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

The Incredible Power of Silence in Learning


Participants relishing their productive silence at the October 2014 Foundations of Dialogue Education workshop in San Diego, CA

With the speed of life and technology, it seems that many of us are managing our lives in 10-minute increments. Even that 10 minutes can be difficult to protect with the “ding” of incoming e-mail, the “whistle” of an incoming text, and the vibration that signals updates on Linked-In, the all-company messaging app or Facebook account.

Uninterrupted, quiet, thinking time can seem unfamiliar, disorienting, and deliciously welcome.  I was struck by this earlier this month while facilitating a beautifully designed learning task in GLPs “Foundations of Dialogue Education” course.

In pairs, participants had spent a good chunk of time identifying content, writing achievement-based objectives, and then fleshing out one task for their design using the 4 A’s. They recorded their work on charts and then posted these in a gallery. Working solo, we then took time to read each sample and to write two pieces of feedback to each designer: one thing that we liked and one caution or suggestion. These were written out on sticky notes and then added to the charts.

You could have heard a pin drop. You could see the concentration…in cartoon terms, you could “see smoke coming out of people’s ears” as they deeply and intentionally engaged in the task.

The experience was so remarkably powerful: focused, sustained concentration; an absence of multi-tasking, distraction, and noise. Silent. Together. Doing something meaningful. This soothing, reflective atmosphere unfolded over a period of more than 20 minutes. As we gradually and naturally finished the task, there was a collective sense of calm and accomplishment that was palpable.

I feel such gratitude to the skilled GLP designers—Chris Little, Dwayne Hodgson, Kathy Hickman, Peter Noteboom, Jeanette Romkema and Valerie Uccellani—who worked on this version of the course and gave us this learning task. The power of the time made me wonder: How do I invite and attend to silence, to this kind of extended focus within the learning designs I create? It also brought my attention back to the importance of sequencing tasks in a way that invites not only dialogue among participants via spoken word, but also via other means: written feedback, respectful silence for reflection…

What role does silence play in the design and facilitation of learning events you lead? 


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Where Aboriginal Practice and Dialogue Education Meet


At the beginning of summer I had the opportunity to take a course for professional development.  It was a course offered by the Canadian School of Peacebuilding and the instructor was the author Rupert Ross  The content of his book Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal Justice and his course have stuck with me since that time.

In his course Returning to the Teachings, Ross used stories to teach and also invited us to share our stories.  We did this throughout the week either in an informal or formal sharing circle.  I learned the value of circle practice and experienced the trust, safety and respect that it can create (and is needed!).  I used to be doubtful of formal sharing circles but now understand their power and potential. Ross indirectly taught Aboriginal cultural through this practice of sharing circles and it was deeply moving.

I also had the opportunity to take another professional development course.  This one was offered by Global Learning Partners, called Foundations of Dialogue Education: From Principles to Practice. It was about how to design an engaging and relevant course to maximize learning.  I took this course late in the fall of last year before Rupert Ross’ course.  

In this course, I learned that adult learners have much to offer and that designing a course and facilitating it needs to be an intentional and authentic process.  It is a practice that needs to ensure respect, safety and inclusion for all.  It, too, changed me.

Today I am struck by the similarities of these two courses and their methodologies.  The core principles and many practices parallel each other. What is at the heart of Aboriginal People’s traditional culture and practices is also deeply valued in Dialogue Education.

Let me share a few observations that are especially powerful for me:

Silence. I have often heard people struggle with what to do with the silence felt when sitting or talking with Aboriginal people. Yes, we respect silence and often sit in it for long periods of time. We believe that much can be learned in silence. We also believe that much hurt and misunderstanding can occur when we speak before thinking.

As a Dialogue Education practitioner, I have also learned to value silence. Too often the teacher, trainer, or professor feels she needs to “fill the space” and takes over the group. I have learned the importance of waiting: good things happen to trainers that wait.

Humour. I love how Aboriginal people can laugh at life and know the importance of laughter. I often hear my friends and family roar with laughter when they are together. Even when we are going through tough times and there is much suffering, laughter is never lost.

As a Dialogue Education practitioner, I also know the importance of laughter. What better way to increase engagement or bring a group together or break the ice, than to have the group laugh!

Circle practice.  In a formal Aboriginal Circle, it is a place to share one’s own feelings, thoughts and questions in a safe environment without fear.  This sharing can be beneficial to others in the sharing circle because people might relate to what you are sharing and have their own inspiration.

As a Dialogue Education practitioner, it is always good to hear from learners. Starting or ending the day in a circle to reflect on what will be learned or what was especially challenging or insightful during the day, can be helpful. However, sometimes sharing a word, phrase, metaphor or emotion is enough.

Respect.  Respect in Aboriginal culture permeates everything.  Respect is not limited to people but encompasses the whole of creation. 

As a Dialogue Education practitioner, I understand that respect is essential and crucial for adult learners.  We try to create an atmosphere where respect is practiced and always present.  One cannot learn if one feels disrespected.

Heart learning.  Storytelling in Aboriginal cultures gets to the heart of “heart learning.”  A lesson or moral will stick with someone when it is shared in a story where the learner needs to draw his/her own conclusions.

As a Dialogue Education practitioner, I understand that learning can come in many different forms: knowledge (head), attitudes (heart) and skills (body). To teach holistically we need to engage all three parts in the learner. Heart learning is especially powerful!

Authenticity.  In Aboriginal culture, because it is understood that we speak from the heart and are respectful to the listener, it is understood that what we have to say will be authentic.

As a Dialogue Education practitioner, I believe we need to teach and work in truth and respect. I always work to enter the teaching and learning space with genuine love and concern for the learner and his/her learning.

The above principles and practices have taught me much about myself and best practices in my work, and I look forward to deepening my learning in the future.

How have you seen Dialogue Education principles and practices mirrored in your culture?

Shannon Perez sperez@crcna.org is from Winnipeg (Canada) and is Justice and Reconciliation Mobilizer for the Canadian Aboriginal Ministries Committee. She regularly facilitates the interactive workshop The Blanket Exercise (a tool that works with leaners to re-enact the history of relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada) and enjoys training volunteer trainers in how to ensure learning to maximize the possibility of real change in this world. Shannon is proud to be an Aboriginal woman and practitioner of Dialogue Education!

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Fire, Flora, and Food: Lessons from Abroad Enliven Dialogue Education


Winding our way through Bali last spring, we observed people throughout the island offer small, hand-woven baskets to their gods. These daily baskets were lovingly filled with sandalwood incense, fresh flowers, and a local food item such as fish, or other real food, makanan asli. The Bali baskets beautifully summarize Dialogue Education (DE) for me. Dialogue Education, in its many forms, is connecting to the heart, mind, community, spirit, the earth, and to ancestral eating.

Bali ritual baskets, freshly placed on the sidewalk with a morning blessing.

I describe my working self as a “Real Food-Ancestral Health” registered dietitian. I have been fortunate to draw from life-long experiences in travel and apply cultural gems to Dialogue Education. For example, the concept of taksu, the Balinese word for life magic, is alive in our DE classroom. Following the lead of tribal origins, we celebrate eating food close to the earth, sitting in a circle. A red tablecloth is crinkled into a figurative bonfire at the center of the group and gently blazes with locally harvested food treasures:  autumn squashes, pomegranates, pinecones, pine nuts, flowers, bay laurel leaves and nuts, persimmons, colorful fall leaves, acorns, stones, and shapely twigs. Is this our seasonal interpretation of the Bali basket? The fresh centerpiece kindles dialogue, including many food stories recalled from childhood. My sense is that our Balinese friends would feel kinship with such a welcoming atmosphere, especially with the laughter and open-hearted discussions that DE readily fosters.

As a nutrition educator and designer, I use printed material as a lively companion to class learnings. When materials are written into the DE curriculum, they instantly add flavor and life to the learning, and visually reinforce key nutrition concepts. In my nutrition education business, Nutrition Arts, I have created materials rich in food images. The photos appear mouth-wateringly edible to inspire creativity in eating. The publications, including the Ancestral Food Wheel Poster for Native communities, are naturalistic, warm, and abound with local and vintage artwork. The goal here is to graphically connect learners with real food learning, and inspire them towards the open exploration of novel food combinations in the group environment. My hope is that our Balinese friends would feel validated by the delicious food imagery.  I imagine that they would naturally continue real food, local eating in their own cultural space. Like the beautiful little baskets on Bali sidewalks and altars, effective printed materials are a useful reminder that learners can post in their personal space, where changes born in the DE classroom continue to unfold and weave into life, and are shared with others.

Cross-cultural, highly visual handouts and my eBook, Picture REAL Food, complement DE classes and events. Each handout is a class topic in itself. Picture REAL Food, Nature is Art (eating greens), and Oils and Cooking are pictured here.

Food-focused projects in our DE classrooms and events are many. They span from crafts such as the Intuition Wellness Cards and Mini Lunch Box Magnet, to group activities like the Hula Hoop Ring of Fats and the Spinning Food Wheel. The sounds, photos, and natural wood construction of the Food Wheel catalyze dialogue and enthusiasm. Who can resist a spin? A group of food images, affixed to the outer ring of the Wheel like numbers on a clock, are catered to fit the occasion and the audience– pre-contact food for classes with Pomo tribes, leafy green veggies at the local food co-op, pan-American hunter-gatherer food at the Ancestral Health Symposium, and sustainable regional food at the Real Goods Harvest Moon Festival. The goal of the Wheel- education, awareness, interaction, and fun- is great kindling for sharing stories and ideas; it provides a safe, open, supportive opportunity for learning. I imagine that our Balinese friends would enjoy spinning the Wheel with engagement and enthusiasm.



The Spinning Food Wheel is drawn from the Native American Medicine Wheel. It has many uses, and suits a variety of audiences, activities, and learning points. Bowls and baskets of real food items are often passed around among learners: locally foraged rosehips, seaweed, bay laurel nuts, blackberries, mushrooms, and salmon are among the many ancestral food items ready for hands-on exploration. (Darryl Edwards, “The Fitness Explorer”, is taking a spin.)

Returning to the Bali basket, it is used here as a real food, ancestral health metaphor with infinite possibilities according to geography, season, and learner needs. I would like to develop this idea more in the classroom as it fits the DE model and immediately connects learners with nature and real food. Yes, the Bali basket is a lovely memory from Bali. It is a powerful reminder as well that we are all connected to each other, inside and outside the DE classroom. Suksma!


Andrea is a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner and the founder of Nutrition Arts, a multi-cultural nutrition education resource in Northern California.  You can read more about her work and experience here and download her newest e-book here.  


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The Art and Skill of Engaging People


As more leaders recognize that working in silos does not achieve the extraordinary results that can come with cross-department, cross-discipline, cross-sectoral collaboration, the question then becomes: “How do we engage people?” 

Humanity now seems to be shifting beyond me to we, beyond sales to service and beyond ambition to inspiration. Many people seek meaningful contribution—more than just a job.  So the art and skill of engaging people becomes critical as people awaken to new opportunities to make a difference.




















 Consider these 15 tips to set the stage for effective engagement:

  1. Power.  Know that your power as a leader is in how you influence the network of conversations you are a part of.  Engagement is implicit in all you do.
  2. Positivity.  Deepen self-awareness by reflecting on how can you expand your influence effectiveness by becoming fluent in positive self-talk.
  3. Clarity.  Reflect on who you want to attract to your vision or project by clearly defining the ideal audience.  Who are the natural champions with a similar interest?
  4. Authenticity.  Rather than use the ‘sales’ paradigm in trying to get others to buy-in, speak authentically about what you care about.  Resist the urge to manipulate, convince or cajole.
  5. Non-Attachment.  Be prepared to let go of the outcome you want and instead co-create what is mutually desirable.  This way of co-constructing typically generates more ownership. 
  6. Connection.  Two universal human needs are connection and creative expression.  Frame your project as a way for others to get and receive support and a way to share their unique talents.
  7. Meaning.  Help people make meaning out of their situation by asking how they can be a part of creating something new.   Transform complaints by generating action with a powerful ask.
  8. Value.  A principle of engagement is that people will take action if there is perceived value.  So communicate from that place, meeting people where they are and speaking to what they desire.
  9. Trust.  People will take part in new ventures if they trust you.  So practice trust-building by saying what you mean, doing what you say, listening with empathy and following through on promises.
  10. Motivation.  Understand the pain/pleasure principle as it relates to motivation.  People will take action if there is sufficient angst and/or if there is an enticing vision.    
  11. Vision.  When speaking about your vision, paint a vivid, compelling picture using words, images and metaphors to help people understand the fullness of what you are offering.
  12. Listen.  Notice the field of listening of your audience.  Tune into the music between the notes or the message behind the words.  Get curious as to their background conversation and interest. 
  13. Possibility.  Do not be seduced with scarcity thinking in assuming that others will not be interested or be too busy. Explore what’s possible by uncovering creative strategies to collaborate.
  14. Requests.  Get clear on your request and make it positive and do-able.  Have a back-up request just in case you hear a decline.  Be sure to make a promise as a sign of your commitment.
  15. Commitment.  What precedes action is commitment.  If people have competing commitments, tease apart their needs hierarchy.  Get clear on expectations and celebrate success.

Elizabeth Soltis is the founder and director of Bridges Global, a community and organizational development company that specializes in empowerment, leadership and collaboration services. As a bridge-builder in all regions of the world, Elizabeth has a passion for connecting people to their sense of purpose, to others and to the earth.  She enjoys facilitating and coaching people as they expand their thinking, express their creativity and live their potential.  Engaging people in a transformational process that is meaningful, liberating and uplifting is how Elizabeth defines success.  Visit www.bridgesglobal.net for more resource offerings.



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Inclusion Means ALL


I have a raging new agenda: inclusion. I believe this agenda will be a great challenge to me and to all Dialogue Educators since we see the value in small groups working together to learn via learning tasks. In the words of Danah Zohar, we want to hear "a chorus of conversations" as learners engage with tough new content, unraveling it, making associations with their prior knowledge, adapting their learning to their unique contexts. Such vocal and immediate outward engagement comes naturally to extroverts like me! What about my sisters and brothers who are naturally introverts? How can we design to include ALL?

I trust you will join me in discovering and creating ways to include ALL in the dialogue. Susan Cain’s brilliant book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, offers sound and compelling research that tells what a loss we face when we exclude thoughtful, sensitive, quiet folks. And exclusion of any kind destroys dialogue.

Let me start our search with a wonderful suggestion from GLP Senior Partner Karen Ridout: When we set a learning task, let’s always include a quiet time before the conversations begin. So we say:

Learning Task # 1: The Best Learning Experience

In pairs, share the best learning experience in your life. Analyze that experience:  Decide and tell what made it so memorable.  Write those factors, one on each note card.  Post those cards on the chart, and we will share all.

Before you start sharing your stories in pairs, spend two minutes of quiet time…reflecting, thinking, and remembering.

When I design now, I build that two minute quiet time into every learning task. Thank you, Karen!

Another great idea for inclusion involves pacing.  When excited groups report on their learning, leave quiet time after you thank a speaker for what they offered. Count internally to 10 (one, one thousand, two one thousand…) before inviting the next comment. (That’s 10 seconds!)

I once said: “You cannot go too slowly, or teach too little”.  That was a long time ago, and I have not lived by that axiom which came from a deep intuition for inclusion. Let’s help one another curb our impatience and really learn to listen.

Join me in this raging new agenda. Share your ideas and practices with me at jane@globallearningpartners.com. Thank y’all!


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