakeholders. 

Along with an understanding of the outcome of a conversation, creating a dialogue allows for different ideas to be shared without the pressure of finding the “better” idea. It opens up sharing since the ideas are simply different and “on the table.” 

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, distinguishes between dialogue and discussion similarly. He writes that dialogue is an opportunity to explore complex issues from opposing points of view. In a dialogue, people have a larger pool of knowledge than they would have alone, and the emphasis is not on winning. In a discussion, the emphasis is on having one’s ideas accepted by the group. The result of a discussion is a decision of the best idea.

Senge also says this:
"Reflection and inquiry skills provide a foundation for dialogue" and "dialogue that is grounded in reflection and inquiry skills is likely to be more reliable and less dependent on particulars of circumstance, such as the chemistry among team members.”

How do you see that making this distinction with your staff would make a difference?

How can student learning be influenced by using this in the classroom?


  1. Jennifer,

    Thank you for sharing this! I am a big proponent for dialogue on important topics so we can share and learn before having discussion and making a decision. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen as often as I'd like with deadlines, limited time to meet with staff for dialogue, and a million other things that can get in the way. However, it's important that we make the time and I'm glad you reminded us of it! :)


  2. Thanks for your input, Jon. I think having a common language leads to better understanding between people. When all understand the difference between dialogue and discussion, we can come to a greater outcome. Thanks for reading and commenting.