4 February 2022
We have been involved in the Faith and Belief Forum’s school linking programme since November 2010. We are currently linked with the Jewish Community Secondary School in Chipping Barnet. Previously we were also linked with Unity Girls School, a Muslim school in Hendon before they relocated. As a Catholic school we are delighted to have such a long standing relationship with Muslim and Jewish schools. One of the tangible benefits of this collaboration is the toolkit which the Faith and Belief Forum developed to enable students to conduct sensitive conversations. Religion is sadly a topic which can easily become a taboo and avoided, or an explosive minefield of risk. Many adults worry about saying the wrong thing about this or other potentially taboo topics. RADIO is an empowering tool which is helping students give voice to the most complex of topics. We say at St Augustine’s Priory that we want our students to transform the world. Becoming people who can embark on difficult conversations is something our students are immensely proud of. We are equipping them in a unique way. Our school motto is Veritas meaning truth. We use the RADIO toolkit to allow what we call `Veritas conversations’ to take place.
R – Respect
We are a community where we all respect each other. This is manifested in courtesy, holding doors open, saying thank you at the end of a lesson, greeting everyone and never being too cool to avoid someone’s gaze. It is lived in the way we expect everyone in our community to learn names, to try our best to pronounce names properly and if we make a mistake or are not sure how to pronounce a name to apologise and say we will try again. Senior staff greet the school community at the gate each morning and bid them farewell at the end of the day. We wish each other a lovely day. In Chapel we hold a beautiful quality of silence, respecting each other’s faith tradition and right to peace and we genuflect or otherwise show respect because this is sacred space, it is holy ground. We smile and we mean it. We take care. We volunteer to help. We do not stand on ceremony. Our kitchen staff are as worthy of respect as a governor. We ask Sixth Formers and staff not to jump the queue at lunch. We could go on!
A – Active Listening
Active listening is an art. It means inviting someone to speak with us so that we hear them. It means not interrupting, or trying to show how much we know, or even to presume we have understood before listening. We listen actively when we keep eye contact and judge when to look away to allow someone time to say something which might be difficult. When we give encouragement, smile, nod and (at the right time), reflect what we have heard, we are using the techniques of active listening.
The biggest challenge of active listening and the reason it is so powerful, is that it asks us not to be defensive. If we need to hear something we would rather not hear, we might need to just wait until the other person has finished. Active listening teaches us the great gift of also accepting silence, of waiting for the other person to find the words. Active listening allows growth and understanding and reconciliation.
D – Dialogue NOT debate
Dialogue is quite different to debate. When we debate we seek to persuade, to argue our point, we want to bring someone over to our point of view. We arrive at a debate certain that we are right. Dialogue is something else entirely. When we enter a dialogue we listen actively; we seek to understand and we earnestly try to learn. We bring open, generous hearts. Those who engage in dialogue know that their conversation might not cover everything in one sitting and might need further exploration. Entering dialogue requires some humility on both sides because we might learn something which makes us think differently. When it is based in respect there is an equality which also enables surprising shifts in relationships. It helps us all flourish and grow.
I – where am I in this?
I do not speak for all Catholic, white women. When I enter a conversation which is rich in complexity or where the truth might be hard to discern, I need to remember that I do not speak from the vantage point of owning the truth. When we talk about religion, or race, or culture or faith, maintaining that sense of self-awareness is helpful because it helps us avoid huge generalisations, or dangerous assumptions. It means that we keep opening to learning about the heritage of others and the way in which their experience differs or resonates with us. It means that I stay humble – I do not know everything.
O – oops
RADIO as a toolkit works as an integrated approach. It allows conversations about highly contested areas like ethics, science and belief, the unpacking of painful encounters or micro aggressions to be opened and healed. We know that micro-aggressions are rarely discussed in the moment – they settle and need to be discussed later. Oops as a vital part of RADIO reveals the importance of saying sorry without qualification. If we listen actively and we need to apologise then we do so in a way which helps. It must not add fuel to the pain. We teach people in our community to say “I’m sorry I said that. I have learned how much it hurt you.” We do not say “I’m sorry if I hurt you but…”
O – ouch
Being able to say, “I am hurt when you say that” or “I’d rather we didn’t talk like that” whether in the moment or after it, helps us all to tell the truth about how we feel without accusing. It helps with reconciliation because it is not about “you” statements. In the playground it has powerful effects because if a child intentionally or unintentionally hurts another there is an accepted vocabulary which helps us call out anything we do not think is right. It means that we build a culture where it is ok to for someone to say they do not want to be upset or to witness something distressing. In more nuanced work, it means that if a racist statement is made, all the community expects someone to say “ouch.” We know that micro-aggressions are hard to deal with in the moment but we hope that if they do happen, they will be dealt with, if not immediately, then soon after. This matters in the playground, in the staffroom, in a meeting with parents – anywhere where either the stakes are high or unexamined attitudes or unconscious bias are at work.
In some ways the last two words provide so much of the strength of RADIO. The beauty of the informal, almost childlike words oops and ouch is that anyone can use them: from a 3 year old to a 93 year old. The words and their simplicity put us closer to our feelings. From there we can employ the rest of the toolkit, weaving the elements together, building a culture which like a stick of rock has care for others and an ambition for human flourishing at its core.
At St Augustine’s Priory we have embedded the toolkit into all our policies, into our curriculum and it frames our agendas and our meetings. It is important that every single member of our community uses it.