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

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Tuesdays with Jane: Week #1

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(As promised last week, we are launching this Tuesdays with Jane email learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace.)

In preparation for this task, read the Foreward and Preface to the book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.

The Foreword by Malcolm Knowles; the Preface (2002)
 
When we read the fax Malcolm sent in 1993 with his draft foreword, my sister Joan and I wept. It is such a gift!  This is a beautiful man, my friends, humble and
abundantly generous. 
 
You will learn more from this book than from any textbook written by me…
 
The Preface to the Revised Edition (2002)
    
I remember the response of David Brightman, my editor at Jossey Bass, to my suggestion that, in this revised edition, we include the perspective of quantum thinking. “What in the world?” he wrote back! “Never! Your work is accessible  and we want this revised edition to maintain that accessibility!”
 
Of course, he finally agreed, and I linked arms with Danah Zohar and Margaret Wheatley to show how dialogue in educational design and practice corroborated quantum thinking.
 
The response of many readers reminded me of my dear mother’s response to my using saffron and curry on our Sunday dinner: “What a waste of a good chicken!” 

However, I remain convinced that the connection is sound.  My recent reading of James E. Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain (2012) showed me that current research in neuroscience corroborates the conjunction of quantum thinking and dialogue in education. 
 
When David Brightman invited me to do this revised edition, I also said I would not change the stories or the twelve principles and practices.  This preface makes a clear case for the stories’ diversity in cultures and the global usefulness of the principles and practices. 
 
There are some delightful lines in this Preface: 

Danah Zohar’s  We must change the thinking behind our thinking!  How can we teach multitudes on a human scale?

Rodin’s:   Notice The Thinker is thinking with his toes!  Prepare yourself for a quantum leap into a familiar place.
 

Learning Task #1: What line moved you in the Foreword or the Preface of the 2002 revised edition of Learning to Listen Learning to teach?  Share in the comments section below.  
 

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Excellent Engagement

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I want to be challenged when I am learning by excellent engagement. By this I mean, I want to be challenged by a learning task that stretches me, moves me to deep reflection and critique, and pushes me to hearty implementation of new concepts, attitudes or skills.

Recently I was at a session where the teacher had all of us do “a little exercise.” No! Engagement is not a wake-up opportunity or nod to the principle that does not stir synapses and grow dendrites. I came there to learn!

As teachers/professors/facilitators/leaders, we need to design learning tasks that challenge learners in a delicately constructed sequence, and deal with significant content. These carefully developed learning tasks should welcome doubt and criticism, moving learners towards authentic constructivist application to their unique contexts. Joy is the measure, and you will see and hear that joy as teams of learners report their findings and their creations with laughter and renewed energy.

Today, every learner is sitting on a small device that has immediate access to all the information you as teacher or professor have to offer. Our demanding role, it seems to me, is to design that access so that their learning is useful in their context.  

Excellent engagement—nothing less is worthy of your learners!  

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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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