PLACEHOLDER

Secondary & Middle Schools

Image: School Dialogue

“Dialogue not only teaches you how to interact with and understand those around you more deeply, it also teaches you more about the world and yourself. I think dialogue is super important to my growth as a student, a global citizen, and a human being.”

Meirav Solomon ’20

Cary Academy (NC)

Imagine a school where conversations about tough topics are robust but respectful, where different views are not only accepted but invited, where strong cohesion bolsters resilience in the midst of conflict, and students excel academically while learning vital 21st Century leadership skills.

For 30 years, we have worked with communities around the globe to build trust, understanding, and relationships across differences. With public and private schools, districts, educators, students, administrators, and parents, we have helped to create more inclusive and resilient school cultures that prepare the next generation of leaders for a diverse, interconnected world. 

“Schools today face challenges like no other time in history,” said Allyson Bachta, a longtime K-12 public school educator who also serves as an advisor for Essential Partners. “EP's approach is flexible enough to support educators working across diverse contexts and parallels work that they are already doing to support students' social-emotional development, create trauma-sensitive classrooms and schools, and differentiate learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.”

We have collaborated with schools in Massachusetts, California, New York, Texas, North Carolina, and Wyoming, empowering students, teachers, and administrators with the skills to lead richer classroom discussions, create a more open, inclusive school environment, and transform their schools’ culture.

In Cary, North Carolina, for example, our expert Associates trained high school students to facilitate discussions about the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Election, guns and school safety, as well as race in America. Educators and students there have incorporated EP’s frameworks into classroom teaching and extracurricular programs, driving a sea-change in the way this community navigates important, sometimes contentious issues.

“The Essential Partners summer training really helped steep us in the mentality and philosophy of dialogue, which we then were able to apply to all sorts of parts of our curriculum. So you'll hear from the students today that this approach to listening and asking questions has spanned many of the different assignments and learning activities that they've had an opportunity to participate in.”

Eric Schildge, English Language Arts Teacher

Newburyport, MA

In the classroom and throughout the school, our approach also supports social-emotional learning targets. It aligns with trauma-informed classroom practices and it is shown to improve students’ engagement, learning outcomes, and sense of belonging.

Because every community is unique, we offer custom-tailored training and program design to meet the specific needs of each educator, school, and district we work with. There are three basic models for a collaboration with Essential Partners:

  • The Dialogic Classroom (for educators)
  • Empowering Student Leaders
  • School Culture Transformation (for educators, students, and administrators)

Every educator, school administrator, and parent who trains with Essential Partners also gains membership to EP’s global Community of Practice. Members of our Community of Practice receive exclusive lifetime access to skill-building seminars, peer learning opportunities, resources and exercises, as well as monthly office hours with an experienced EP Associate.

When you're ready to take steps to transform your school, reach out for a free consultation.

  • Simply changing the wording of a question can invite a completely different personality and emotion around a question. You can learn so much more and have a better understanding of someone's perspective by changing your question.

    High School Student
    Raleigh, NC
  • I can't even begin to explain the gratitude and fulfillment I felt from participating in this Essential Partners COVID-19 dialogue. It helped me better understand myself and what I hope to accomplish throughout this period of uncertainty.

    High School Student
  • I’ve gained not only confidence but tools. The Essential Partners training was worth every penny.

    Kim Davidson, Ombuds
    Oberlin College, Ohio
  • I did not anticipate having as many concrete takeaways as I do. I feel there is an immense practical application.

    Program Participant
  • The dialogue setting created an environment where people weren’t afraid to open up and share those things that they might not always share out loud. It made us feel closer and provided a stronger sense of trust. It allowed me to be vulnerable to people outside of my community and to be open to sharing.

    Becca Humphries ’21
    Cary Academy, NC
  • Here safe space was created for pastors and church leaders to wrestle with topics like evolution which are all too often “off limits” or believed to be antagonistic to the faith.

    Megan DeFranza
    Gordon College, Massachusetts
  • EP's approach is flexible enough to support educators working across diverse contexts and parallels work that they are already doing to support students' social-emotional development, create trauma-sensitive classrooms and schools, and differentiate learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.

    Allyson Bachta, K-12 Educator and Administrator
    Massachusetts
  • What surprised me was how much you could transform a relationship during a three-hour conversation.

    Nicki Glasser, Policy Coordinator
    Transformation Center, Massachusetts
  • This wasn’t a policy debate [about guns]. Instead, two people whose backgrounds and views diverged in almost every way possible shared a moment of honesty that struck at the heart of the matter.

    Cricket Fuller, The Christian Science Monitor
    Boston, Massachusetts
  • Instead of demonizing and dehumanizing the other, we built a deeper connection. The fact that we disagree matters much less. It matters much more that we are neighbors in this community.

    Linda Gryczan, Mediator
    Montana Mediation Association
  • EP's approach has given me some tools to deal with what comes up in my classroom. I teach classes about charged topics. As I’m thinking about and exploring ways to broach these conversations with students, I use this.

    Secondary School Teacher
    New Jersey
  • EP's approach allows all the students in the room to speak and be heard, to think about different perspectives on the issue without getting into arguments or fights.

    Secondary School Teacher
    San Diego, CA
  • Essential Partners does the best work in the field of dialogue and communication.

    Bob Bordone, Expert and Author
    Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program, Co-Founder
  • When a debate occurs, you never feel like you get to hear a person’s full point of view. But, through dialogue, you get to learn someone else’s perspective without any competitive need to win an argument. It leads to mutual understanding; listening to each other helps us chip away at our differences.

    Vibhav Nandagiri ’21
    Cary Academy, NC
  • It honestly surprised me that we were doing [dialogues about the 2020 election] in the first place. I have gone to this school since Kindergarten, and I have seen the recurring pattern of the faculty and staff looking to keep politics out of school discussion, which is completely understandable. Growing up this way has built a sort of stigma around politics that I feel like affected my experience in these activities. This also prompted me to learn more about how I feel about these topics.

    High School Student
    North Carolina
  • Facilitated dialogue creates a classroom atmosphere in which exploring uncomfortable issues and asking difficult questions is an expected part of the process, and it allows students space to engage each other without fear of the vitriol common in our public discourse.

    Teresa Grettano, Associate Professor and Director of the First-Year Writing program
    University of Scranton (PA)
  • Essential Partners's dialogue initiative is, literally, the best forum I have attended during my time at Cary Academy. The openness and sharing in our group led to genuine connections. I’m not sure words can express how meaningful this event was to me. Truly priceless.

    Parent, Cary Academy
    Cary, North Carolina
  • The dialogue training allowed me to push myself to speak up first. In an informal conversation, I’m not usually the first person to voice my opinion; I usually end up listening, rather than taking a stance on sharing my opinion. But the dialogue training empowered us to decide if we want to say something now or listen. It really made me feel part of the conversation, rather than being on the outside, observing.

    Jordan Cuffee ’21
    Cary Academy, NC
  • I learned that through productive dialogue, you can make relationships and friendships with people through talking about your differences and similarities.

    High School Student
    Newburyport, MA
  • The most significant thing I've learned in this program is that having an open mindset when listening to others' opinions different from yours to understand their perspective instead of finding the flaws to oppose their opinion to try and change their mind.

    High School Student
    Raleigh, NC
  • Having an environment that gives you that space to listen to others talk about their experiences and understand how those experiences have led them to the opinions that they have—it is truly eye-opening.

    Clay Thornton ’21
    Cary Academy, NC
  • Together, we married our ideas to create a dialogue model that took into consideration our young people’s particular needs, and our culture.

    Belle Abaya
    The Conflict Resolution Group Foundation, Philippines
  • The dialogue setting created an environment where people weren’t afraid to open up and share those things that they might not always share out loud. It made us feel closer and provided a stronger sense of trust. It allowed me to be vulnerable to people outside of my community and to be open to sharing.

    Becca Humphries ’21
    Cary Academy, NC
  • I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment when the Essential Partners training ended; that I'd done something important for my community and something important for me.

    Program Participant
    Massachusetts
  • EP's questions of understanding exercise felt like the debate that we wish the presidential candidates would have—instead of having to listen to two old guys yelling over each other.

    10th Grade Student
    Ravenscroft School, NC
  • I’m a world history teacher… now I feel I’m more empowered about how to make connections across differences. I have a better skill set to facilitate connections.

    Secondary School Teacher
    New York City
  • Vulnerability is the key. A lot of perspective-taking is based in vulnerability. It’s the key ingredient in a good structured dialogue. It’s crucial to the ‘meet me in the middle’ experience that dialogue is all about.

    Meirav Solomon ’21
    Cary Academy, NC
  • I ran for my local school board in 2018 and was elected. I use the skills in our meetings, whether I’m chairing the meeting or not. This makes the meetings much more productive. We don’t go over the same topics over and over again.

    Misty Stoll, School Board Trustee
    Wyoming
  • This is the best adult learning experience I have had in the past five years. I wanted to learn new skills—I did!

    Program Participant
  • The community dialogue was instrumental in helping us create a new policy around class rank. Though a controversial topic in the community, the dialogue EP helped us run ensured all voices were heard and valued. Regardless of how people felt with the final result, one parent summed it up best for us, ‘sometimes the process is more important than the outcome’.

    Andrew Wulf, Principal
    Newburyport High School
  • Student facilitators flip the script. When students lead, you can see a change occur, a shift as they understand the difference between being a participant and being a facilitator, as they work to hear and address the needs of their classmates and community.

    Kimberly Shaw, Educator & EP Associate
  • Dialogue not only teaches you how to interact and understand more deeply those around you, it also teaches you more about the world around you and yourself. I think dialogue is super important to my growth as a student, a global citizen and a human being. I have learned to listen, I have learned to speak out, I have learned how to access my stretch zone (where I feel uncomfortable speaking but not turned off) and I have learned where my limits are.

    Meirav Solomon ’20
    Cary Academy, NC
  • The thing that surprised me, was the amount of respect given to each person while speaking in the meeting. I thought that discussing politics would eventually cause problems, but it did not.

    High School Student
    Raleigh, NC

Recent Partners

Logo: Carroll School
Logo: Cary Academy
Logo: Civic Spirit
Logo: Newburyport High School