What does it take to be a Dialogue Facilitator?

Wati Wardani

Insights from Wati Wardani, a decade-long dialogue facilitator with Generation Global

A seasoned dialogue facilitator from Indonesia, Wati has dedicated over a decade to working with Generation Global. Residing in Indonesia, she brings a wealth of experience in supporting young people to engage in meaningful dialogue through Generation Global video conferences.

Wati served as the Indonesia Country Coordinator before her retirement, and her passion for the programme led her to continue as a dialogue facilitator. With a background as an English teacher at a private senior high school in Jakarta, Wati has decades of experience actively advocating for peace education in her school.

In this article she shares the highlights of her journey with the programme.

Q: Wati, can you share your motivation for joining Generation Global, especially during its inception in Indonesia?

A: In 2010, I enthusiastically took on the role of Country Coordinator for Generation Global in Indonesia. The programme resonated with me because it aligned perfectly with the new school curriculum’s emphasis on character education. Partnering with UNESCO, we reached out to English and IT teachers, emphasising dialogue skills and introducing video conferencing tools. Our focus on English teachers was strategic, hoping they would integrate dialogue skills into their lesson plans or use them for additional student practice. Simultaneously, involving IT teachers was crucial, given that video conferencing was a novel experience for many educators at that time.

Our collaboration with Indonesian National Commission for UNESCO, hosted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology, persisted over the years, bringing in more schools. As time went on, we also collaborated with the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) to introduce the programme to hundreds of madrasahs (Islamic schools under MoRA) across the archipelago.

Teachers shared that their students became more confident, articulate, and expressive through participation in dialogues with peers. They found the process to be a fun and interactive way for students to learn and share experiences. When the pandemic struck and teaching moved online, Generation Global adapted swiftly, providing access to the Ultimate Dialogue Adventure, which also included video conferences that students could join either at school or individually from home. This proved invaluable as many teachers struggled with the sudden shift to online learning. Those active in Generation Global found the transition smoother and more manageable.

Q: Reflecting on a decade of facilitating dialogues, could you share moments that stand out as impactful for students or yourself?

A: One of the most rewarding aspects has been witnessing students leave behind surface-level discussions, to explore issues of personal significance in their interactions.

In a memorable instance, a student in a video conference asked about the reason for the head covering worn by another student. Upon learning it represented a religious practice, the inquiring student shared that in their own country, individuals from various faiths also wear head coverings to visit sacred places. This sparked a collective realisation among the students, highlighting similarities and differences in their customs and practices, despite their different faiths and backgrounds. The dialogue progressed with another student asking if anyone could think of other examples of similar customs with different meanings in their cultures. This showcased the students’ skills in sharing and asking questions, active listening, critical thinking, and reflection through their cultural lens.

Q: Have you observed instances where attitudes or perspectives shifted during or after a dialogue session?

A: Indeed! Sometimes, the transformative shifts in students’ perspectives may not be immediately evident during the 60-min online interactions, but reflections often unveil these meaningful changes. Students who engage more deeply tend to acknowledge and appreciate differences, rather than simply uncover similarities. For example, the question about the head covering worn by a student in a video conference led to a rich exchange about religious practices and cultural differences.

Another instance I remember is when a student reflected on their uniqueness after a dialogue on diversity within their own country. These instances underscore students’ ability to practice the core skills of dialogue and their use to learn from one another. My experience has been enriched by countless instances like these, reflecting the students’ curiosity, eagerness to learn, and their remarkable capacity to build meaningful connections – not just in Indonesia but around the world.

Q: Every journey has challenges. Can you share a challenging situation you encountered as a facilitator and how you navigated it?

A: Challenges are an inherent part of any journey. One of them is preparing students for dialogue in video conferences, I suspect that it might be due to teachers’ already busy schedule amongst other things. It is essential for students to have prior knowledge about the topic to actively participate and be ready to learn from different perspectives. Equally important is cultivating an atmosphere of respect, to foster a safe environment for open dialogue.

I have also observed that language barriers can present challenges to some students, due to the fact that students participating in a video conference have varying degree of English proficiency. As a facilitator, I am aware of this when facilitating so that I can make certain accommodation to help students with limited English ability get the most out of their participation in the video conference. Teachers also play a pivotal role in overcoming these challenges. They help students review the topic, practise dialogue skills with agenda questions, and reinforce dialogue etiquette. Additionally, they provide support during the video conference by encouraging students to speak up and helping with translation if needed.

In resolving these challenges faced by students, as a facilitator I have worked with teachers to provide them feedback on how video conferences run in the form of facilitator’s reflections.

Q: What attributes or skills do you believe make a facilitator effective in fostering meaningful and inclusive dialogues?

A: Facilitating dialogue is a nuanced task that requires a diverse set of skills. It is paramount to create a safe environment where all students can openly share and be heard, regardless of their background and language abilities.

Every time I open Zoom and see different faces from various countries gathered in one place, I feel excited. I am responsible for providing them with a safe and comfortable space, free from fear to speak, share experiences, express opinions, get to know each other, and learn from others. I witness a sense of equality. They are equal, regardless of their background.

Ultimately, a facilitator must remain fully engaged and attentive during the dialogue. Maintaining this level of presence comes with time and experience.

Q: Looking ahead, what aspirations do you have for the impact of global dialogue on students and educators?

A: My aspiration is for more and more students to participate in the programme, fostering respect and appreciation for diversity. In today’s polarised world, programmes promoting tolerance become increasingly crucial. Generation Global creates a safe and inclusive space for young people to develop positive attitudes and skills to navigate this ever-changing world. I hope the programme inspires students to embrace diversity, not only on a global scale but also within Indonesia’s rich cultural contexts.

Learn more about how to participate in Generation Global video conferences.