Students Go Face to Faith
If you close your eyes and just listen to the students talking, you would think Tulsa Holland Hall seventh graders are in the same classroom with middle school students from Quebec, Canada’s Noranda School. Holland Hall and Noranda students are chatting about their schools, the towns they live in and the activities they enjoy. The catch is, the Noranda students are over 1,000 miles away.
The Noranda School is the only English-focused, private school tucked in the remote, French-speaking town of Rouyn-Noranda in Northwest Quebec. Holland Hall and Noranda middle school students are participating in a program created by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Foundation, Face to Faith. The program enables students who are miles and time zones apart to take part in a facilitated dialogue via a secure videoconference. The goal of Face to Faith is to promote cross-cultural understanding through dialogue on global issues, ethnicity and religion.
Schools in 19 countries are taking part in Face to Faith video conferencing. Over the last year- and-a-half, Holland Hall students have participated in Face to Faith videoconferences with students in England, Wales, Lebanon, India, Canada and Hawaii.
Jane Beckwith, Holland Hall teacher, said Face to Faith allows students to interact with groups of other young people from around the world, and is focused on learning to dialogue about ideas of identity and belief.
“Students benefit by learning how to participate in respectful dialogue,” she said, “while building relationships with other young people of different cultures and faiths.”
The teachers from both schools determine the topics the students will discuss during the videoconference. “Those topics are typically generated through classroom work using curriculum provided by the Face to Faith project,” Beckwith said. “The project is flexible and can be implemented in any way a teacher wishes to offer it to students.”
All students participating have studied Face to Faith’s core concept of respectful dialogue. The program stresses key skills students must use in order to have successful participation. These skills include collaboration, active listening, cooperation, critical thinking, inquiry-based learning and respectful dialogue.
“Above all, the project seeks to help students to become globally-minded and to see themselves as proactive and engaged global citizens,” Beckwith said. “On the most basic level, these are key life skills we want our students practicing with each other every day in our school community and beyond. Being able to connect with others around the globe is a bonus.”
On a chilly January afternoon, Holland Hall seventh graders are spending an hour learning about the lifestyle and cultural beliefs of the Noranda middle school students. The main topic during the video conference is respect. Students are discussing what respect means and if it is possible to respect someone who has different beliefs or values from your own.
Facilitator Kristen Looney, from her office in London, gently guides the students through the hour of dialogue. “The goal,” Looney told the students, “is to move beyond conversation and into dialogue by using active listening. I want you speak from the ‘I’ perspective representing yourself.”
The hour starts with students introducing themselves. Students may speak as often as they feel. Some prefer to listen while others engage themselves in the conversation, speaking numerous times throughout the hour. They each give their unique take on their school and their town and, with a subtle nudge from Looney, the dialogue transitions into students’ thoughts on their school’s cultural and religious diversity.
Holland Hall student Liam Shingelton said in his school and class there are many different religious faiths such as Christian, Jewish and Muslims students. Noranda students responded saying their school is multicultural and students speak different languages such as French, English and Cree.
As the hour progresses Looney guides the conversation to the concept of respect. “Can you define respect and what does it look like in your community?”
Holland Hall student Asha Richardson said, “Respect is having a fair attitude toward others as well as being helpful and responsible toward them.”
A Noranda student responded by defining respect as “taking others into consideration and helping people and being generous to others and respecting the language they speak.”
Looney asked the students if it is possible to respect someone with different values or beliefs than you.
Holland Hall student Lucy Johnson said, “Yes, you can talk about your differences and learn from that discussion and find it interesting.”
A Noranda student responded, “It is okay for people to have different beliefs. If everyone was the same it would be boring.”
“What I notice is how students comment about how surprised they are that they have so much in common with other people around the world,” Beckwith said. “As much as they notice similarities, they are very enthusiastic to learn about festivals and religious holidays celebrated in other parts of the world. They also enjoy sharing information about their own traditions and beliefs. I have learned that middle school students often do not see themselves as global citizens who are connected to the rest of the world with their thoughts, words, and deeds.”
Holland Hall is a local school ambassador for the Face to Faith program. You can learn more about Face to Faith by visiting the Tony Blair Foundation website at: http://www.tonyblairfaithfoundationus.org/ and by contacting the US coordinator Marcia Beauchamp – firstname.lastname@example.org