Reflections: Dialogue as the distiller of fundamentals

Dr Bruce Addison, Deputy Principal (Academic)

Recently a team of our Year 11 students participated in the Brisbane Dialogues discussion forum. This was the first time we had participated in this event. The topic of the forum was ‘How do you think AI can improve education for all’. It was a most engaging afternoon. The discussion was lively, informed and topical. The role of the teacher in the Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) world was mentioned frequently. Eventually, attention focused on whether AI could one day replace teachers. Overwhelmingly our students said ‘no’! They opined most emphatically that nothing could replace the important relationship that exists between teacher and student. This acknowledgement was heartening given the claims that are made about the reach and impact of GAI, and the way it might ‘revolutionise’ the classroom. GAI has burst onto the scene and no one really knows what its significance will be, or how it will affect our lives. Even given this, if the musings of our students are representative—and they probably are—it seems that the teacher-student relationship will remain a fundamental and important basis of our classrooms as theatres of learning.

Given the potential disruption of GAI, in addition to all the other disruptors also in play in this third decade of the 21st century, this focus on the centrality of relationship trumped the seemingly unrelenting march of algorithmic contagion. Long may this be the case. The word ‘heartening’ is used carefully as educational relationality is all about the concept of ‘heart’. As Cixous and Colle-Gruber (1997:31) note:

There is a common speech, there is a common discourse, there is a universal emotion that is totally interchangeable and that goes through the organ of the heart. It is the commonality of heart that pre-conditions enlightenment in the classroom.

It is interesting how the concept of ‘dialogue’ helped to tease out one of the essential, if not the essential, bedrocks of the pedagogy underlying our classroom practice. As van Manen (1991:30) has highlighted:

Pedagogy is not just a word. Pedagogy is not just found in observational categories, but like love or friendship in the experience of the presence … pedagogy is cemented deep in the relationship between adults and children.

In a broader sense, the concept of dialogue has been fundamental to our concept of liberal democracy. Hearing our Year 11 students speak so intelligently and knowledgeably, a knowledge gleaned by their considerable research into the topic, made me wonder why the concept of dialogue seems so broken in our contemporary civic discourse. Sadly, the concept of dialogue has moved from the concept of discussion and discourse to dialogue as adversarialism and combat. This is where so much has gone awry. Dialogue is not adversarialism at all costs. Adversarialism at all costs drifts into binary thinking, which we know is so destructive. Dialogue is, and should be, a more rigorous and discerning process. The question becomes, ‘how do we breathe new life into this concept of dialogue?’ Such a renewal is crucial if we are to generate more meaningful and proactive discussion so as to engage creatively with the important, if not existential, issues of our time.

Grassroots dialogues are essential components of our classrooms. This is especially the case given our ongoing commitment to visible thinking as everyday practice (Ritchhart, 2023). Genuine dialogue can take us to deeply human spaces, especially if it is partnered with discovery, understanding, tolerance and hopefully, compassion. Fundamental to all of this is the pedagogy of relationship that is so embedded in our concept of ‘school’. Schools are often the hidden treasures sprinkled across our suburbs. The phosphorescent beacons of hope in our midst. What programs such as the Brisbane Dialogues give our students is the opportunity to discuss and formulate ideas with civility, depth and discernment. This experience offers a counter to our tired notion of dialogue as an oppositional binary. The issues confronting humanity are enormous. The opportunity to explore ideas as a genuine dialogue has provided a richness for our community. A richness that has been underscored by a fresh acknowledgement of the centrality of relationship to the pedagogical compact. Who knows what could be discovered afresh if such open dialogue was applied openly and freely to our ongoing civic discourse.


Cixous, H. and Calle‐Gruber , M. (1997). Hélène Cixous: Rootprints: Memory and Life Writing , Edited by: Prenowitz, E. Routledge.

van Manen, M. (1991). The tact of teaching: the meaning of pedagogical thoughtfulness. Sunny Press

Ritchhart, R. (2023). Cultures of Thinking in Action. Jossey-Bass.