"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

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Shared Power: Differences in Dialogue with Children and Adults

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“Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children?”​

I heard this question many times as a graduate student, but never thought I would have to answer it myself. I had no idea I would soon be working as an Afterschool Teacher with a diverse group of eighteen 4th and 5th grade students. This job forced me to reevaluate the lessons I learned as a student and practitioner of Dialogue Education and a learning-centered approach. Every day, amidst the chaos of my classroom, I thought to myself:  “Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children—especially these kids?”

By daily asking this question, I began to live my way into an answer; an answer that has fundamentally changed my understanding of dialogue, and my understanding of power.

When I first encountered Dialogue Education, I thought it was all about letting go of power. The teacher, forsaking professorial domination in pursuit of real dialogue, becomes a co-learner and creates space for learners to discover their own power. Then the teacher “gets out of the way,” relinquishing power to learners until the process is complete in an event called “the death of the professor.” In my mind, Dialogue Education invited me to let go of power as a teacher for the sake of learners and their learning, as an act of love.

Then, at my new job, I received the opposite advice: I was instructed to hold on to control as much as I could. “These kids are tough,” more experienced teachers told me. “They will push you around if you let them, so they need to know you are in control.” As much as I cringed at this advice, these teachers knew what they were talking about. The more power I let go of, the more my students took advantage of it. When I didn’t hold on to control, students would cause problems for each other and someone would get hurt. When I held on to as much control as I could, I protected students from each other, and from themselves. This, too, was an act of love.

And yet I was not content to dictate classroom dynamics, even if it led to increased order and productivity. I still believed in dialogue as well as a learning-centered approach to teaching. So I did not forsake Dialogue Education, but wrestled to re-contextualize the principles and practices for a rowdy crowd of elementary students. In doing so, I realized how Dialogue Education is not mainly about letting go of power, nor is it about holding on to control: it is about using power well so that it can be shared, which may mean letting go of power or holding on to control, depending on the situation.

This has changed the way I employ the principles and practices of Dialogue Education as taught by Global Learning Partners. Take the principle of “Safety,” for example. Sometimes, safety requires “getting out of the way” to allow softer voices to be heard. Other times, safety requires “getting in the way” to prevent louder voices from dominating. Or take the principle of  “Respect.” Sometimes, respect means allowing learners to make their own decisions. Other times, respect requires taking away this privilege when they are actively disrespecting one another with harmful words and actions. In my own class, I learned that cultivating safety and respect does not only require a soft heart; it also requires thick skin.

So, what does Dialogue Education look like with children?

It still looks like applying the principles and practices, only with younger learners who often require power to be used differently for dialogue to emerge. Ultimately, this points to the necessity of a learning needs and resources assessment, and the importance of the “WHO” in every learning situation. Before we can say what Dialogue Education looks like with children, we must ask, “Which children?”

With the children in my class, I first had to close the space so that learners could safely and respectfully engage without yelling and flying objects getting in the way. Only then could dialogue emerge. In other words, I had to use my power in such a way that this specific group of learners could use theirs. On the occasions when I succeeded, the result was an environment of giving and receiving what one another had to offer—a power that was shared, even enjoyed.

As teachers, we need to ask ourselves what will maximize learning in each situation. My goal now is not always letting go of my power, nor is it holding on to control—it is to use my power well, for and with the specific learners in the room. The principles and practices of Dialogue Education call us to use our power well and intentionally so that others can use theirs, until the power of every learner can be shared in love.

What other learning-centered principles and practices have you found to be effective with children?

How may this be different or the same when working with youth?

*****

Drew Boa works at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. He is in the process of publishing a curriculum for youth about sexual health and wellness, which he began designing while taking "Advanced Learning Design" with Global Learning Partners. He loves Dialogue Education and is a daily practitioner!

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An Action Package for Managers, Part II

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In Part One of this blog series we shared a story about how Global Learning Partners (GLP) and pro mujer collaboratively built the skills of managers in the context of their day-to-day work. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the video about that process, enjoy it here.

In this post we briefly show how the structure and implementation of the learning program for managers reflect critical principles of adult learning.

To start, take a close look at the snapshot, above. The green paths are three, six-week periods of self-directed on-the-job learning. The red circles are four in-person gatherings, called “refueling stations.” Each of the carefully facilitated in-person gatherings:

  • is built on a concrete set of learning objectives that name what the managers will have done by the end of the time together;
  • balances action with reflection, allowing time for managers to exchange past experiences around a particular aspect of their work, and plan for how they will approach that aspect moving forward; and,
  • focuses on relevant content, prioritized through both self-assessment and outside perspective.

During the weeks of self-directed learning, managers used personal workbooks with a consistent structure to try out new skills on the job as exemplified in the box below. On the recommendation of managers during the rapid pilot phase, each workbook begins with a proposed timeline for pacing themselves through the self-directed learning.

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Key Skills

Step One: Reflect

e.g. Reflect on which leadership qualities you exhibit most consistently.

Step Two: Discover

e.g. Read this one page resource about feedback and select one strategy you’ll use this month.

Step Three: Try It Out

e.g. Select three staff from whom you would value feedback on your work. Adapt this draft invitation for their feedback and review these tips for how to accept their feedback well.

Step Four: Plan

e.g. Use this action sheet to capture one thing you will continue and one thing you might do differently as a result of the feedback you received.

________________________________________________________________

We congratulate pro mujer staff in Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and Bolivia for the collaborative design and implementation of a practical action package built entirely on the true meaning of “learning by doing.” This has been exciting work!

What ideas for “learning by doing” does this two-part blog inspire in you?

*****

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.

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An Action Package for Managers, Part I

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Do you sometimes find that training doesn’t stick? Watch a four-minute case study with a creative approach to taking new skills out of the workshop and into the workplace.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbeMNxFubvA&feature=youtu.be

Keep an eye out for Part Two of this blog for a closer look at this work.

What ideas for your organization does this blog inspire in you?​

*****

Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.

 

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Tell Me How You are Doing with a Card

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How does a facilitator know when groups or individuals are hard at work on a task you have set, or are stuck and want some help?  When learners are hard at work for extended periods of time, I don’t hover. These are times for me to get out of the way, so learning can happen.

So, how do learners let me know where they are at and if I am needed?

Here is a simple technique:  coloured cards. You can buy them with words:

Or, I make coloured cardstock tents that stand on each learner’s table. GREEN = “I’m fine and don’t need any help,” YELLOW = “I have question, but it’s not urgent,” and RED + “Help! I’m stuck.” It’s simple, easy to use, and effective.

Let’s stop hovering, so learning can happen.

 

What tools to do you use in workshops and courses to help maximize learning?

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Tips for Entering and Staying with Tough Dialogue

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The toughest conversations often offer the most important learning. Sometimes we really need to enter the conversations we work hardest to avoid. Tough conversations can be hard to navigate and risky. So how do we “go there” in a healthy way?

Below are some tips for entering and staying with tough dialogue. Tough dialogue ought not be feared, and can bear gifts to those who dare the journey.

1.       Be genuinely curious. When we don’t want to learn, understand or see the viewpoint of another, we won’t. Enter dialogue with open questions you really care about and with a real desire to deepen your understanding of where the person is coming from and what is behind his/her position. Expect information that may actually challenge your ideas in a healthy way and encourage personal positive growth.  

2.       Don’t enter to “win.” Open and honest dialogue is not about winning a fight or taking sides:  it is about hearing each other, respecting one another’s viewpoints, and believing we can both move to a better place as a result of the interaction.

3.       Talk less, listen more. When we are passionate, especially when the person we are talking to is not as passionate as we are, we can get excited, talk faster and fill more of the time. This can shut the other person down or make them defensive. Watch how much you talk, and know you will learn more by listening. It takes courage to share what we are most passionate about. Work hard to invite people in; help them feel safe; ensure they know you are genuinely curious about their viewpoints. In other words, be quiet.

4.       Use good questions for understanding. Ask open questions to gain understanding: “What do you think about … ?” or “What has been your journey to … ?” Ask digging deeper questions to encourage deeper sharing: “Tell me more about … .” or “You mentioned …, what more can you tell me about that?” Ask powerful open questions: “What would you need to hear or see to have you … ?” or “What would have to change in your work or family to enable you to more fully … ?”  These types of questions (and taking time to truly hear the response) tells the person you are with that you care and want to understand.

5.       Ask head and heart questions. Our beliefs and passions are directly and deeply connected to our heart and our emotions. It is helpful to ask what people “think” about things as well as how they “feel” about them—both will offer insights. Head and heart questions shed light on what they believe and why they believe it. Both are part of who we are as human beings.

6.       Be gentle. Talking about issues we care deeply about and feel strong about is not easy, for either side. Be attentive to energy and know when it is enough for now. If the dialogue was respectful, then seeds have been planted and there will be other opportunities to further our learning journeys.

7.       Prepare yourself. We don’t always know when we will enter tough or challenging dialogue. However, when you are aware this is likely to happen preparing yourself for it is wise. Calm yourself, know deep listening will be needed, and enter the dialogue with genuine curiosity.

8.       Stay humble. We all know and believe what we do because of our personal experiences, education, faith, family and environment. Since this is unique to each of us, it makes sense that our beliefs are also our own. We all have insights to offer others and also have much to learn. Enter with humility and know life is a journey of surprising discovery.  

 

Entering into dialogue with someone about challenging topics that are important to us can be rewarding. Which of these tips do you find especially helpful?

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