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


Tracing: From Decision Back to Principles and Practices


After completing the Foundations of Dialogue Education course in Vermont with Michael Culliton, Peter Perkins and Kate LaRose, Rev. Christine MacDowall kindly flew down to Raleigh to spend a week with me. Imagine!

Christine had flown from Melbourne, Australia to Vermont to take the course, after having read a few of my books and realizing how dialogue in her educational practices as a pastor would be very useful to her congregation and to herself!  

On my back porch we laughed, ate, told a thousand stories and worked hard. Christine wanted to apply the system she had just learned and practiced to her pastoral context. “I see a number of moving parts,” she told me. “I need to see them all working together.”

“What can I do to enable Christine to put all this together,” I wondered. 

I woke one morning with the idea of TRACING – moving from the experience Christine had just had back to the principles and practices of Dialogue Education. The learning task was this: 

Read aloud the first learning task Michael and Peter set for you in the course. Look at all the principles and practices cards spread out on the table. Name one of those that might have guided Michael and Peter as they composed that first learning task.

Christine immediately saw a principle she could trace the learning task back to, and then recognized there were three or more principles and practices that could have informed the designers’ decisions.

“It seems when you use one, you use them all!” She smiled at her own wise observation. “It is an iterative system!”

We went on through five or six or more learning tasks from her experience in the course, tracing each back to principles and practices:  sequence, engagement, small group work, reflection, praxis… “Aha!” she said, “I see.”          

How can you use tracing to check your design work or maximize impact?


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

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Engaging Graduate Students to Deepen Learning


I was first introduced to Jane Vella’s steps of design and the world of Dialogue Education™ during my graduate studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. To say that my world was flipped upside-down would be an understatement. I found it extremely encouraging to know tools were available for teaching in an academic setting that helped to engage learners and create a strong learning environment.           

Before that moment in time, Dialogue Education was as foreign to me as the countries I had visited. The adage, “We teach the way we were taught,” was a living reality as I lectured to students in a variety of settings and languages. With each lecture, I increased my knowledge of the subject, but something was missing. Apart from an exam at the end of the course, how could I measure the level of learning for each student? I desired greater engagement yet feared open discussion due to my inability to answer the unknown, or worse, the uncomfortable.

As an educator, I realize I have much to learn to develop what I refer to as the Optimal Learning Environment (OLE). Basically, the OLE exists at the intersection of the methods, objectives, and evaluation of the learners’ cultural context. Incorporating formative evaluation throughout the Eight Steps of Design makes the optimal learning environment possible. Because the cultural context is dynamic, formative evaluation is essential as each step of the design process is formed and implemented. The result provides both engagement and learning for every participant.

I recently taught a graduate course in Advanced Homiletics at the Bear Valley Bible Institute International in Denver, Colorado. The academic dean asked if I would focus on expository preaching, but also wanted a larger portion of the course to address teaching. As a rookie in the arena of Dialogue Education, this was my opportunity to implement what I had learned as well as deepen my own learning. Let me share a few take-aways from this first-time experience.

  1. The Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA) is critical. The LNRA provided essential information to initially structure the course. I learned personal information about each graduate student, gained an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, listened to what each learner desired to achieve, and captured a glimpse of their plans for the future. Based on this invaluable information, I determined achievement-based objectives (ABOs) that guided the lesson plans for the week. My classes will not be taught without this information.
  2. Evaluate every step. At the end of each day, I processed what was experienced in the learning environment. This time of formative evaluation enabled me to adjust the direction needed for the next day. While this might be considered as education “on-the-fly,” I assure you it was not. I became less concerned about covering an amount of content and focused more on adjusting the content to achieve what these graduate students desired to learn. I will admit that I am far from perfecting the formative evaluation process, but I learned that even a small tweak here and there makes a major difference in the result.
  3. Model the method. In other words, “practice what you preach.” Why say it, when you can show it? I knew that Dialogue Education was as foreign to these graduate students, as it was to me years ago. Therefore, if they were going to transfer these concepts into their context, then I needed to model the concepts, design learning tasks that enabled learners to put these concepts into practice, and discuss how the whole process might impact their ministries. By the end of the week, I am positive I learned more than anyone else, but their enthusiasm was clear as they implemented the process and applied the principles and practices of this learning-centered approach.
  4. Feedback is vital for future growth. For the purpose of my own personal development, I followed up the course with an evaluation sent to each graduate student. The design of the evaluation form offered participants an opportunity to share honest feedback and ways to improve the course. The value of the information provided cannot be measured. I have already implemented changes for the future and am confident this iterative approach will continue to strengthen my courses, planning and teaching.

As I continue to process the experience of the week, additional lessons surfaced that highlighted the value of Dialogue Education. Let me sum up my approach to Dialogue Education in this way:

  • Become a learner, not a teacher
  • Draw upon the experience of others
  • Invite dialogue by posture, not position
  • Equip by providing more learning tasks, less lecturing
  • Grow in application, not information
  • Introduce more strategy to learning, less content
  • Bring passion, not power to the learning environment.

I want to thank my friends at Global Learning Partners for the opportunity to share my experience. When these graduate students engaged in learning through Dialogue Education, the whole process made sense and learning was deepened.

How do you deepen learning in your university or college classes?


Bob Turner (bturner@wetrainpreachers.com) earned his Doctorate in Intercultural Studies from the Fuller Theological Seminary, serves as an adjunct instructor for the Bear Valley Bible Institute International and a minister for the Bastrop Church of Christ in Bastrop, Louisiana. He is married to the love of his life, Sheryl. They have three children and ten grandchildren.

Here are a few additional GLP resources connected to the topic of teaching in academia:

  1. Dialogue Education in the University: First and Last Day
  2. Dialogue Education in the University: From Monologue to Dialogue
  3. Dialogue Education in the University: Creating a Learning Environment
  4. Dialogue Education in the University: Using a Learning Needs and Resources Assessment
  5. Dialogue Education in the University: Starting with the Syllabus
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Performance Reviews: Something to Look Forward to


Recently, a client emailed me a few questions, unrelated to the work we were doing together. She was on a human resources committee and was working to revamp their performance review process. She was wondering, “Does Global Learning Partners have any resources for conducting performance reviews using a learning-centered approach?” What a great question!

Performance reviews should be something to look forward to. They should be a time for celebration, looking back at achievements and areas of concern, looking forward to goal setting and helpful changes, honest conversation about roles and responsibilities, and visioning for greater impact. Of course, not all performance reviews are positive, but this is the ideal. So, how do we ensure they are learning-centered, meaningful and engaging?

Here are some tips I sent my client.

  1. Invite a self-assessment as well as a peer- and other- assessments. When doing other assessments, it is important to ask the person being interviewed the same questions. You may want to check in with some of this person’s clients, partners, colleagues, or stakeholders. Assessments from different perspectives may highlight differences of opinion, check self-knowledge, and enrich the description of the situation i.e. strengthen and challenges.
  2. Send the results of the performance review to interviewee in advance of the meeting. The person being interviewed can benefit from time to read the assessment results in advance, jot down their questions and consider their additions. The meeting time can be more focused on synthesis of results, items that need clarification or action, and forward planning.
  3. Ask questions that ensure a celebration of what is going well (their strengths) as well as areas of potential growth (their challenges). Performance reviews should be productive and interesting for all involved, and not a nervous negative experience people dread. Start with the positive.
  4. Be specific. The more specific you can be about what the person is doing well and what areas of growth you are hoping for, the more helpful the performance review will be. Again, start with the positive.
  5. Book enough time for meaningful dialogue and to plan next steps. There is nothing worse than being rushed and having a one-way conversation because “time is limited.” Don’t book meetings immediately after a performance review so there is some room to flex the time, if needed. If this meeting is once a year and therefore precious time, treat it with the respect it deserves.
  6. Use the last part of your meeting to name goals for the next year or time frame. By starting with a review of past goals, and then ending with new goals, the performance reviews will feel connected to reflect the journey of personal growth, learning and productivity.
  7. Check in on how people feel. Relevance is high when people’s skills, knowledge and happiness are at the core of your meeting. Ask how they feel about their work, responsibilities, co-workers or team, and work environment. Check in with the heart.
  8. Have tissue handy. You never know what may trigger tears—whether happy or sad. Having tissue close-by communicates that tears are welcome and normal.
  9. Name achievable goals. Some interviewers or interviewees get caught up in all that they would like to change, and indeed there may be much change needed. However, setting the person up for success is critical for morale. More goals can be added next time.
  10. Start and end by affirming what you most appreciate about the person. Naturally, most people feel rather vulnerable in a performance review. Affirming a real strength and how a team or the organization is benefiting from their presence, is confidence-building and important.
  11. If you currently carry out only annual performance reviews, consider shortening the time in between the reviews for meaningful, focused check-ins. Meeting more regularly to monitor the progress of goals, workplans, morale, and general contentment can help prevent problems or challenges from building. It also provides an opportunity to celebrate accomplishment and achievements sooner.

I have been on both sides of a performance review – they can be an amazing gift or a surprising waste of time or (in the worst case) a damaging experience. As supervisors, we need to ensure they are helpful sessions our staff look forward to that reflect a learning journey of growth and health. 


If you could change one thing in the performance reviews you are part of, what would it be? Why?


Jeanette Romkema is a Global Learning Partners (GLP) co-owner and Managing Partner of Communications and Marketing, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

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Ways to Ensure Off-site Participation During In-Person Meetings


Increasingly many Boards, committee, working groups, and organizations need to meet in a way that is mixed or hybrid. Often, we have a meeting and want or need to bring in participants from other branch offices, cities or countries. When we do this the people in the room hosting the call have an “advantage” and those not lucky enough, may feel disadvantaged, lacking, or even invisible.

Here are some ideas for maximizing everyone feeling seen, heard and of value.

  1. Confirm that all off-site participants have the documents needed. Especially when these individuals cannot see the visuals being presented or referenced in the room, sending all the visuals and documents in advance is critical. Off-site participants need all the documents that everyone else received in advance of the meetings, as well as those used during the meeting to present content.
  2. Name each document as they are titled before using them. Off-site participants don’t have as many cues as others in the room, and document titles will help ensure speedy and easy engagement for all.
  3. Check equipment in advance. There is nothing worse than failing technology for those who are joining from a distance. For those meeting in-person it can also be frustrating. Check your technology well in advance and with those using it i.e. ask off-site participants to join the meeting at least 15 minutes early. It can also be helpful to check the quality of sound and visuals from time-to-time during long meetings.
  4. Find a way for off-site participants to be engaged with others and with the content. From time-to-time, small group dialogue or work can be especially helpful in a meeting to achieve the pre-set objectives/achievements. If there are individuals participating from a distance, they also want and need to be included in this. Some ways to do this are: move to smaller Skype conversations or another chat room for a period of time. Solo work with a plan to share back with the group can also be helpful, especially for introverts.
  5. Call off-site people by name throughout the meeting. It is always easier for people to participate when they are in a room together. When the technology is challenged or there is power imbalance (age, seniority, cultural, gender, language or other), participants joining virtually can find it even more challenging to participate. Calling people by name to participate will ensure they have a voice, are heard and feel valued.
  6. Involve off-site participants in one aspect of the meeting in a unique way. This will help these participants to feel valued and respected for what they bring to the meeting. It may be helpful to let these individuals know in advance if the contribution you are hoping for is substantial. However, if it is small it should be fine to call them by name when the time is right. Be authentic and make it meaningful for all.
  7. Start with a check-in. This will reduce the distance that is felt when participants are not in the same room and can build a feeling of connectedness despite distance. This is especially helpful when there are many people in one room and just a few participants elsewhere. Solo participants can feel especially isolated. A check-in should vary from meeting-to-meeting and be in response to what you know about these individuals, their situation, or the purpose of the meeting. It does not have to be long but it should be authentic. Here are a few examples:  

    a.       “In a few minutes we are going to be entering our annual budget meeting. This is an important meeting and can sometimes be challenging and long. Before we start, let’s share one lesson you have learned in your own personal finances that may also service us well here today?

    b.       “We haven’t see each other for a few months now, and I’m sure much has happened over the past weeks. Before we start let’s share something we are feeling especially challenged by and one thing we are especially grateful for since we were last together.”

  8. Save time to check-out. It is sometimes helpful to check the pulse of participants at the end of a meeting. Especially if there was tough conversation or participants entered with resistance or if the content want challenging, taking five minutes at the end to share some final thoughts can offer closure or helpful information for future planning. Here are a few examples:  

    a.       “Thank you so much for your openness to consider this new way of working and planning – I know it felt different and maybe sometimes challenging. What one word comes to mind for you at this time after trying this process out?

    b.       “That concludes our meeting on our budget and financial goals for the year. Thank you for your input, focus, questions, and ideas – this has been so valuable. To end our time together, I would like to invite you to consider one thing you are especially grateful for in this meeting today and one thing that surprised you. Turn to someone close to you and share these two things.”

How do you ensure all members in mixed meetings feel included and valued?


Jeanette Romkema is a Global Learning Partners (GLP) co-owner and Managing Partner of Communications and Marketing, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

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How to Ensure Effective and Efficient Meetings


At the end of our graduate class “Community Development: The Art of Facilitation and Design” with Jeanette Romkema we reflected on how principles and practices of Dialogue Education could also help ensure more effective and efficient meetings. It was eye-opening!

Most of us are involved in or will be involved in way too many meetings. Here are tips to help minimize the number of meetings we go to, maximize the use of time we have in them, and work to make these gatherings important, meaningful, and helpful.

  • Be clear about start and end times, and stick to them
  • Invite people to tend to their personal needs i.e. move around, get a coffee, etc.
  • Plan for solo thinking time
  • Practice active listening
  • Invite questions throughout
  • Name objectives and work to achieve them
  • Develop a realistic agenda and clear goals
  • Determine when it would be helpful to engage everyone to better achieve your goal(s)
  • Ensure all voices are invited in and heard
  • Ensure all content is relevant and important
  • Practice the core principles of respect, safety, inclusion, engagement, and relevance
  • Set guidelines, if necessary and helpful
  • Name who will do what, and by when, for each action item. Make sure this information is recorded in the minutes to ensure accountability
  • Start meeting by checking action items from past meeting(s)
  • Keep numbers to a minimum; ask “Who really needs to be at this meeting?”
  • Allow for “space” in the agenda for items that may take more time than expected
  • Be aware of different learning preferences and multiple intelligences, and make room for them
  • Welcome people as they enter (even if they are late)
  • Select or arrange the venue to enhance the meeting and dialogue (not distract)
  • Share the agenda in advance of the meeting and invite input
  • Ask “Do we really need to have this meeting?” If not, don’t.

What can you add to this list?


Steve MacDouell, Raymond Lo, Demola Orekoya, Zoe Zhao, Liesl Thomas, Ruth Bartlett, Jelle Koersen, and Mary Gorombey are graduate students at Wycliffe College, of the University of Toronto.

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