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

School of the 80s: Learning from Leisure, Experience, and Vulnerability

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I’ve been in school, one way or the other, on both sides of the desk for the past eighty years. I have never been in a school where my learning was so delightful, my appetite for it so voracious, my joy in it so deep – as this “School of the 80s.”  

As I tried to understand why this is happening, I thought of three factors that go with my being 86 years old.   

  1. I have exquisite LEISURE
  2. I have long experience to use as a base for new learning
  3. I have new VULNERABILITY

Look forward to this decade, all you young’uns. You will be amazed!

LEISURE

I remember when Julius Nyerere, first President of Tanzania, published the paper “Education for Self-Reliance” (published in 1967). The paper emphasized practicality, relevance and immediacy. “Teach them something they can use NOW,” Nyerere appealed to Tanzanian educators.  

Sister Margaret Rose, the wise and saintly woman who was the Founder of Marian University College where I was teaching at the time, argued with her friend Julius: “Without enough leisure, the girls will not learn!” 

Sixty years later, I see that in my life. Learning and leisure are partners.

A parallel invitation, from Father Robert of St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, NC is: “Put silence in.” Robert does that himself in the liturgy, before his sermon, and in conversation. “Put silence in.” Hmmm, silence in dialogue? Yes!

EXPERIENCE

I look back on the experience of my life with awe, thanks and praise. Every event – joyful, tragic, comic, sad – has the Grace of God in it. I can see that now and expect the next event to be so touched. That new appreciation of my experience makes it a useful base for new learning.

The learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA) and the first of the 4A model for design learning tasks (Anchoring/inductive work) - moving from the particular context of the learner to the general new skill, knowledge or attitude - both serve the use of past experience.  

VULNERABILITY

I walk slowly. I tell friends: “Don’t walk behind me. I just may just slip into reverse!” I need help with some basic tasks around the house! I forget stuff! I am vulnerable.

So, I have to ask for help and that has evoked a new Jane. I like her! I respect my vulnerability as an exquisite gift which shows a human, needy old lady who trusts friends to respond. They do! Oh, my, they do!

Somehow this relates to my capacity for learning – I am not sure how, but it does. I see perspectives that are different from mine with new empathy, and awareness that I might just need such a new perspective at this point in my life. 

Come and have a leisurely cup of tea on the back porch with the old vulnerable lady who has a store of stories for you from her rich experience and new learning!

 

How much LEISURE do you invite your learners to in your learning events?

How do you use what you know about your learners’ EXPERIENCE – past and present – to shape engaging, challenging, and relevant learning tasks?

How can you celebrate your own VULNERABILITY at any age, so you gladly ask for help?

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Dr. Jane Vella is a celebrated author, educator and founder of Global Learning Partners. 

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The Art of Co-Facilitating

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Learning events that are co-facilitated can pose unique challenges, but the payoff is worth it. Two (or more) facilitators, when they work well together, can bring different styles, varied perspectives and model teamwork.

If you are the ‘senior’ facilitator…

  1. Build the relationship. Even when multiple facilitators are coming together for a single learning event, the opportunity for relationship is critical. Facilitating a learning event is more than coordination and mechanics. Relationship is key in the learning process, including between facilitators where both the senior and junior are free, open and confident with each other. Seniors need to take steps to welcome the junior into whatever level of relationship is appropriate for the process.
  2. Share the stages. The more you work together on all aspects of the learning event, the better your facilitation. Invite your co-facilitator to be involved in every stage of the learning process – the pre-event needs assessment, the event design, communication with the learners and in the post-event evaluation. The more you do together, the more effective your facilitation will be in the event itself.
  3. Pass the mic. We know that in a learning event, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. Resist the temptation, as the senior facilitator, to teach the bulk of the content, leaving your junior on the proverbial bench. Rather, look for opportunities to deploy the junior as much as possible. Invite your junior to facilitate content that they’re comfortable with as well as content where they want/need to be stretched. In the event, invite their contribution and experience, not just their observation.
  4. Invite the ‘jump in.’ Sometimes, in learning events, one facilitator observes things that the other facilitator doesn’t catch: miscommunication, lack of clarity, etc. Extend permission for your (junior) co-facilitator to jump in with clarifying questions and comments, to improve communication and understanding. Encourage your co-facilitator to be fully engaged in the whole learning event, not only during the learning tasks where they are up front. Strive to be seamless as you go back and forth during sessions, extending permissions and words of appreciation.
  5. Debrief, specifically. With your co-facilitator, reflect on the learning event and debrief its aspects. Take good notes during the event, to be able to refer to specific moments and activities. Provide feedback as soon as possible after the learning event, verbally and in writing. If the event is a multi-day event, take time to reflect together at the end of each day. Look for opportunities to provide encouragement during the event as well during breaks.
  6. Share the ‘why.’ Co-facilitating is more than effectively hitting the teaching points or making smooth transitions. Effective co-facilitators are fully versed in the deeper aspects of the learning event. To help your junior grow, help them understand the ‘why’ of the event and the learning tasks. Season your mentoring and feedback with the deeper significance of specific activities. Connect tasks and actions with good, underlying significance. Help them own all aspects of the learning process.
  7. Solicit feedback from learners. Learners experience and make observations about co-facilitators and their efforts to work together. In private, ask select learners for feedback – on the event, co-facilitation, and on your junior colleague. Ask specific questions about aspects of your junior’s facilitation. Their perspective will be helpful.

If you are the ‘junior’ facilitator…

     8.  Ask for feedback. And ask for it again. Go into a learning event knowing where you want to stretch and grow, and ask for input in those areas. Ask your senior co-facilitator about specific instances in the event, ones that you were facilitating and ones conducted by them. Take notes from the feedback you receive, and turn them into action points for your future development.

     9.  Make it your own. As you observe, learn and grow, recognize that your style and facilitation strengths will be different from others. Don’t focus on reproducing what your colleague does or the way they do it. Rather, concentrate on your strengths. Bring yourself to your facilitation – your expertise, your personality, your experiences, your character and your type of energy. Make the content fit in a way that feels natural and authentic.

And finally…

     10.  Celebrate together! After an event, project or activity, we tend to focus on what could have been better or different. Wait! Before entertaining such a question, celebrate! Take time to mark the moment, to commemorate the completion of good work, to affirm one another and to revel in your accomplishment. Have fun, rejoice in what you’ve done together and express gratitude for a job well done. Not to worry, those ‘improvement’ questions will sit and wait patiently for you.

What other tips do you have for co-facilitating learning events?  

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David Bulger (davidbulger@oci.org) is Leadership Development Strategist with One Challenge International, a mission organization based in Colorado, USA. He provides teaching, training, consulting and leadership development for churches and ministry organizations globally.

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Tips for Successful Community Engagement for Social Transformation, in Illiterate Communities

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Social change is a complex process and does not follow linear steps or procedures. And, it is not usually fast.

Recently, I met some community members in rural areas of Ethiopia where many international and local NGOs have worked for a long time. I asked the community members to tell me the positive change they have experienced as a result of working with these groups. Their response was, “We have been receiving different kinds of support for many years, but we are still the same. Our community still needs support.”

It begs the question: Is our work really helping?

Most of the changes we need to see in poor rural communities can happen if and only if our approaches towards community development change. The following are a few tips for helping rural development practitioners lead communities on the road towards empowerment and positive change.

  1. Monitor your attitude and behaviour. To work with communities in rural areas we need to have the right attitude. We need to know that most of these people are comfortably living their lives the way they do and will continue to live that way in our absence. We need to remember that it is their life, and they know what is best for themselves. Even in the poorest parts of the world, change is possible. The reason this change has not yet happened is due to lack of opportunity, not because of weakness or lack of intelligence. We may be able to walk along side to help enable change, but the change is about them and not us.
  2. Creating a good environment. Depending on the culture and traditions, meetings are usually opened with prayer or by an elder’s blessing. The opening process can easily determine the outcome of the meeting. Moreover, in rural areas, people sit on the ground or on small stools. Inviting people to sit in a circle can help create a sense of equal status among the participants. The facilitator should also sit in the circle and on the same type of chair, as an equal to everyone else.
  3. Set ground rules to address status-quo. In communities where reading and writing is not present we cannot ask the participants to write their ideas on Post-it notes or paper and paste them on a wall. We can however, listen to what they contribute orally. Ideally, it is preferable to have women groups, youth groups, and elderly or local leaders in separate groups. However, this is not always possible. The culture may allow elders and religious leaders to speak first and then the other group members may not have the courage to disagree with what was shared. To avoid this, we need to carefully invite people with higher status to “take off their position” while in that group. This process can create a more democratic space for all people to speak and interact freely. These processes empower the people who consider themselves inferior (or less important) in the community, and give them a voice.
  4. Number of people in a group. It is important to limit the number of people in a group to 30 or less. Having a small group ensures each participant has a voice in the group. Safety and respect need to be modeled and intentionally worked on. They are not only needed for honest and authentic dialogue during the initial learning event or gathering, but are also critical for using what they learned, implementation of their plans, and further discussions about action or adjustments.
  5. Be patient and listen. The common mistake we make as a development professional is going into a community with preconceived ideas. Too often we consider ourselves better than those we are working with and suggest solutions for a problem we think exists before any sort of deep discovery process or consultation. We need patience and practice in listening. Having skills in Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) tools as well as a dialogue-based approach are also important. Humility is key. Once the community has decided what they want to do, we can help to develop a community action plan with responsibilities for each group member. We are invited to facilitate the process, but not determine the outcome of it.
  6. Represent the idea visually. Graphic representation of ideas using symbols that can clearly represent the issues being discussed can be extremely helpful. This can allow for some record-keeping of what is decided and it may also inspire some participants to explore more literacy methods.
  7. Invite reflection and dialogue. To bring social transformation, creating a space for people to enter and feel safe enough for meaningful dialogue and idea sharing is essential. People need to critically consider their experiences and feel free enough to challenge existing practices. In one community in which I work, people call this process “a life mirror” because they look at their life and identify spots that need to change. By creating a safe, respectful and open space for reflection, introspection and dialogue, change is more possible.
  8. Community action plan. The ultimate objective is to help communities to assess their own situation, come up with possible solutions and decide on an action plan for positive change. During the development of their action plan support will be needed. There might be issues that they can handle by themselves but also ones that need to be supported by external individuals or agencies. Careful discernment will be needed about who should step in to support their work, when, why and for how long.
  9. Monitor change and celebrate success. Setting goals and objectives with success indicators is very helpful for monitoring achievements. Once results are achieved, it is important to celebrate and recognize the individual and team efforts. This helps the group to strive for a higher level of achievement, pushing them forward in their transformation.

The process of community engagement requires flexible and adaptive thinking. No two groups or situations are the same. We need to start by ensuring we have deep understanding of the people we are working with, their situation, and the desired change they are looking for (if they know that already). Social transformation is possible in any and every community. As facilitators of community engagement, we need to get out of the way, and learn to more effectively invite community members in to processes of discernment and decision-making.

What helpful tip do you practice or have you seen for community engagement?

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Yeshitila Alemu (yeshal2003@yahoo.com; yalemu@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is a Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ethiopia. He has a B.Sc. in Agricultural Extension and M.Sc. in Rural Development and Agricultural Economics. He also has over 16 years of experience working with rural poor communities and urban slum areas in Ethiopia.

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Turning Lemons into Lemonade

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I could have titled this blog post “The Travelling Consultant’s Nightmare” but I’ve opted for “Turning Lemons into Lemonade.” This is a story of turning a bad story into a good one!

When you were a child, did you ever hear the riddle: What’s the most important thing to have at a party? Common answers included:  food, party games, balloons… but, the right answer was fun! The moral of this riddle has stayed with me all these years:  when planning something you care about, don’t get so lost in the details that you forget what’s most important.

Global Learning Partners, Inc. (GLP) was invited by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) to develop a learning program for INESC – a renowned organization in Brazil devoted to human rights and social transformation. The planning started about six months in advance and dates were protected in everyone’s calendars for a three-day intensive course which I would facilitate in Brazil.

We conducted a learning assessment, adapted a course on dialogue-based learning to fit their unique context, and had all the course materials and visuals translated into Portuguese. I had time to do all the little things that one does when traveling for work:  finalize my daughter’s camp schedule, make sure my husband had everything he needed to solo parent, pack a week’s worth of supplements and travel snacks, get a good novel for the plane, and gather some small gifts for the group. You know the drill. 

As an adult learning specialist who has consulted with organizations and communities around the United States and in 19 different countries for over three decades, I thought I knew what was most important when planning a trip. I retrieved my passport and GOES traveler card from the safe deposit, and carefully reviewed the itinerary I’d been sent. But, the day the uber dropped me at the airport (nearly an hour from my house in Rhode Island) and I went to check in, I was stopped dead in my tracks:  “What? A visa?” “Yes, you need a visa.” I was not going anywhere.

How had I missed that? I seethed all the way back home.

  • Was it globalization or American conceit that made me feel I could go anywhere, easily?
  • Was it too many years of travel that made me lazy?
  • Was it an over-reliance on others, including the agent who bought the ticket?

Interesting questions, but none of them would get me to Brazil. 

So, we built an alternative plan.

Two IBP staff had graduated from a series of courses with GLP and showed a deep commitment to the principles and practices of dialogue-based learning. We all agreed they were ready to facilitate the learning “on the ground” in Brazil. I was in awe of Alex Ciconello’s last-minute flexibility and skill as a facilitator, as well as Aideen Gilmore’s attention to both details and people. I joined the group each day and all day via a large screen. The interpreters were super effective at their simultaneous translation to and from me, via headsets. We were a mutually-supportive team and, because of the commitment to a common set of principles, it worked!

But, that wasn’t what made it good.  The good part was how my not being physically there shifted the dynamic and created space that I’m not sure would have been there otherwise. I listened even more deeply than I would have had I been in the room. I was forgotten at times, as the group passionately exchanged doubts and ideas. I watched and asked to speak when I had something to contribute. The participants talked far more than the facilitators did and seemed very comfortable voicing their disagreements with what was being taught. For example, at the close of Day One we invited their thoughts on the course so far and in all my years I’d never heard such critical feedback! They critiqued the examples we’d chosen, the models we shared, and the priorities we’d set. They underscored their commitment to the tenets of Popular Education – which grew from their soil through Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire – and questioned the connections between what we were teaching and that philosophy which they know so well. 

That night, our facilitation team made adjustments to the course in direct response to the feedback we received. First thing the next morning, we invited the group to express the essence of Popular Education in words and in sculpture (see images above). From then on, we connected what we had to share back to that philosophy. And, we did so in true dialogue.

Everything shifted – they engaged in the course content, and made it their own. I don’t know if any of this would have happened had I been in the room, leading the course and creating personal connections in the way I usually do. My distance – and the skills of those in the room – created a safe space for true dialogue.

Let’s toast to bad stories that turn good!

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What training or facilitation story can you tell where a bad story turned to good?

Valerie Uccellani is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of its consulting network, as well as a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

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Digital Learning in a Community of Practice (Part V of V)

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Silence. Total silence.

It was after one of the highlights for me of the Digital Education Masters program through The University of Edinburgh. Two world experts in their field had been discussing their topic together in a Skype class, with the rest of us listening in from around the world. When they finished, we were asked for comments or questions. That’s when silence came. Eventually someone spoke up and expressed what I think we all were thinking. He described that after hearing these two experts talk at such a ‘mountaintop’ level, no-one dared bring it down again to ‘valley’ level. I concurred totally.

I learnt a lot that day. Not just on the topic, but on much, much more. I learnt how two respected members of a Community of Practice discussed their subject, how they queried each other, how they disagreed and how they interacted with those like us who were finding our feet within that community. It gave me something to aim for.

There are two approaches I have come across to learning and we did both that day. One approach is learning through knowing, usually of skills or concepts; the other is learning through becoming. The latter is about achieving the ability to communicate appropriately within the community associated with the discipline and acting according to its norms. It comes through engagement with its Community of Practice. It can be the case that in traditional classroom contexts, the body of knowledge, skills and attitudes are taught decontextualised from the practices to which they belong. How can including a digital aspect help address that?

  • One way is illustrated above, where experts interact about a topic online. This adds more to the teaching than one person talking about their topic. Those selected to converse can model how the community wishes to conduct itself. Of course, all of this need not be done digitally, but digital makes available experts not otherwise available. If digital is used, then the interaction doesn’t even need be live. However if it is done, it is a promising way to teach attitudes as well as knowledge about the discipline.
  • Another advantage of digital is also what some perceive as a drawback of digital. Teachers may feel that learners are less ‘present’ online compared to face-to-face; a learner less present online means they are more present elsewhere! A digital environment makes it possible to apply learning directly in the context in which it will be used, while being mentored by the social presence of an online community. It is akin to a traditional master-apprentice model of learning where the master encourages the apprentice to increasingly direct themselves. This can work for some topics though not necessarily all.
  • Another advantage of digital can help address a longstanding issue with classroom training, which can be hard to follow up afterwards. We have all done courses where we set the manual aside to come back to later, yet ‘later’ may never come. The 70-20-10 concept of learning holds that 70% of learning is through on-the-job experiences, 20% from interactions with others (both of these after the course), and only 10% from formal events such as classroom or digital training. Exact figures are debatable but the idea of a lot of learning coming after is not. As well as helping provide the 10% of formal training, digital can also help with the 20% of social interaction through such as online forums, and tools like short videos for mobile phones can help with the 70% on-the-job training.

Undoubtedly new issues come with digital, particularly if learning is within a fully digital community. One example is how to know how ‘lurkers’, who don’t take much part in online activities, are still ‘on board’ with learning? But in addressing such issues, it is good to keep in mind the bigger advantages above of making use of digital within a community of practice.

How can you use digital to integrate learners into a community of practice related to your topic?


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Read more blog posts by Peter Tate. This is the final of five posts in this series.

Peter Tate designs and delivers interfaith and cross-cultural training in both classroom and digital formats at the King’s Centre Southall, London. This is alongside his studies for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University on how to implement a Dialogue Education (DE) approach in online environments. He previously provided training consultancy as Brainy Training Solutions for various charities, including financial management training for the WaterAid charity. Before that, he delivered DE-type training for UK based charities Hope Consultants (developing digital training to make use of DE) and Wycliffe UK (training trainers to implement DE within their adult learning programmes).

 

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