From October 2016 – June 2017, PATHWAYS conducted a pilot edition of its Game Changers program with 8 secondary schools across the Brussels Capital Region, supported by the U.S. Embassy in Belgium. The program brought together students from 4 pairs of schools representing a diverse cross-section of communities for experiential, immersive two-day negotiation skills workshops based on the “Harvard method” for interest-based negotiation – a negotiation methodology developed at Harvard University and now taught in many law schools, business schools, and government / diplomacy schools around the world as an effective way to approach any kind of negotiated situation or conflict, whether personal, professional, social and political.
Workshops were held at participating schools during regular school hours, with each school hosting their partner for one day of their two-day program. Over 160 students in Brussels took part in the program, along with 12 teachers.
Students and teachers reported that PATHWAYS workshops were a transformational individual and group experience: dramatically contributing to students’ confidence and ability to negotiate issues in their lives and giving them a broadened sense of what can be possible to achieve by creatively working together with, rather than struggling against (or avoiding), other people – including those who appear to be quite different or who seem to have divergent goals. Students experienced a positive encounter with peers from across Brussels, creating inter-communal connections and fostering a broadened sense of the city.
Participating students said:
“I learned how to negotiate and after taking part into the project, I started defending my interest differently. As of now, I know that no matter the situation I will be able to look for a solution that meets my interests and in the meantime keep good relations with people. Although my level in English is not that good, I handled it. I learned that there are always different possibilities; it is not a simple question of winning and losing.”
“This experience means a lot to me because it gathers all students, they become equal. Students are not any longer considered by their high or low grades but by their talent. We learned concrete and useful things; it gave us tools to better handle situation in our daily life. All what I learned across these two days have much more value to me than what schools have been teaching me up to now. This kind of experience should be fully integrated into our curriculum and thus we will have an efficient education model. I think that each youth has to take part to this project.”
“Communicating and discussing are the key. In life, just dare. Now, I know how to negotiate with others and I learned that listening to others is really important.”
“The most important thing I learned is that negotiation is all about communication. It also has an impact on my self-confidence, I feel more secure in defending my own interest.”
“Since I have arrived in Belgium, it has been the most interesting experience I have ever had. It meant a lot to me. I won’t ever forget it.”
Participating Teachers and Principals said:
“This program has been extremely positive for our students and the school itself in many respects. First of all, for our student participants, who formed a non-homogeneous group, the program enabled them to better get to know each other, which they usually don’t do. Second, our students met with other students from another school who come from a different socio-economic and cultural background and who live in an area they don’t know at all or a little. With this program, students from our school went out not only from their school, but, importantly, also out from their Commune to another where they don’t usually go. In addition students learned essential knowledge and acquired new skills in interest-based negotiation. Beyond negotiation, students have had the unique opportunity to practice English, improving their level.”
“In the fragile context of our school, a school classified as being in a difficult situation by the public authorities, students who participated had the strong feeling that they, despite their difficulties and their self-perceived weak level in English, are a part of this prestigious program. Having been paired with a well-known school was seen be our students as a trust given to them by PATHWAYS. Hence, they have been motivated in giving the best of themselves: they put the bar high.”
“The program was an unlikely meeting between students and teachers, all coming from different worlds, an invaluable and individual inspiration for the future of our youth and their teachers, and also a building of a strong relationship and ongoing collaboration between two schools that share common values.”
“To participate and to learn with other students and in other contexts is really enriching for our students and for us also. It gives us the opportunity to see our students differently. For me, it was a source of ideas for next year and I hope it will go on.”
“It was a highly interesting experience that worked on several levels: it gave our students insight into negotiating skills, an essential asset in many private, academic and public situations; it allowed them to discover cultures and social backgrounds other than their own, thus broadening their minds; it was also an opportunity to practice and improve their English in real-life communication situations led by an American native speaker.”
“Such a project is quite innovative in its format: pairing contrasting schools for two days and organising workshops in both places with team-building games, case analyses and role plays have expanded our students’ experience. The fact that it was led by a professional American coach has also given them the opportunity to experience American English and work as young adults.”
“The program allowed my students to meet other students from the same city but with a different background and they’ve realized how much they’ve got in common.”
“The interaction was very positive and taught our students the importance of being hosts in their own school. Furthermore, the experience of being a guest was important for the students as they were put in a very different environment than their own school. Having the kids work with and participate in a program that makes various students interact helped the students to break out of their well-defined comfort zones and daily routines to fully embrace the experience.”
“The two-day immersion in English was very beneficial to illustrate the importance and practical application of their studies outside the class. Over the two days, the students were stretched and challenged to follow the program and work together in English – which in Brussels in an essential skill. Many of the students showed significant improvement in their oral communication after the program.”
The 2016-2017 Game Changers program was supported by the U.S. Embassy in Belgium.