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

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Announcement: Tuesdays with Jane

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Your Tuesdays Just Got Even Better!

Next week we are unveiling a fun and engaging series of email learning created by Dr. Jane Vella!

Tuesdays with Jane offers a series of short papers on chapters in Jane's books.  

The purpose is to bring you back to the text, and to tease you into re-rereading it via (guess what!) a learning task!  (Jane says she is enjoying rereading the books and hopes you will have joy in them again! )
 
Who would you like to invite in to this learning opportunity with you?

We invite you to get creative.!  Host a book group, set up a lunch and learn, use the learning tasks to jumpstart your team meetings or simply inspire email correspondence and hallway conversation.

Be sure to sign-up for our mailing list so that you don't miss out and can learn together each week with your colleagues.  

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How Can We Design and Facilitate for Hospitality?

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To feel a sense of belonging is important because it will lead us from conversations about safety and comfort to other conversations, such as our relatedness and willingness to provide hospitality and generosity. Hospitality is the welcoming of strangers, and generosity is an offer with no expectation of return. These are two elements that we want to nurture as we work to create, strengthen, and restore our communities. This will not occur in a culture dominated by isolation, and its correlate, fear.

Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging (2009), p3

 

Ten graduate students from Wycliffe College in Toronto created the list below of ways to build hospitality in courses, workshops, conferences, and meetings. Indeed there is much we can do to create a sense of community and connectedness, and grow a sense of belonging in our learning events.

The Space and Place

  • Arrange the furniture to help people connect easily with each other and the content
  • Bring flowers and/or plants in the room
  • Orient the room for warmth, comfort and learning
  • Have snacks and drinks in the room
  • Buy snacks with the uniqueness of the group in mind
  • Open the curtains and let the natural light in
  • Cover tables with colourful table clothes
  • Remove unnecessary clutter from the room i.e. extra furniture
  • Strip the walls of distracting visuals and items
  • Have a welcome sign outside the room, welcoming people in
  • Set up a variety of seating areas for people to use during breaks.

 

The Facilitation

  • Warmly welcome people as they arrived
  • Smile!
  • Set ground rules that help ensure safety and respect
  • Use the language of your audience
  • Listen for cues and be flexible to respond
  • Connect authentically to people before, during and after the event
  • Call people by name
  • Affirm all stories, questions and ideas shared
  • Be genuinely curious about what the group has to offer
  • Listen deeply
  • Speak authentically.

 

The Learning Design

  • Give people choice in how to engage, where to sit, etc.
  • Use a diversity of learning tasks to invite all types of learners in
  • Ensure all voices are invited in and heard
  • Check in with the group from time to time re: energy, pace, etc.
  • Include a warm welcome in the learning design and/or printed material for learners.

 

A Few More Ideas

  • Give people clear instructions to the venue
  • Welcome people in advance and invite their input
  • If learners are new to the city, have maps and restaurant ideas on hand for them to take with them
  • Arrange child care, if needed
  • Have the room and all resources ready when people arrive, so you can focus on welcoming each person
  • Chat with people during the breaks
  • Have name tags so everyone can use names.

 

Question: What ideas can you add to this list?

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Bridging the Economic Divide with Dialogue Education

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Maybe you’ve seen it, too. 

A personal finance lecture. Sterile, individualistic, detached from reality.  

Few fields are willing to offend the principles of Dialogue Education (DE) like personal finance. For in talking numbers, the myth goes, we are talking absolutes. Budgets. Savings plans. Estimates that are either right or wrong.

While facets of finance are objective, money is more complex than calculations. And personal finance is more than money—it’s people, too. Especially for low-income learners, rhythms are unpredictable. Emergencies are rife. Work hours get cut and income streams stifled. For financial education to fit low-income learners, the course content must be relevant and immediate—and it must be hosted in a safe, respectful environment.

In our tenure equipping churches to offer empowering financial education to low-income learners, 3 key lessons learned emerge.

Money touches personal parts of us. 

Implied in much of financial education today is this idea: if we can just expose learners to the right information, they will change.  I don’t know about you, but like many learners in our courses, I best succeed at changing die-hard lifestyle habits through opportunities for trial-and-error and challenging reflection over time within a safe, accountable community.

Faith & Finances, our DE-based financial education curriculum, engages the cognitive (ideas), affective (feelings) and psychomotor (actions) domains of learning through simple, relational learning tasks. The very first session never fails to prove the importance of the affective domain—an aspect often overlooked in traditional financial education. Powerful, healing dialogue emerges as learners take risks, opening up about how financial struggle has affected their relationships. Each time I facilitate the course, tissues are close at hand. Tears often flow as learners connect in an accepting environment, laying the foundations for a financial learning community that supports one another on the journey to financial healing.

Process means as much as content.

As part of an outcomes-driven culture in the modern West, we can’t help but crave results. It’s in the water. Consequently, the majority of financial education still happens in overly structured settings that focus on efficiency and knowledge transfer, yet offer little real-life application. Especially for learners without high levels of formal education, new ideas need to be digested over and again, across time, and from different angles. By valuing the process of learning as much as the content, financial improvements can be celebrated as one sign of success in this work—but not the only goal of financial education.  The process itself can yield surprising blessing to both the participants and facilitators—for we are all learners!

As DE practitioners of financial education, we must faithfully abide with our participants, creating an empowering space that embeds exploration and love in strong learning tasks. GLP Partner Peter Perkins wonderfully articulates the value of this journey:

"DE is not a set of tools; rather it is a way of thinking and being with learners. DE is not static. We as DE practitioners do not arrive; we journey into our practice…"

Authentic community bolsters learning.

When personal finance actually gets personal, friendships solidify. After weeks of purposeful collaboration, lively interaction, and structured dialogue, new communities begin to form. Social connections and resources are redistributed organically as relationships form—even across economic lines.     

Faith & Finances facilitators integrate the concept that each learner, made in the image of God, wealthy or poor, uniquely adds value to the community with their resources. Even participants who are materially poor bring unparalleled gifts to bear on their world. As facilitators of personal finance, we draw out, build on, and celebrate these capabilities.    

Traditional methods of financial education polarize, categorizing us as expert and amateur. This dynamic exacerbates feelings of inadequacy among low-income learners, while reinforcing a sense of superiority on the part of middle-income facilitators.  This can stymie learning for everyone involved, widening the gap between people of different income levels. 

In contrast, robust financial education embodies a community—safe yet accountable, uniting participants across socioeconomic lines. In an authentic, relational learning community, low-income participants are instilled with fresh ideas, social capital, and confidence to flourish. Middle-income participants also experience an epiphany, gleaning new skills and competence through friendship with folks across the economic aisle.

Wrapping up

Holistic financial education is more than tips and tools for fixing money problems—it’s a process that happens across time and through working toward healthy, reconciled relationships in all areas of life. Transformative financial learning begins modeling that very process in the sessions together. This amazes learners at all income levels—many can’t believe personal finances can be fun, empowering, and even life-changing when done in restorative community. And as DE facilitators who are mutual learners, we prepare to marvel at how we’re challenged and changed in the process, too.

  • Close your eyes for 5 seconds and envision financial education as a dynamic, relational process happening across time and in compassionate community.  Share what comes to mind. 

*****

J. Mark Bowers is a humanitarian educator and a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner (CDEP).  An ardent advocate for friendship across socioeconomic lines, he spends his days community-generating, social-enterprising, and church-mobilizing in his under-resourced Chattanooga neighborhood.

 

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Numbers Don’t Lie

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I had been working with a rural community in the Dominican Republic for several months on a housing program. The project relied on strong community involvement and it was frustrating. They were not moving as fast as I thought they could. I was anticipating significant cost overruns.  

Still, as I finished my pencil and paper tally (yes, this was before Excel), I was not prepared for such a big a cost overrun. 

I walked into the next meeting, armed with the numbers, my interpretation of their failure, and some righteous indignation. The community members were shocked by the information too, but they accepted it, acknowledged their failure, and agreed to the consequences. It was a rough meeting. 

But not as rough as the next one.

Two weeks later, I noticed my error. A simple math mistake. The kind that Excel might have protected me from. In fact, the project had come in under budget.  So at the next meeting, I came with new numbers, a tearful apology, and a big dose of humility.  

There are two easy lessons in here, and one very hard lesson. I want to focus on the hard one, so let’s dispatch with the easy ones first.

Getting the numbers right. Of course, when presenting data we need to be accurate.

Watching out for confirmation bias. If I had not expected to find a cost-overrun, I might have triple-checked my math when the data surprised me.

Here is the hard lesson, the one that stings.  

There is a dangerous intersection between power and data.  The lesson lies in the way I — the white, North American, development worker who is in charge of the money — took some numbers and used them to tell a whole community who they were and what their story was. The lesson lies in the way those community members accepted my “right" to tell their story in my way. My right to hold all the information in my hands, to unilaterally decide its meaning, and to impose the consequences. 

I may not have even seen this lesson had I not made such a mistake.

Many of us work in positions that require us to bring data to others – to a community, an organization, a team, or a client. In this work, we are frequently standing at that dangerous intersection between power and data.  Sometimes it is hierarchy, education level, race, but in every situation, access to information – in and of itself – creates an imbalance of power.

Here are a few insights from a learning-centered perspective, to navigate this intersection.

  1. Collectively fill in the story. They say that numbers don’t lie. Maybe not. But they also don’t tell the whole story. They are devoid of context. They are devoid of emotion. They are open for interpretation. A fuller story emerges when we put the data into people hands. When groups collectively explore, question, fill in the gaps, and extract insights, we share power. We co-create the story and co-own the actions that might follow.
  2. Be compassionate and authentic.  Compassion does not mean sugar-coating.  Rather, it means avoiding judgment and acknowledging the range of human emotions that the data might inspire. Authenticity is not the same as objectivity. Authenticity is the open and honest expression of any viewpoint that may have shaped your choices of data, and freely acknowledging what is known, and what can only be surmised.
  3. Use data as a witness, not as a prosecutor or jury. Insights emerge when people approach the data with courage and curiosity. For that to happen, we present the clearest picture we can of what we see and recognize that others may see something different. This is tricky if the data is bad news, but we make it easier for people when we withhold our pronouncements of guilt or innocence.

Question: What are some ways you have found to navigate this dangerous intersection?

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More $#%& in My Face!

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I cannot remember her name, but I will always remember our moment.

I had just started a new training job, and was visiting my new colleagues, bringing with me a small collection of resources we had developed in my previous team—two books, a few manuals, a CD with handy templates. I stopped into the office of an overwhelmed manager, gifts in hand, and introduced myself. She took one look at that stack of stuff in my hands and exploded.

“You know what this is? It’s more $#%& in my face!” 

Needless to say, that stack of stuff was still in my hands when I walked out of the office. 

There was a lesson in there: just because I offer it, doesn’t mean you want it. 

The “it" is content, data, know how, expertise. 

We are deluged with ”it" these days. “It” comes into our inboxes (perhaps like this blog did for you). “It” shows up in our meetings, our one-on-one interactions, and every time we look into that screen. “It” comes in such volume that we click delete, we tune out. We say “yes, but…” 

Many of us are in the business of getting “it" in front of people in ways that help them. We work through influence, and to do that, we bring data, content, know-how. So rejection—even when it is more subtle than the "$#%& in my face” kind of rejection—limits our own effectiveness.

So what do we do? There is not a simple solution in this era of information overload. But this simple equation is worth pondering: 

To wit: we tend to accept advice (influence) from people who know what they are talking about (expertise) when we trust them (relationship).

But generosity with our expertise (E) does not necessarily score us points on the relationship (R) side of the equation. In fact, it can cost us points. Think back to my lovely stack of resources, or the last time you sat through 60 slides worth of VERY IMPORTANT data, or the time your boss heard 3 minutes of your concern, and gave you 20 minutes of off-target advice. 

So, what I could have done, that day long ago? What might have built the R side of the equation?

  1. Be curious instead of helpful. Curiosity allows others to tell us who they are, what their situation is, and what help would look like for them. I could have asked about her day, her work, the piles on her desk, what she might want from someone like me.
  2. Check my ego. "It’s more $#%& in my face! is not so subtle, but it came in response to my own not-so-subtle message.  “I am very smart. My team made all this stuff. How lucky for you to have me here.” I am not suggesting that we undersell our own value. That is not helpful to anyone. Rather, be aware of my intention when making an offer of expertise, and how much of my intention is about seeming helpful versus being helpful.
  3. Just enough and no more. Finally, I might have been selective, really selective, about how much to offer. I could have considered her time, not just mine in that exchange. 

Question:   What are your best approaches for building both sides of the influence equation?

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