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

Like Peanut Butter and Jelly: Maximizing Generativity with DE and AI


Some things just naturally fit together well.  Consider the well-worn example of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for instance.  On their own, each ingredient brings something to the table.  Sliced bread.  That’s pretty cool!  A non-perishable paste packed with protein and loads of sugar?  Yes please!  And jelly…I mean, what’s not to love there?  And yet mix them all together and you have something truly transformational—a delightful little snack whose very mention elicits positive emotions and rumbly tummies in both the young and old alike.  (Unless you have a nut or gluten allergy.  Or are on a low-glycemic diet.  If so, just try and roll with the image as I’m getting to the point shortly.)  The earthy savoryness of the peanut butter highlights the sweet notes of the strawberries harvested at the height of their ripeness.  The soft chewiness of the bread soaks up the spirit of the jelly, and sets off the occasional crunch of the peanut butter.  (Yes, I am of the crunchy peanut butter ilk!)  In short, the sum is greater than the individual parts, and each ingredient actually serves to further bring out the best in the other.  And this is exactly how I see Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and Dialogue Education (DE) these days!

My Learning Journey

One year ago I started Case Western Reserve’s Appreciative Inquiry Certificate in Positive Business and Society Change.  Through a mix of classroom instruction, field work, Business as an Agent of World Benefit interviews, and a written capstone paper, I found that my learning journey had a profound impact when I paused to reflect on how AI and DE bring out the best in one another.  (For those of you who are relative newcomers to AI such as myself, I invite you to check out this fantastic summary written by Jackie Kelm.  For those of you for who are unfamiliar with DE’s learning-centered approach to teaching, you can find out more here.)  Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Cleveland to complete my certificate and learn from the experiences of my global cohort members.  As with all deep learning, it was exhilarating and it was exhausting, and I am filled to the brim with both possibility and questions!  In short, this was my year in review:

Throughout this learning journey I saw many overlaps between DE’s core principles and practices and those of AI.  While I was able to directly explore some of these within the timeframe of this certificate program—such as applying an 8 Steps of Design process, and applying learning needs and resources assessments and achievement-based objectives to all AI work projects—I am looking forward to diving deeper moving forward.  I was intrigued by what AI outside of the context of a summit could look like…how it might be applied to all aspects of organizational life.  Little by little, I started experimenting with applying the principles in different contexts, inspired by—what else—questions!  For example:

  • What does an unconditionally positive question look like in a client meeting?
  • What can I do to help further develop an appreciative eye, personally, within GLP, and with the organizations we work with?
  • As questions themselves are interventions, what can I ask to incite positive change?
  • How might I create more opportunities for developing shared visions of the future?

Rather than seeking out opportunities for large-scale AI summits (which was how I entered into this journey), I looked to the daily tasks and interactions I already had such as meetings with potential partners, staff supervision, team meetings, annual reviews, client work, and community member gatherings.  One preconception that I had to overcome early on was my belief that there was a prescribed way that one must do AI.  In all honesty, I was doing my AI work in a bit of a closeted manner.  Though I was applying my learning directly to my work, I found myself doing it in a way that made the most sense and was most beneficial given my context.  I was reluctant to share or talk about what I was doing with other cohort members out of a misplaced fear that I was not doing so with fidelity to the “AI process”.  (My internal chatter often sounded a lot like this: Four Ds or five Ds?  Shoot, what if I only have time for one D?  What if it only makes sense to focus on two Ds right now?  What if I just want to employ appreciative questions to quickly identify life-giving forces to inform a totally different process all together? This is prime for an AI summit but I don’t have the time or resources!)

After several conversations with Dr. Lindsey Godwin, an AI expert based here in Vermont and, unbeknownst to her, my mentor throughout this process, my fears were assuaged and my focus redirected from process to principles.  “How about examining how you’ve honored the core principles of AI?” Lindsey suggested.  [Cue the “Hallelujah” music in my head.]  What a liberating feeling being able to serve as a co-creator of new methodologies of AI as applied to my work at GLP!  (As a side note, I often hear this same fidelity concern from practitioners of DE and would agree: it’s easy to get hung up on the process, but it’s really all about how you honor the principles and practices of DE!)

What I’ve Experienced

Through the integration of both AI and DE into my practice, I’ve experienced a deeper level of curiosity and have seen increased generativity in group settings.  I am mindful of the powerful ability we each possess to reframe a situation and appreciate it in a different light, one that enables us to see the possibilities before us.  (What if all teachers applied an appreciative lens as they supported students in their learning?  What if all learners and organizations were invited to discover their core values and work towards a shared vision?  How can we support one another to make this happen?)  My passion for this work has been reignited, my understanding of partnerships in a world of abundance has been reframed, and I am looking forward to exploring my many questions moving forward.

A few of my questions are listed below and I’m genuinely curious…

  • What would you add to the list?
  • What can you share with all of us all based on what you’ve seen and learned from your experiences?

Questions for You

  • How have you seen the core principles and practices of DE and AI support and transform one another?
  • How might we further integrate an AI approach in our practice as Dialogue Educators?
  • At their best, how do the DE principles of safety, transparency and mutual accountability show up within AI?‚Äč


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Dialogue Education in the University: Creating the Environment for Learning


This is just one resource in a series to support the application of Dialogue Education to higher education.  For more resources, we invite you to check out our full Dialogue Education in the University collection.  


By Jeanette Romkema and Dan Haase

NOTE: These tips were written with the undergraduate professor and students in face-to-face full-time learning environment in mind. However, they can be equally valuable in the post-graduate, virtual learning environment, distance learning, and part-time university program setting.

Dialogue Education in action at Humber College in May 2014.

(Dialogue Education in action at Humber College in May 2014.)

So much depends on the space (whether face-to-face or virtual) and how it enhances and/or limits learning and the learner.  Taking time to consider the place and space is vital to designing an effective university course.  Below are a few suggestions for creating the best environment for learning.

  1. Begin the course before the course begins.  Start the teaching and learning with a learning needs and resource assessment (LNRA).  This fosters respect and safety and can offer a great deal of important information about the students coming to your course and what you might need to consider in designing a meaningful and relevant learning environment.  Beginning a course before the course begins lends itself to an environment where students feel cared for and heard. 
  2. Clearly articulate your expectations in the course syllabus. The design bears the burden and the syllabus shows this design to the students before they start.  The syllabus clarifies expectations, demonstrates the care that has gone into making the course meaningful and relevant, and names ways students will be involved in their learning journey.  Offer students the syllabus prior to the first class meeting.  
  3. Arrange the space to maximize learning.  Sometimes sitting in a circle will encourage deeper sharing and more courageous questions. Other times sitting in small groups is what you want to stimulate creative thinking and deep engagement. Most often, sitting in rows will discourage dialogue and encourage passivity – and so should be avoided. We always want to ask ourselves: How should I set the room up to maximize learning? In the virtual learning context, we need to ask ourselves: How and when should I invite small group dialogue and investigation?  NOTE: If you don’t have assistants to help move the furniture around, just ask for some volunteers from the class to come early (to set up) or stay late (to return to how it was).
  4. Stand when presenting new content, sit when facilitating dialogue.  One should probably be sitting more than standing if this guideline is followed.  Sit down with your students when possible and become a learner among learners. Although with large groups this may not be possible (as you need to be able to see everyone), the desired shift in power can still be communicated by inviting learners to engage with the learning rather than only the professor, and encouraging dialogue with each other and themselves rather than only with you.
  5. Call students by name.  Learning your students’ names even before the first class communicates that you see them as unique individuals.  Many institutions provide class rosters with photos online that you can view before the class begins.  Provide nametags for students so they too can respond to their peers by name, and feel more connected as a group.
  6. Invite and include all voices.  Students need to feel their experience and comments are important, and that you want to hear them. Open questions and meaningful learning tasks help raise all voices.  Small group and pair work can also assist in maximizing engagement and learning.  Students need to feel you are genuinely interested in what they think and their need to authentically engage with the new content. Sometimes this can best be done in an online discussion which can “level the playing field” for even the quietest students who may be hesitant about speaking up in a face-to-face setting.
  7. Consider the aesthetics of your room.  Too often university classrooms are sterile environments, void of natural or man-made beauty.  Bringing in a rug, lamp, freshly cut flowers, or some plants can brighten a room and help learning.
  8. Find ways to include food.  Food and snacks bring students together and can foster community during break time or while you are teaching.  For some students crunching and chewing actually helps them concentrate and learn more easily.  If appropriate, invite students to rotate the task of bringing in snacks – many will rise to the challenge. In some cases, arranging a time to go out for a meal may be a helpful community-building event.
  9. Use the classroom to test, try, compare and analyze theory.  Since your time with students is limited, work to get students to study the necessary theory outside of class, so you can engage with the theory during class.  This means we treat students as adults: we need to assume reading is actually completed before arriving in class. When professors read homework/ readings to students during class (through a PowerPoint or handouts), we are encouraging passivity and discouraging ownership of one’s own learning.
  10. Invite students to personalize their learning plan.  Assuming professors actually want to offer ways for students to demonstrate real learning, offering choices on exam style (oral or written) and type/topic of the final assignment  (for example, a research project or scholarly paper) can provide more focused motivation for the students.   Since students have unique interests and motivations, we should reflect these in our learning programs. Consider what cumulative innovation, essay, article, action plan or analysis best captures and demonstrates that the learners have learned by doing.

Jeanette Romkema has taught courses at Dordt College, Tyndale University College and Seminary, Emmanuel College of Victoria University of The University of Toronto, and Summer Peacebuilding Institute of Eastern Mennonite University, and will be teaching at Wycliffe College in 2015. She has also taught university professors how to strengthen their work with Dialogue Education in Africa, USA and Canada. 

Dan Haase is Internship Coordinator & Instructor at Wheaton College and works with his entire department to embrace Dialogue Education principles and practices in the university classroom.

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Beta, Baby!


By Marian Darlington-Hope and Karen Ridout

The Internet increasingly provides a multitude of tools that provide opportunities for learning. At the Building Learning Communities Conference a few years ago, the title of one presentation declared “It’s no more Best Practices, it’s Beta, Baby.” We are all in Beta mode as we discover and explore these tools to support our learning designs

As Dialogue Educators, you are already familiar with the value of learning tasks in small groups. Once the learning task is set and clear to all, we see the dynamics at work in a small group—where the learning happens! Online learning tools enable group learning tasks to draw on the strength of different learning styles present in the group just as dialogue education practices do in face-to-face groups. These web-based tools have made it possible for all of us to make the internet work for us as individuals, groups and organizations.

Blooms Taxonomy updated and adapted for the digital world is useful in structuring learning tasks. The attached diagrams show the possibility for a range of useful and wonderful web tools, but without an Achievement-Based Objective for using a particular tool or set of tools, you may miss enhancing the learning.

As we consider dialogue—dia-logos, the word between us—these tools enable us to integrate sight and sound honoring the different learning styles in our teaching by intentionally including them as an integrative whole. Tools vary, some of them are designed to assist you in presenting content in new ways while others assist you in the creation process and allow you to share your process more transparently.

Remember—the tools you choose must enhance the learning!

(Click on either of the pictures below to pull up interactive charts directly from the creators' websites.)

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10 Tips for Managing Data to Document Learning & Change


By GLP Senior Partner Jeanette Romkema and GLP Partner Christine Little.

It can be challenging to collect meaningful data from participants while facilitating dialogue. There we stand at the flip chart with markers in hand, racing to get their insights up on the wall while the dialogue flows past us. The conversation starts to go off track while we try to recall what someone said a minute ago. And the chart starts to look like a jumble of words. It is important to remember that the conversation itself is a meaningful product! Facilitators need to be intentional about what gets documented and know that it’s not necessary to capture all that is said. Here are 10 helpful tips for documenting ideas, decisions, and insights.

  1. Use participants’ own words. If you don’t have a scribe, consider having the participants write it out themselves and post their work. Using a co-facilitator for this role can also be effective and easy.  Remember, ask learners to repeat when something is unclear: “What word did you use just now to describe the theory? I want to capture your thought exactly.”
  2. Ask people to be specific and descriptive in their answers. People tend to synthesize their thinking to the point where it can lose meaning. To get important detail in learners’ work, you may need to ask questions of clarification and probing questions. Setting the task clearly is critical. Remember, be specific in your instructions: “Write the feedback you are hearing about the method your organization is using. Be as comprehensive as possible.”
  3. Leave space between points as you scribe.  As people inquire into the point you can use this space to add a richer description and fill in the details. As you continue to unpack ideas on a chart or visual you will want to add words, phrases, pictures, and thoughts. Remember, be transparent: “I am going to leave lots of space between your ideas so we can add thoughts and examples as we unpack this throughout the day.”
  4. Make it moveable. If you will be categorizing, capture data on Post-it Notes or cards—one idea per note—so that they can be easily clustered or moved into columns. Let participants do the clustering, sorting and meaning-making when possible. Remember, be clear: “Write one idea per Post-it Note so we can move ideas around and categorize after we hear everyone’s input. We are going to be working with this for the next hour or so.”
  5. Label your charts. It may sound obvious, but a flipchart without a title may be hard to identify by the next day and when you need to use the data again. You and the group need to know what a collection of data on a chart is about, at a glance. Remember, details count: “When you are finished add a title to the top of your chart and your names at the bottom. We want to remember whose ideas are on each chart.”
  6. Use graphic organizers.  Graphic organizers help individuals and groups to make sense of the data they generate. Some examples of these include: T-charts, mind maps, matrices, Venn diagrams, timelines and pie charts. Remember, maximize this tool: “Use the full paper to make your chart and write large enough so that we can read your ideas from a distance. This will be important for our further work together.”
  7. Leverage technology. For some data, typing it directly into a computer (possibly visible to all on the screen), is a good way to scribe. Only use this if the data does not need to be visible in the room later. If you will need to refer back to it with the group, put it on a wall or flip chart. Remember, technology is not our enemy: “We are going to collect your ideas on the screen so I can email it to everyone during the break and we can work all work on unpacking the idea on our computers during our working session this afternoon.
  8. Put the data in their hands. Participants will feel more accountability for the product to the extent they own it. Invite them to write, post, enrich, sort, cluster, categorize, prioritize, eliminate, and add to the data. This keeps them meaningfully engaged, adds more credibility to the outputs, and makes your job easier. Remember, be prepared: “You will find all you need to do this work on your tables: markers, Post-it Notes, and scissors.”
  9. Keep visuals up that you plan to continue to work on and refer to. Visuals are not to be treated like wallpaper, and should only be kept when/ if it will further the learning and work that needs to be done. Be selective in what you record, how and how long you keep it up. Remember, refer to what has been kept visible: “Remember our work on this yesterday [gesturing to the chart]? How does that inform this new model?”
  10. Be transparent and clear. Whether you are collecting data verbally or in writing, in advance or in the moment, individually or as a group, be clear what will be collected, when, where and by whom. Clarity and transparency on process and expectations will help ensure rich data and minimize assumptions. Remember, avoid “faci-pulation” (facilitation + manipulation = faci-pulation): The process of facilitating decision-making that will not be used later. Be clear who has deliberative or decisive voice and what will happen next.

What tips would you add?

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Lavish Praise!



I had the great fortune to take my first Dialogue Education course back in 2001 at Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute with two facilitators named Peter Noteboom and Jane Vella. At the time, I remember it as a great course, but I didn’t really understand how completely transformative it was going to be for me in so many areas of my life.

The transformative potential was partly a function of how the Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach course—now called Foundations of Dialogue Education—built upon what I had already experienced as a learner, framed the learning process in an easily-accessible set of principles, validated the good practices that I had picked up from great teachers, and corrected some of the bad habits I had acquired in graduate school. But it was also because it was fun and I felt that I had the safety and space in which to learn, muff it up and try again. This was so unlike university!

In fact, on the first day, I was so excited by my learning experience that I ran up to Jane at a break and blurted out, “This course is so much better than the book!”

Jane took this exclamation surprisingly well. And rather than chastising for my back-handed complement, she graciously took it as a sign that I had found a way of learning that worked for me. She simply smiled, said, “Thank-you, Dwayne” and got ready for the next learning task.

I also recall being challenged that week by one of her many axioms of Dialogue Education: “Lavish praise”. I initially interpreted “lavish” as an adjective describing the type or volume of praise that I should offer learners. But being an introvert and someone who tends to be more analytical and problem–focused, this seemed alien to me. It was fine for someone like Jane who electrified the room when she walked in, and who exuded a joie de vivre. But it just didn’t seem like me.

Now that I’m an 11 years veteran in the parenting business, I’ve finally understood that “lavish” is more properly understood as a verb. And more important, a verb in the second person singular—the imperative! You (the teacher) lavish praise. Or perhaps even the French subjunctive: Il faut que…. You must! Thou shalt lavish praise! Even when you don’t feel like it, or they don’t deserve it or they are completely wrong-headed. Praise them for the effort.

As I see my kids struggle to learn new ideas, skills and attitudes, I’ve learned the importance of praising them for making the effort: “You can play this piece, Isaac. You’re working really hard to learn this song and you’ll get it like you did the last one. Just try that part again.”

And recently, I’ve started to remind my kids about how our brains are plastic, and that we can work to re-wire our brains through trying. The hard work that Isaac is doing at the piano of making his eyes, brain, ear and fingers work together is essential to forming new neural pathways. “You and your brain can learn anything, Isaac, just keep at it”.

Now “lavishing praise” doesn’t mean that I don’t correct my kids or learners in my workshops. It is still important to correct vital misinformation—“Those scissors will hurt you, Isaac! Stop running!”—but on less critical issues I try ask them to step back for a second, inquire why, and work with them to critically analyze their perspective. And then I make sure to affirm the effort that it takes to do this!

Yesterday we held a small tree-planting ceremony to thank Isaac’s grade two teacher who is moving to a new school. One of the parents spoke about how the teacher had a reputation for being tough on the kids.  But, the parent said, the kids observed that the next time they did it correctly, the teacher would always complement them.  Lavishing praise, reinforcing the positive behaviour.

I’m beginning to see that parenting and teaching are like caring for a tree: work with the good soil that you have, plant new ideas, add compost, mulch and water to help them grow, gradually expose them to the wind, cold and sunlight to strengthen them, prune them a bit so they can bloom more, rejoice in the sheer beauty that bursts forth….and very importantly, lavish praise!

P.S. Happy Birthday, Jane!


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