Conversation – A practice of mission

What might the practice of conversational leadership look like in a school community?

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour.

Psalm 8

I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’
if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’

Alastair McIntyre, After Virtue

“How can we be apprentices and architects of wholehearted conversation in our community, inviting one another into the larger world within and beyond ourselves?”

This was the central question of my previous post ‘Conversation – a place for mission’.

The obvious next question – what might this invitation to conversational leadership look like in practice?

Inspired by my engagement with On Being (a social enterprise with a radio show at its heart). The practice of a wholehearted conversation embodied thoughtfully by Krista Tippett has informed the culture of our community gatherings and turned into a specific classroom project.

A conversation project has been implemented this year with our Year 8 students, (aged 13-14) in their Life and Faith classes. The underlying question behind the project ‘What are the conversations we are not having?’

Imagine 180 young people asking family, friends and members of the community the opening question of many ‘On Being’ conversations,

‘Please tell me about your spiritual and religious background?’

and pursuing their own questions such as…

‘What gives you joy?
What makes you hopeful?’
‘What advice would you give to your younger self?

Unlike some of Krista Tippett’s guests the students’ conversation partners have no published works to connect with but seek to make a point of connection through a shared experience and interest in the person.

The nature of a beautiful question

In preparation for their conversations project we have discussed the nature of a ‘beautiful question’ – a question which enlarges the narrative between us, a question which you are interested in hearing the answer to and do not know the answer. In addition, we have discussed the importance and power of words, tone and how to enable adventurous civility. Sadly, the students have found little inspiration through the Australian media!

The conversations of 5-10 minutes in duration have in many ways been enlarging, flowing at different speeds through the valley of the thoughtful and sometimes awkward silence, the probing question and the often unexpected response. The one to one debrief with students has been a spacious place to name, reflect, laugh, cry and share stories. An opportunity to encourage the quiet student about their attentiveness and ability to listen, a moment to name their vulnerability to share and the courage to gently probe with the question that grounds the conversation.

Poet, David Whyte, reminds us about the conversation we are not having. The Conversations Project has reminded me that young people are waiting at the frontier for the invitation. The invitation to go deeper in a largely flat secular culture which finds it difficult to name and converse about the inner and outer terrain of life.

As one of the architects of the wholehearted conversation in my community I am also a personal apprentice. I find the gentle inquiry of young people, a point of growth in my Christian faith and vocation. Trusting the promise that the the Triune God of my faith is already actively present at the frontier of the engagement I am filled with more attentiveness and awe.

Ryan Holt Written by:

Ryan is the Head of Chaplaincy at Caulfield Grammar School in Melbourne, Adjunct Lecturer in Chaplaincy at Ridley College and is currently completing a doctorate with the Australian College of Theology, exploring the culture of service in Anglican schools today.

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