Students gather in a circle for a group discussion. Franklin Talks gives students the opportunity to converse about issues surrounding race in our community. Illustration by Everette Cogswell.

Franklin Talks returned this year on Dec. 6, 2022, taking place during second period classes. The program was established last year by now retired Franklin Climate and Equity Coach Julie Palmer after the “Successful Schools” survey revealed that only 18% of Franklin students reported having conversations about race in school during the 2021 school year. 

Franklin Talks is a series of school-wide conversations that take place four times per school year. “Franklin Talks gives students the opportunity to think more deeply about race and have more in-depth conversations [about race],” explains Yoshio Drescher, Franklin Instructional Coach (who supports teachers with designing curriculum, improving classroom management, and leading professional development) and supervisor of Franklin Talks in collaboration with Franklin’s Climate and Equity Team. 

Drescher believes that Franklin Talks is the first step towards integrating conversations about race and other systemic issues into all curricula at Franklin. “[Conversations about race] really need to be part of our daily, weekly practice, and it shouldn’t be seen as something separate from the content teachers cover.” 

This year, Franklin Talks look very different from the lecture-based format of last year. Drescher and the Climate and Equity Team identified areas for improvement by collecting feedback from the Franklin Talks exit ticket Google Form used last year. Drescher explains, “There was a desire for more discussion, chances for both small and large group conversation, and to apply an intersectional lens [the intersection between issues like race, gender, and socioeconomic status] to the conversation, while still centering race.”

After the new Franklin Talks template was created, Drescher gathered a final round of feedback by reaching out to students and hosting a presentation night in early December for Franklin families. He added that the development of Franklin Talks is a collaborative process: “I organize and facilitate the planning around it, but it is not strictly my vision.” 

Drescher explains that one barrier that has reduced the effectiveness of Franklin Talks is “the wide range of facilitator skill and facilitator comfort; some people are very comfortable facilitating these conversations and others aren’t.” Depending on the classroom you are in and the facilitator you have, the discussions can look very different. In classrooms like social studies and English, there is typically a pre-existing foundation of open conversation which makes it easier to facilitate Franklin Talks. However, if you are in a classroom less accustomed to group conversation, students might not feel as comfortable sharing. 

“While we strive to create a unified experience, with about 73 sessions going on simultaneously throughout the building, we recognize that with all of the different classroom dynamics that will be hard to achieve.” Drescher adds, “But we are hoping to continue to build capacity within our staff.”

The structure of the latest Franklin Talk was three different opportunities for students to talk in three different formats. The first was a whole group conversation looking at images of the school building as examples of where we might see some of the critical lenses manifesting themselves in terms of what we actually see in the building. The second was a four corners activity where students got a chance to move around the room and choose who they spoke to. The third was a conversation format chosen by the facilitators, like a socratic seminar, “fishbowl,” or a concentric circle. The goal was to have varying structures give a wide range of learners an opportunity to participate. 

Many students responded positively to the new structure of Franklin Talks in the most recent exit ticket, expressing that examining complex issues in the context of our Franklin community helped generate more discussion. “Last year it was more about watching videos and listening to lectures,” shared one student. “But this year people actually talked and we got to have a class discussion.” Another said, “because there were lots of prompts to help guide the discussion [and] real examples from our Franklin community, more students opened up and shared.” 

Additionally, multiple students expressed that looking at our school through intersectional, critical lenses helped them think more deeply about the systemic issues that surround us. Drescher added, “People appreciated that the content was about our school, it was more intimately connected to their experiences and that made it easier to talk about.”

However, there was also a lot of constructive criticism voiced. Lots of students felt that the most recent Franklin Talks “didn’t center race” and that there needs to be “more emphasis on race and racism specifically.” Drescher agrees, “we still need to make sure our conversations are strongly centered around race. Although we are trying to expand the scope of what we are looking at, we can’t lose that essential piece.” He reflects, “We are trying to create an experience that both students and staff find meaningful. We are still figuring out what that looks like; we are going to continue to refine [Franklin Talks].” 

During the next three Franklin Talks, we will be building off of the most recent one, expanding from discussion around the physical space to teaching methods and curriculum, as well as looking at historical barriers in education, and “how to improve access for people from all communities.” Finally, the fourth and final talk of the year will be a brainstorming-based session where we will discuss how we can make our school community a more equitable environment.

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