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

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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An Interview with Jeanette Romkema, GLP Senior Partner


Jeanette Romkema with co-facilitator Marshall Yoder, GLP Certified Teacher.

What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Pray for Doubt. I pray for the learners to question, struggle with, and doubt the new content and learning journey I take them on. For me, this means they are engaging with the new content. This is good! However, I also pray for my own doubt. I never want to come into a course or workshop or meeting feeling like I know it all. There are always surprises - from the learners, the place, the timing, the content, and the situation - and I want to walk into an event with lots of questions and curious to discover what I don`t know. I often say to learners, "The day I stop being nervous before a learning event is the day I stop teaching." I always want to remember that there is lots here I don't know... and yes, this is a bit nerve-wracking.

Name your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use it for and why it’s your favorite.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate and respect the facilitation skill of silence. It is amazing what happens when we wait. I have heard the most powerful questions, deepest sharing, and most provocative insights after a long silence. People need time to think; people need time to have courage to share; and, people need to know you are authentically curious and want to hear what they have to say.

Of all the DE principles, what is your favorite? Why?

Lately I have appreciated the DE principle of relevance. Of course it is important for adult learners to know how an event and the new content is important for their lives - they want to know "Why am I here?" Even more important is that people take time during the learning event itself (here and now) to decide what they will do with the new content. If it is so relevant for their lives and work... then let's plan what we will do differently with that 'critical new learning'.

Lately, I have more deeply understood the importance of spending time to transfer the learning: the AWAY part of a task or design. Yes, this is all about maximizing change in real lives, real communities, and in the real world. In the end, this is what it is all about.

Why do you love DE?

For me, DE is rooted in deep love: love for the world and all living things. At its core this method is about authentic presence with each other better systems, lives and communities - it is about right relationships with each other and bringing things back to how they were first created and intended.

What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

This is constantly growing in meaning and changing for me, as DE is soooo rich and complex in its simplicity. What comes to mind for me right now is: authenticity. When we are authentically present with each other and in a situation, we can truly see, hear, and understand. When we are fully present with each other we can truly work together for change in the world.

What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Don't stop doubting, questioning or challenging what you do and how you do it. DE principles and practices are wonderfully complex and our understanding of them is forever changing, deepening. What “safety” looks like in rural Iowa may be different from urban Ontario; what “engagement” looks like in a corporate Board meeting may look different from a not-for-profit meeting; what “respect” looks like in Jordan may look different from the USA; what “the WHY” is for leadership training in a small rape clinic in Ottawa may be different from such a clinic in Addis, Ethiopia. The principles and practices of DE are a moving target and we have to constantly work at understanding and practice deep presence with individuals and groups to hear. There is never a time or place when we can say, "Mmmm, I finally know how to do this". This is the stuff of life-long learning and what makes it so exciting.

Part of all this "life-long learning" is also a need to continue to research other methods and ways of doing things. Talk to colleagues, surf the internet, read blogs, study the new thinking on teaching and learning, and ask for feedback on your work from other professionals. There is so much more to learn and just because it doesn't say "DE" somewhere in the text does not mean that it is not congruent or usable.

If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

There are many methods that complement and are congruent to DE. Three of these that I use often are circle practice, world cafe, and the art of hosting.

Circle practice is a practice of meeting in a circle to share... deeply. This simple practice of passing a "talking piece" or sharing "popcorn style" can help to ensure relevance, dig into the root of why an event is happening, and include all thoughts and feelings in a safe way. In slowing down and focusing on a single question, idea, feeling or experience depth of sharing is experienced. It can be quite surprising and powerful!

World Café is a wonderful method of working with large groups on complex topics or issues. It is highly engaging, respectful and inclusive, and can be a great solution to the challenge of facilitating a large group.

The Art of Hosting is “an emerging set of practices for facilitating group conversations of all sizes, supported by principles that maximize collective intelligence; welcome and listen to diverse viewpoints; maximize participation and civility; and transform conflict into creative cooperation.”

Join Jeanette Romkema for Advanced Learning Design, November 18-20, 2014 in Toronto.

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Women Writing for (a) Change, In a Circle


"A circle of women is a nurturing and sustaining resource that can become a spiritual and psychological wellspring tapped into whenever the circle meets."

~  Jean Shinoda Bolen, Urgent Message from Mother

A friend tells the story of a time when she was in college. Her male professor asked the class for the qualities of positive leadership. The standard answers came: Focused. Direct. Action-oriented. Authoritative. My friend, on the other hand, suggested that good leaders "allow." The professor thought about it, talked his way around it, and tossed it about, but, in the end, he never actually put the word on the board. In effect, she was silenced. Some 30 years later, it still rankles.

In a world where education, corporate and academic, is often dominated by male voices, where is it safe for women to gather, learn, and express their individual voices? Put another way, how can we create "safe containers" for learning and self expression for women, or anyone, for that matter? Where is it safe to learn?

One answer is: In a circle.

Since ancient times, at least as an archetype, the ritual of sitting around a fire and telling stories has been an effective way for cultures to teach their young, pass on cultural traditions, and make decisions of group conscience. The practice has many benefits. Using a "talking stone," or "talking stick," ensures that each individual is listened to, without interruption. Passing the stone in a circle gives each person a chance to speak and voice an opinion. In a circle, each person is equal to the next.

The rituals incorporated into this group process provide a discipline and a structure that ensures the circle is "held"; that it remains a "safe container." It enables the circle to be nurtured, cultivated, and sustained over time. It also acknowledges a simple truth: in a circle, all are equally important, and all "stories" can be told and heard.

Today's classrooms (and political systems) have typically used a very "masculine” model, emphasizing power, hierarchy, and authority over a more "feminine style" of equality, shared power, and focus on the learning process. One person is usually raised on a dais (the "professor” or "instructor”) and participants are lined up, theater style, and only allowed to speak if they are called upon.

As one example, my aunt often told the story of how, when she was a seminary student at Union Theological Seminary during World War II, her professors regularly refused to call on her. One actually stated that she was taking up a seat where a man should be sitting.

This is how we silence the voice of the feminine.

At Women Writing for (a) Change,  a writing school in Cincinnati with affiliates sites around the country, these "circle practices" are being recreated, honored and ritualized. The circle is viewed as a "container” where the participants are safe to share, and various "care of the container" methods ensure that the circle is maintained in a healthy and self-sustaining way.

The Cincinnati site was started because of the failure of the patriarchal model to hold the capacity to hear women's voices. Founder Mary Pierce Brosmer established the school after she was told, as a high school English and writing teacher, that she could not use what was deemed as "feminist literature" as one of her classroom texts. This was in 1991, just 20-some years ago.

On October 9, 2013, Women Writing for (a) Change, Jacksonville, one of the two newest affiliate sites, completed its first "sample class" for local participants to experience the WWf(a)C methodology. The session was filled with insight, some tears, and wonderful writing. We used the "circle practices" of Women Writing for (a) Change, which are very specific and geared to create a safe place of expression.

This model is useful not only for women, but also for all learning experiences. Some of the key practices are:

  • Writing is the primary method of expression, allowing participants to access a deeper, more reflective level of awareness and insight.
  • Women are given equal time to write and read their writing out loud in the circle.
  • A talking stone is passed to ensure that everyone has a chance to speak.
  • While one person reads, the group jots down key "read-back” lines that resonate for them, then reads them back to the writer after she's finished reading.
  • Read-backs let the writer know they were heard, appreciated, and honored.
  • Feedback is given in small groups, at the level requested by the writer: either “readbacks,” general feedback, or specific craft suggestions.
  • All feedback is geared to be supportive, empathetic, and helpful.
  • "Soul cards" passed at key intervals allow the group "vibes" to be brought forward and issues to be addressed.

This practice, which Brosmer also calls "Conscious Feminine Leadership," represents an opportunity to shift our learning culture from rigid rules and hierarchy to a more flexible, choice-oriented, respectful system that allows women — or anyone — to speak their truth.

The awe with which the Jacksonville participants held the process is reflected in the "Soul Cards" they wrote at the end of the two-hour session:


  • Surprisingly fun! I really enjoyed my time and all the people.
  • Time to concentrate on something for myself.
  • New connections were made. Foundations of trust being established.
  • Graceful space.
  • The safe place to share, though it is hard to trust it just yet.
  • The gift of the circle is the beauty in honesty. Words from the heart are always right.
  • Enjoyed the safe structure and welcoming atmosphere. Enjoyed being encouraged in this space.
  • Enjoyed the synchronicity of the randomness of women.
  • Meeting new friends. Welcoming [us] where we are.
  • The opportunity to get to know the other ladies in the group through their participation.
  • Amazing talent. Safe. Fun.
  • What a blessing — these wonderful women, each a gift to be tenderly unwrapped and opened.


  • It's kind of scary to write.
  • All new for me, down to trying not to write too personally.
  • Killing the critic: learning feedback that is not in judgment. Saying what you hear instead of what you think you hear.
  • To leave a space open for all to share and not get so excited about my process I forget it is ALL of our process.
  • The challenge is to free up what is hiding...get out of its way!
  • So far so good! I'm open to these challenges.
  • Time...the press of time!

Jean Shinoda Bolen wrote the book, The Millionth Circle, to encourage women to create more "circles" until we reach a point where the old system no longer holds power, and the new way — which is a very old way — rises up. Women Writing for (a) Change, Jacksonville, is one of those million circles. Perhaps there are lessons here that the Global Learning Community might find valuable and aligned with their own learning practices, as we create new circles and shift to a new era of more consciously feminine learning and leadership.

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