Gordonstoun offers workshops in online meeting skills to help students succeed in the ‘new normal’

Thursday 4 March 2021

Gordonstoun is holding an online symposium this weekend (6-8 March) to teach senior students from Moray and around the UK the art of successful dialogue, especially in online meetings

Online meeting tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet have become part of everyday life and are likely to be here to stay as people work differently post-coronavirus.

However, recent weeks have seen the fallout from poor dialogue skills, most notably at Handforth Parish Council when a meeting descended into chaos and members were ejected from a Zoom call by clerk Jackie Weaver.

Gordonstoun’s Principal, Lisa Kerr, said,

“Handforth Parish Council’s meeting revealed an adversarial and unproductive approach to proceedings which is sadly all too common in modern public debate. With role models like that, we are in danger of leaving the next generation ill-equipped with the skills for respectful negotiation too. Many schools have debating societies but this only teaches students how to advance their own viewpoint and win an argument. In order for society to advance, the next generation needs to know how to listen and reach the best outcome for all. This is why we have a Dialogue Society at Gordonstoun and why we are holding the second Dialogue Symposium which is open to schools around the UK. Having welcomed students to Gordonstoun for our inaugural symposium in 2019, this year’s will focus on online dialogue, reflecting how much of our work is now done digitally. We believe this is an important skill which needs to be developed.”

Gordonstoun’s Dialogue Society is now in its fifth year. In 2019 it held the first ever Dialogue Symposium which was attended by a wide range of schools from around the UK. The second symposium will take place from 6th March and will be an online event. Students will be taught the importance of listening and understanding an opponent’s view as a vital part of transforming conflict and tension into collaborative action. By holding the event online this year, it’s hoped more schools than ever can attend.

Keith Grammar School is one of the schools in Moray whose pupils will be attending the event. History teacher Craig Clow said,

“The symposium in 2019 was a valuable opportunity for our students to broaden their outlooks. Meeting people from so many different backgrounds and with such a wealth of differing stances on so many topics was very exciting for them on its own. Also, having only really engaged with debate as opposed to dialogue, the chance to approach discourse using a totally new approach opened the door to many possibilities for them once they returned home. They were keen to experiment and see how they could apply this new approach to lessons and extracurricular activities.”

The three-day event will be led by Gordonstoun teacher James Smith who has a Masters degree in Peace and Conflict and was part of the UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti. Other specially trained teachers will assist him.

Mr Smith said,

“The art of dialogue is very different to the art of debate. It is not about winning an argument but about critical thinking and understanding your opponent’s point of view so that you can reach the best outcome for all. This requires listening and empathy, essential skills which will help these students throughout their lives. This year’s event will have a special focus on online meetings which have helped the world to stay connected during the pandemic but which bring their own unique challenges.”

Nicole S was one of the students who took part in the workshops in 2019. She studies at Samworth Church Academy which is located in Mansfield, an area ranked as the 25th most deprived in England. Looking back on the experience, Nicole said,

“It was an amazing opportunity with so much potential to do good in the world. Meeting people with such diverse backgrounds and pasts was remarkably interesting as diversity is not something we really have here in Mansfield. It has given me a lot to think about.”

History and Modern Studies teacher James Beattie from Govan High School, Glasgow also attended the last Symposium with two of his students, one of whom went on to gain a place at Cambridge University. He said,

I liked the fact that the young people had to consciously think about the art of conversation, rather than react to a debate. As an observer, I was able to see how much confidence both girls gained in developing their verbal skills. I know that Rachel put her experience of the symposium in her personal statement for Cambridge.”

The Principal of Gordonstoun, Lisa Kerr added,

“We believe that dialogue skills are every bit as important in education as French or physics and we want to make sure that as many young people as possible can learn these skills. We now have to pull together to rebuild after the pandemic and successful dialogue will be key to keeping the nation unified and focused in its response. These issues affect all our lives and, if our young people can be more skilled in the art of dialogue, the future of the country will be in safe hands.”


For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

  • Eleanor Bradford: bradforde@gordonstoun.org.uk
  • Mobile: 07860 557682


Gordonstoun is an independent boarding school which was established in Moray in 1934 by Dr Kurt Hahn, a Jewish exile who fled Nazi Germany. He founded the school with the ideal of developing better world citizens equipped to contribute to society. Dr Kurt Hahn was the driving force behind the Outward-Bound Movement and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards. Gordonstoun has been a pioneer of character education which, as well as academic subjects, includes outdoor activities, sailing, athletics and service to the community. Three generations of British royalty have been educated at Gordonstoun, including the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales. Approximately one third of the pupils at the co-educational boarding school receive financial help in order to attend. The school was described as ‘outstanding’ and ‘sector-leading’ in its most recent inspection.