16 May, 2017

By Olena Merzliakova, PhD, doctoral candidate of the Institute of Pedagogical and Adult Education NAPS of Ukraine,

The topic of the dialogue became especially relevant for the author of this article due to participation in the project from the Swiss Peace Research institute (Swisspeace) that aims at fostering civil society dialogue in Russia and Ukraine. In the context of the project, civil society actors analyzed the current problems in Ukrainian and Russian societies. One of the most crucial problems was identified as the lack of a “culture of dialogue” in both countries. Three participants of the project, Olena Merzliakova (Ukraine), Galina Pohmyelkina (Russia), Elian Fitze (Switzerland),  created a report with a video presentation to illustrate the importance of dialogue and to present different approaches to fostering a culture of dialogue by “dialogue education” in schools [1].  The report and presentation of the participants in three countries have become a real Diapraxis  – the dialogical space that was generated by cooperation, and lead to new and unplanned perspectives for future research. The appearance of a new context is the brightest sign of quality dialogue. Apart from that, the dialogue has other qualities demonstrated later  in this article.

Thus, the purpose of the proposed article is to define the concept of “dialogue”, primarily, in the context of education, fixing the barriers in contemporary pedagogical practices of the post-Soviet space and drawing methods of overcoming these barriers.

According to various researchers, the word “dialogue”  derives from the Greek word dialogos, which means through (dia) and word (logos); therefore, it basically describes every interaction where meaning is conveyed by words. It seems almost impossible to define the term dialogue in all its meanings, facts and interpretations, but there are certain attributes to this word that formed recent definitions and adaptations. A lot of researchers give their own interpretation of this concept: dialogue as the collective way of opening up judgments and assumptions (David Bohm, Dialogue); a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling it toward something that has never been created before (William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together); dialogue as the outer counterpart to the inward cultivation of simultaneous , non-judgmental awareness, or mindfulness (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Coming to Our Senses). Dialogue, unlike debate or even discussion, is as interested in the relationship(s) between the participants as it is on the topic or theme being explored (Patricia Romney, The Art of Dialogue) [2]. With all the variety of interpretations, it is possible to identify certain features of the dialogue that integrate different descriptions [3].  We use a definition given by Hal Saunders [4]. In his opinion, dialogue is a process of genuine interaction through which human beings listen to each other, change and learn.  Everyone makes a serious effort to see and understand others’ point, even when disagreeing. At the same time, no one gives up their own identity.

The most important in this definition of dialogue is that the focus is on listening, not speaking. Every dialogue participant has to make an effort to listen to other, having possibly a different point of view, but considering others ideas without giving up her or his own beliefs and concepts.

Dialogue is a process that requires both sides to be constructive, respect each other’s points of view and take them into consideration. The aim is not to be right and to assert oneself; the aim is to find common ground and understand each other’s point of view. This is the starting point for constructing something together, for cooperating in everyone’s interest.

One particular risk is putting too much expectation on the concept of dialogue as a problem-solving mechanism that will automatically develop a solution. In the end, a dialogue is still mainly an exchange of thoughts and opinions, and even if it is facilitated and guided, might not give any results. Dialogue is not the solution, nor will it always provide the solution; but it is the most important base that enables the parties to find a solution in the first place.

The important question is: what comes after dialogue? How can we make sure that dialogue does not only collect theory, or that can be put into practice afterward? One possible answer to this can be the concept of “Diapraxis”.

The term was proposed by a danish Lutheran theologist Lissi Rasmussen, who saw the need for a different concept in her work of inter-faith dialogue. She states, that while dialogue indicates a relationship in which talking to each other is central, diapraxis indicates a relationship in which a common praxis is essential. Thus, by diapraxis, I do not mean the actual application of dialogue but rather dialogue as action. We need a more anthropological contextual approach to dialogue where we see diapraxis as a meeting between people who try to reveal and transform the reality they share [5].

This concept of “dialogue as action”, of dialogue that constantly focuses on finding common ground, has much more potential to produce long-lasting results. It can be translated into many different contexts. In practice, swisspeace adapted the concept of diapraxis in the framework of the ongoing project of fostering civil society dialogue in Russia and Ukraine. Civil society activists met in local focus groups and in transnational dialogue meetings, where they thematised different aspects of the effects the conflict in Ukraine has on society. While they looked for common ground to form working groups according to interests and professional capacities – joint action was a direct result of dialogue. Further, the joint action will feed into the dialogue process, or it will provide new inputs for dialogue.

A few words about the quality of the dialogue: these characteristics were the result of our discussion of the concept.

Dialogue is a productive communication. It is not identical to a simple conversation, which is the exchange of information, knowledge, opinions; this is the clarification of something important and not very important for another person. Non-Dialogue is either a pragmatic way of communicating for the solution of tasks related to everyday life; either it’s emotional interaction beyond deep content, “empty talk”, “secular conversation”. Dialogue always is productive communication, an opportunity to create something new in a conversation.

Dialogue means always searching. Dialogue feeds the space of communication with novelty, search, intrigue, and relaxation after tension from the unknown. Dialogue expands the area of the known and understandable, so this gives a new impetus to the development of relations. Most often, the partners in the Dialogue enjoy and feel the satisfaction of the joint search, they feel a rush of energy and joy of their Meeting at the level of deep, spiritual connection to each other.

Dialogue is the interaction of equals. Dialogue is not possible if one of the partners in the dialogue takes a position from above, that is arrogant, feels advantage and uses it, considers himself smarter, stronger and proves it with all the strength in conversation. If the partner avoids contact, evades the topic of the discussion and raised issues, turns off the conversation, such position does not promote dialogue also. In this case, it is necessary to distinguish the difference between dialogue and debate.

Dialogue is the meeting of cultures.Each of the participants in the dialogue bears the experience of the family where he/she grew up, the influence of reference groups of an earlier period of life, the specifics of their professional communities. Most of this experience is manifested in the process of communication, although it is not always realized.

An important characteristic of the dialogue is the trust to each other. The ability to open, generate, restore trust in oneself and to oneself in conversation also refers to the basic characteristic of people building Dialogues.

Dialogue model in pedagogy: barriers.

The dialogical model of relations in pedagogy is opposed to hierarchical relationship model, the preponderance of monologue in the pedagogical process, the technocratic orientation of education.

The hierarchical model dominates in the pedagogical system of post-Soviet countries (in this case – in Russia and Ukraine) and appears to be the dominance of the general over the individual. This model takes a hyper trophically big role in the socialization of people and their communication with each other. Power is exercised through the control of all spheres of life, where personal interests of the individual are subject to the common “right” interests, declared by the top hierarchy. Obviously, in this case, dialogue as the exchange of individual positions, opinions, goals is impossible.

To illustrate the prevalence of the declared model in the educational environment of Ukraine, we propose the following research results of the organizational culture in secondary schools (analogs of middle schools and higher schools in Western countries for children from 10 to 17 years). The research took place in educational institutions of different cities of Ukraine (Kiev, Odessa, Kharkiv). The school teachers  (a total of about 300 respondents) were asked to fill out a questionnaire that identifies the prevailing type of organizational culture at school. In addition, the questionnaire identified the desired type of organizational culture and was based on the questionnaire of Charles Handy [6]. His theory assumes 4 types of organizational culture: Authoritarian (culture of power), Bureaucratic (official, role, hierarchical culture), Culture of tasks (focus on joint solution of common goals) and Personal culture of the individual (based on individual approach and high professionalism, as  the concept of an organization here contributes to self-fulfillment of each individual within the organization).

Figure 1 shows the distribution of the four types of organizational culture in the opinion of respondents. The first indicators (blue) are the distribution of real relationships in educational institutions. The second indicators (orange) – this is the desired, ideal picture of the corporate environment in the opinion of modern Ukrainian teachers.

Fig.1. Comparing the current and desired organizational culture in schools of Ukraine.
The results of the research show that teachers are not happy with the dominance of an authoritarian and bureaucratic organizational culture. They prefer the organizational culture of tasks and personal culture. Personal culture is most conducive to the formation of a dialogue space. Simultaneously, this culture is the least represented in our pedagogical space. Authoritarian and bureaucratic culture does not give chances for the development of dialogicality in the system of pedagogical relations. In addition to the problem of hierarchy, a monologue is inherent to such cultures and is the next barrier to the culture of dialogue development in the post-Soviet space.

The Monologue implies the dominance and importance of one to the importance of the others, a sense of one’s own infallibility and knowledge that the speaker is right and all the others are not. This is a feature of those communities in which the right of one to vote exists due to the belittling, oppression of the voice of others. Monologic type of school education and organizational management are typical of Russian and Ukrainian cultures.

To illustrate this thesis, we propose the results of a survey (Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa, about 300 people), which was conducted to reveal the emotional preferences of teachers. The questionnaire is developed on the basis of the theory of emotional preferences by the Russian psychologist Boris Dodonov. Also, high school students (14-16 years old, a total sample of about 600 people) were interviewed using the same method.

Figure 2 demonstrates the distribution of emotional preferences of teachers (shown in descending order) and their pupils (high school students, 15-16 years old).

Fig.2. Profiles of emotional orientation of teachers and students

Emotional preferences of teachers and students most coincide in terms of communicative, cognitive, aesthetic orientation and focus on activities. In other words, joint knowledge, activity in the same joint communication unites teachers and students. These vectors are called  ” common space of dialogue”.

At the same time, the graph shows interesting results when analyzing the difference in the emotional preferences of teachers and their students (Figure 3). The positive indicators (the top of the diagram) are the predominance of the emotional preferences of teachers. The negative part (the lower part of the diagram) demonstrates the predominance of the emotional orientation of the students.

Fig.3. The difference of emotional orientation of teachers and students

According to the data, the most significant differences are observed between the emotional orientation of teachers and their students. On the one hand, at altruistic and moral orientation (predominance of teachers) and, on the other hand, boredom, consumer orientation, hedonism, focus on struggles and difficulties in communication for teenagers. In other words, selfless comments of teachers (monologue position) evoke boredom and rebelliousness, which significantly complicates the achievement of educational goals.

Finally, the third barrier to the development of a culture of dialogue in the educational system is a technocratic education. In our opinion, this vector of education is enrooted in the educational systems of many countries, not only in Russia or Ukraine. Technocratic education is characterized by the predominance of the information logical component in the content of education, rather than of ethical, aesthetic, and creative components. This particular barrier was not investigated during this research.

To illustrate the importance of finding new principles of education, the results of a study by J. Gerstein are presented. Her comparison of the educational principles in classical pedagogy clearly shows the importance of developing a culture of dialoge.

Comparison of traditional principles of education and educational principles of the new millennium (by J. Gerstein)

Education of XXI century Traditional education
Focus on the learning skills Focus on the learning content / knowledge
Teacher is a coach, guide, mentor Teacher is an expert who delivers   knowledge
Media tools usage The book is the main “source of knowledge”
Mistakes are the part of  learning The perfection is required
The curriculum is oriented on a student” General educational program
Evaluation as a tip/hint for a student Evaluation as a report for a teacher
Multisensory learning Intellectual learning
Students are authors of learning content Students must learn a content that has been already created
Students work during the lesson The teacher works during the lesson
Digital technology is used in education Technology as an additional tool
Bad behaviour is a trend of  growth Bad behaviour is punished
Social and emotional development is the most essential The educational program is most important

Here is an example of the practical implementation of educational guidelines in the 21st century in Switzerland. Information received from Christine Schwob Meister, primary school teacher (1st and 2nd grade)

The dialogue space of Swiss schools

The curriculum (“Lehrplan”) of the German-speaking part of Switzerland contains a section about social competencies, that has to be learned by every pupil. The old curriculum (1995) contained a shorter section that allowed free interpretation, while the new curriculum (“Lehrplan 21”) features a very distinguished chapter on social competencies in three areas:

  1. a) Ability and willingness for dialogue and cooperation: exchange thoughts collaborate;
  2. b) Conflict resolution skills: identify conflict, find solutions, solve conflict
  3. c) Dealing with diversity: Diversity as an enrichment, learn about equality, endorse equality.

This is seen as a very important part of education and as a vital element in preparing children for active participation in the democratic state. Already in their childhood years, the children should learn the mechanisms of dialogue, cooperation (even without consent), conflict resolution and dealing with diversity. Furthermore, they experience from a very early stage that their voice can make a difference.

In order to fulfill these requirements, each municipality or each school has to set an agenda on how to teach the children these values. Christine Schwob Meister presented the following municipality program:

  • Every grade from 1st to 6th holds a council once a week, which follows a particular scheme. The council raises the issues of social competences in general and also tackles particular current conflicts among The children set both individual and collective goals and measure how well these were reached. The teacher offers the framework and support, and guides the process.
  • From 3rd to 6th grade, every class sends deputies to the student’s council, which holds a few meetings per year and represents the students’ wishes and rights. The students’ council gets a voice at the school’s decision-making table.

In this way, the students acquire the skills for dialogue and learn about the responsibility and the benefits of participating in decision-making processes. The curriculum takes into account that these abilities have to be acquired over a long period of time, ideally in an early stage of individual development.

Creating a dialogue space in the Ukrainian educational system.

The author of this publication has an experience teaching at the Pedagogical University and knowledge of the postgraduate pedagogical educational system. The interest in the topic of dialogue in the learning process led to the formation of the author’s methodology of interaction with students, which can provisionally be called “Socratic dialogue in the space of information and communication technologies”[5].  The methodology includes the following steps.

Step 1.  To establish contact with an audience using open questions. Questions are selected according to the theme of studies. It is advised to have the  list of some questions. At first, members are trying to guess what is “right”, and often give some standard, though safe answers.  If the one who organizes the discussion calmly perceives every answer and every thought, the audience becomes more sincere and open. This “group polling” is the fastest way to bring the audience’s attention in the necessary direction.

Step 2: Topical themes discussion in small groups. At this step, participants have to work in groups of three. The first five minutes one person shares main thoughts about the subject of discussion, the second person listens attentively and writes down questions. The third member of the group tracks the time and records the conversations on the mobile phone. The members of the group change their roles three times so that everyone can speak out. At the end of the exercise participants in mini-groups write a list of topical questions based on conversations and present them to the public. The list of questions formulated at this stage helps to understand the opinion of an audience.

Step 3. Modeling of the main moments of the actual information space. At this stage, members may work in larger groups (5-7 persons) for collective discussion. The main aim is to distribute all the questions in the way so they will cover 4-5 main trends, concepts. This step helps to develop the skill to structure the information.

Step 4. The schematic representation of a model. The elements of this model are the ideas and concepts identified in the previous step.  The main thing is to draw relationships between these elements so the actual information becomes more accessible and understandable.

Step 5. Discussion of models. If possible, this model can be combined into some common “information model” or presentation of alternative models, which differ in certain, fundamental way.  It is important to understand that every phenomenon may have several variants for modeling.

Step 6. Defining the problems of the model. Each participant chooses the model that he prefers and then together in a group talks about difficulties that may arise during the realization of the model. This step concludes with the presentation of each group’s proposed “problematic situations and difficulties. The participants then observe the role of personal difficulties in the general space of discussed models.

Step 7. Coordination of the educational material on chosen topic . It is the most difficult step for a group leader of discussion because he/she needs to coordinate the available information with real audience inquires. It is crucial that information given by the presenter (teacher, coach) becomes an answer to those questions and the real problems that were discussed. If some information misses, the group leader has to continue to establish relationships new educational material and possible audience’s “field of inquires”.

Examples of using the author’s methodology in practice can be found by reference [8].

Conclusions. Pedagogical dialogue is a new step in the development of pedagogy, a response to the growing difficulties and diseases of the community, the intensification of the trend of violence, wars, global and local conflicts. Dialogue culture is opposed to the value systems of the existing humanity of the early 21st century. The ways of developing a culture of dialogue in the educational system of Ukraine are of further interest to our research and teacher’s activities.

The Literature

  1. Merzliakova O. Dialogue Culture in Education / OlenaMerzliakova, Galina Pokhelkina , Elian Fitze // 2015 Global Education Conference, webinar. [on-line recourse]. – access:
  2. What is dialogue? // Difficult Dialogues on Clark University site – [on-line recourse]. – access:
  3. Bryn S. Reflections from а dialogue worker / Steinar Bryn // The Nansen Seminar 2014: Dialogue in Peacebuilding. Report – [on-line recourse]. – access:
  4. Saunders H. A Public Peace Process: Sustained Dialogue to Transform Racial and Ethnic Conflicts / Saunders, Harold H. –New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
  5. Rasmussen, Lissi, FromDiapraxis to Dialogue / Lissi Rasmussen //Center for Sameksistens. – [on-line recourse]. – access:
  6. Handy Ch. Understanding organizations, 4th ed. / Charles Handy. – Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993.
  7. Gerstein J. What’s In and What’s Out in Education / Jackie Gerstein // User Generated Education. – [on-line recourse]. – access:
  8. Merzliakova O. Dialogic methods in pedagogical activity. / OlenaMerzliakova // American Journal of Fundamental, Applied & Experimental Research. – Journal 2016 2 (2) – P.123-132. – [on-line recourse]. – access: