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


Maximize Successful Community Engagement: Tips from Africa


Safety and respect are key to ensuring community engagement. This is as true in rural Ghana where I work, as it is in most places in the world. Here are some tips that I have found helpful for the African context:

  1. Understand the cultural dynamics. It is important that while entering a community the facilitator or community engagement person has a clear understanding of the “go and no-go zones,” as well as the totems and taboos of the community. These need to be honoured and respected during the period of work with the community and will increase the possibility of success.
  2. Stay away from party politics. In general, community members in Africa are passionate about their politics. In addition, many politicians have made huge promises and failed to deliver. They are not always trusted. To be safe, explain who you are and who you work for, and that you do not have an affiliation with any political party. Wisely and clearly decline political discussions and make relevant input devoid of politics.
  3. Know the religious dynamics. This is a sensitive area and should be managed carefully during your stay in the community. People are equally passionate about their religion as they are their politics, and therefore religious conversations or examples should be avoided. However, to maximize safety and respect honour people’s religious needs during your events as much as possible i.e. prayer time, food preferences, etc.
  4. Establish rapport. Entering the community should involve and engage all the relevant stakeholders in the project. Make sure your contact persons in the community are people respected and trusted by that community.
  5. Introduce yourself or team to traditional authority. The team/officer should introduce himself to the traditional authority on the first day of entry to the community. You will be more warmly welcomed and protected by the community when you are known by these leaders. Note: Meetings with chiefs sometimes involve you giving gifts. Find out what is expected and ensure you have exactly what you need to visit the chief or other community leaders.
  6. Know the community. It takes time to get to know a community. However, doing some research in advance can give you important knowledge about the people, their religion and culture, issues of concern and challenge, strengths and resources, as well as leadership practices. Do your homework.


What do you do to ensure safety?


Augustine N-Yokuni (an-yokuni@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.

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Learning about Dialogue in Middle School


I first learned about Global Learning Partners (GLP) and Dialogue Education about ten years ago when I started working for them. Since then I have applied the principles and practices not only in my work life, but also in my personal life. Most recently, I started using it in my role as Student Council Advisor at my local middle school.

Since our staff and consultants work globally, we deeply value any in-person time we get with each other. In 2017, we had one of these valuable face-to-face work sessions in Raleigh, North Carolina. During this trip Dr. Jane Vella invited us to her home for a mini-learning session. There we were asked to participate in a learning task about a concept from her book “On Teaching and Learning.” The concept of resisting vs. suspending immediately resonated with me. I instantly started jotting notes and planning ways I could introduce this concept to my politically diverse family members and to the Student Council I was involved in!

I spent the next few weeks designing a Student Council activity for 7th and 8th graders. Here’s what I did:

  1. I began by having one of the Student Council members read the following excerpt from Jane’s book “On Teaching and Learning.” Then, we discussed it to ensure everyone in the group understood the text.

“When we listen to someone speak, we face a critical choice. If we begin to form an opinion we can do one of two things: we can choose to defend our view and resist theirs. Try to get the other person to understand and accept the “right” way to see things (ours!). OR we can learn to suspend our opinion and the certainty that lies behind it. Suspension means that we neither suppress what we think nor advocate for it.”

     2.  Next the kids brainstormed a list of current “hot topics” they were interested in. Their list included:           

a.      Building a border wall along the United States/Mexico border

b.      School dress code

c.       Is Big Foot real

d.      Should 7th and 8th graders be allowed to have recess.

     3.  I asked two 8th graders to model resisting and suspending using helium balloons. They picked one of the hot topics and began a dialogue. Pulling the helium balloon down in front of your face modeled resisting and lifting the balloon above your head modeled suspending opinion. (See above image.)

          They wrote their position on the hot topic on their balloon. When they modeled resisting, the words were in their face indicating defense of their own view and resistance of the other’s view.

     4.  Then, I asked the kids to write examples of evidence of dialogue on Post-it notes. Some of their examples included:

a.      Hearing what someone says

b.      When people are talking and listening

c.       A conversation.

     5.  Next, we discussed what exactly listening is and what are actions associated with listening. Once again, they jotted their ideas on Post-it notes and took turns presenting their answers to the group.

     6.  Finally, it was time to practice what they learned. The kids split into groups of four (with two teams of two) and picked a hot topic of interest. One person in each team held the balloon and the other person engaged in dialogue. If the kids engaging in the dialogue started to show signs of resisting, the balloon holder would pull the balloon down as a reminder that they weren’t suspending or truly listening to the other person. The student would then work harder to practice modeling suspending.

I was so happy to see the Student Council kids truly engaged in this activity from start to finish! The learning was powerful and impactful. Days later, I had teachers approach me to let me know that kids were still talking about resisting and suspending in their classrooms.

I’m excited to continue using the principles and practices of Dialogue Education to enrich the work and learning of Student Council this year!

How do you engage young people in their own learning?


Rebecca Kerin-Hutchins (rebecca@globallearningpartners.com) is a co-owner and Finance & Contracts Manager for Global Learning Partners. She is also the Student Council Advisor at Barre Town Middle & Elementary School. She resides in Vermont with her husband and four children.

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Oh No, They Wrecked My Beautiful Design!


“Training – that’s easy. We know the stuff.  We just wing it.” Sound familiar?

Those of us who adhere to principles of Dialogue Education™ and who respect and appreciate adult learners don’t buy that perspective. Whether we’re planning a workshop for personal growth, community education or workplace performance, we design carefully. We have our Steps of Design, we think about what Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes will be learned during the workshop, and we make sure we do not have too much “what” for the “when.” If we can, we connect with some of the learners before the workshop to assess their Learning Needs and Resources. We NEVER wing it!

Usually, we and the learners are delighted by the result, even if they don’t know the time and effort that went into the design. They often mention that they appreciated the tight organization, that they felt listened to, and that they enjoyed the interaction with others in the group. During the course of the workshop, we take time and effort to listen in, to be sure that the energy for learning stays high, and that directions for learning tasks are clear. When it’s all not humming along smoothly, we can and do make adjustments, building on the key principles that guide us.

Last October, I had the pleasure of crafting and critiquing beautiful designs with a group of fellow educators and trainers at the Advanced Learning Design and Evaluation Retreat in Vermont.

But, a thought…what happens when we create the design and someone else is facilitating?  How do we know these facilitators will share our level of commitment and fidelity to the design? While I know that I can be a little obsessive, I also know that learners should be able to trust that the learning objectives will be achieved. Without strict adherence to the design, we cannot know that learners’ knowledge, skills and attitudes were affected by a particular learning event, and cannot justify the resources expended on the event.

Back home, the retreat participants shared stories of how we had applied our learning from Vermont. It turned out that several of us were vexed by the implementation of training (carefully designed by us but facilitated by others). Here are five examples:

SITUATION #1: Workshops on opiate addiction, offered throughout the state to community groups.

Facilitators wanted to use different resource materials than those offered in the design, including videos, with the groups they were leading.

SITUATION #2: A day focused on quality improvement for medical residents.

The facilitators were experienced medical professionals who wanted to keep providing lectures to the residents, as they had done for years. Unfortunately, the lectures were not targeted to the learners, and contained too much “what” for the “when” and the “who.”

SITUATION #3: A county-wide, ten-week program for parents, offering peer-to-peer support and education on topics of children’s emotional and behavioral health.

The program utilized facilitators with minimal experience in leading groups, and whose expertise was grounded mostly in their own experience as parents, and not in knowledge of the principles of children’s health and development. They valued open group sharing more than focused learning activities.

SITUATION #4: Workshops for participants from international budget civil society organizations, aiming to equip them with skills to advocate on budgets to their governments.

Facilitators received the workshop design and went in one of two directions – neither of which achieved the desired outcomes of the workshops. Some facilitators were very free with the design, allowing discussions to go down paths that did not stay focused on the outcomes. Other facilitators, feeling constricted by using a design they had not created, would not deviate from it at all, producing a rigid, non-empowering workshop for participants.

SITUATION #5: Two different projects of professional development for early childhood educators (ECE): statewide in-person training engaging 50 trainers, and the production of 40 printed guides with training activities to be selected as needed by managers and supervisors in over 2000 individual ECE settings across the country.

           Designers had no control over how facilitators used the materials.

My four colleagues and I shared our worries, frustrations and eventually our insights into how to develop training that has a high likelihood of being facilitated as designed, with the ultimate goal of meeting the needs of the learning and the learners.

We started with the recognition that the facilitators are really part of the “who” we consider in our Eight Steps of Design. Sometimes we were so focused on the ultimate learner that we simply ignored the facilitator and handed over the plan. We realized that we need to think just as clearly about the people who are on the front lines of the training. So, we will now do the following:

  • Share the information from the Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA) with the facilitators. That will help them to see that we have a reason – based in what the learners needed – for including specific learning activities and audio-visual materials. 
  • Respect the expertise of the facilitators. Whether they are medical professionals with many years of formal education, or parents who are venturing into their first facilitation role, they have their own pride in their knowledge and skills, and their own fears about appearing competent to the trainees. Increasing communication with the facilitators – and if possible, conducting a thorough Training of Trainers (TOT) goes a long way toward assuring that the design is well-understood, and, therefore, followed.
  • Build in flexibility. Be clear on the learning objectives, so that facilitators can make some adjustments in their style of facilitation, and respond to their participant groups, without losing the essential elements of the learning tasks. In one of the ECE projects, the designers asked that facilitators make changes only if they believed the change was needed to support one of the six principles of adult learning: Safety, Respect, Inclusion, Engagement, Relevance or Immediacy.

We recognized that it would be useful to collect data. With two of our projects we created feedback forms so that facilitators could make note of where they made a change in the design.  With those forms returned to us, we could see what needs the facilitators saw within their participant group that required a change, or if there was a design flaw: something unclear, an activity that ran too long or fell flat, etc.

Finally, we gave some thought to publications. We considered how we could provide facilitators’ manuals that give clear information on what is essential information (through use of an icon, perhaps) and when an anecdote from the facilitator’s experience is appropriate.

With the national ECE guides, we offered a variety of learning activities within each module, so that facilitators could choose the ones that best met their situation, and yet achieved the objectives of the module. For the medical education program, we created a “Faculty Guide” that covered the elements that were essential for learners, some ideas for modifications where appropriate, and ideas for further coaching or exploration on a topic. 

In the end, no one wrecked our designs. They gave us the opportunity to make them better.  There may have been some tense moments when the design wasn’t followed: in one situation the designer commented that “…the silence in the room spoke volumes to the lack of appropriateness of her presentation….” Stepping up our efforts to work with facilitators, publish helpful guides and collect data on needed changes will lead to more effective and enjoyable training as we go forward – while we still adhere to all the principles of excellent design.

Other resources of interest include:

  1. A Great Learning Design is Only 50% of the Work – a tip sheet 
  2. A Dialogue Approach Transforms Corporate Training: A Spectacular Example – a blog


What do you do to bridge the gap between the designer and the facilitator when they are not the same person?

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Peggy da Silva, MPH, is a longtime practitioner of adult education in out-of-school settings. She develops public programs and staff training systems, with the overall goal of building and supporting healthy communities. Peggy first discovered Jane Vella’s philosophy and methods over twenty years ago, sharing them with California Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs. The staff training and certification system she and her team developed has been adopted by WIC programs across the country. Peggy often brings creative and learning-centered approaches to organizations that have not historically invested in high quality training, and sees the joy among learners – and positive results for funders – that result from careful design and evaluation. More information about Peggy’s work is available on her website: www.coheco.net .


Aideen Gilmore is Senior Program Officer of Training, Technical Assistance and Networking at International Budget Partnership in Washington, DC.

Bridget Hogan Cole, MPH, is Executive Director at Institute for High Quality Care in Los Angeles, California.

Claudia Marieb is Substance Abuse Prevention Consultant at Vermont Department of Health in Springfield, Vermont.

Jesica Radaelli-Nida, MA, is Early Childhood Program Specialist in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Offering a Suitcase to Deepen Learning: The Use of Images in Teaching



As I write these words, my 13-year-old daughter is sitting next to me, entranced by the iPhone in her hand and the world of images to which she has access. From showing me silly cat memes to sending her friends pictures on Instagram and Snapchat, images are a huge part of my daughter’s native digital language. However, while she thinks she’s being quite modern, there is something deep and ancient in her use of images to communicate meaning; something that unites her way of knowing with mine…and with yours.

In short, images can invite and evoke a deeper level of knowing. Like the difference between poetry and prose, the artistic and symbolic nature of imagery can invite the learner in at a deeper level than words alone. More nuanced truths can be captured. I simply cannot imagine teaching any concept without making use of some level of imagery, as I have found it to be the easiest way to anchor a learning task by engaging the imagination and intellect of the learner.

Let’s look at an example. Imagine a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Imagine Lincoln standing, feet slightly apart for balance, with an axe raised above his head, held in both hands. At his feet kneels a figure obviously held in slavery, with a chain stretched between shackles on their wrists. The chain is laid across a tree stump, positioned in the path of the descending axe. Can you see it in your mind? If so, read on to the next paragraph. If not, go back to the beginning of this paragraph and read it again more slowly. Allow your mind the time to create the image. There’s no rush.

Now that you can see it in your mind…can you feel the sense of motion in the axe? Can you anticipate the moment when the chain will be cut and the slave figure freed?

As you consider the image in your mind, I have a question for you: Is this image true?

On the one hand, we know of no historical moment when President Lincoln actually broke the chains of a person in slavery. On the other hand, the image is deeply true symbolically. If I were teaching a class on civil war history, I would start the class with the exercise above. Not only does it engage the imagination, it immediately deepens the meaning of historical learning and sends the message that history isn’t just dates on a page, but transformative movements that still affect us today.

Any time I am invited to lead a learning session (or “teach a class”), I start by considering how I would like the participants to leave my session feeling, and what they will be able to do because of our time together. Once I have determined these goals, I then spend time searching for an image that will carry those emotions and messages throughout the entire session. I then introduce the image early on in the session, typically tell some kind of story that makes reference to the image, and continue to integrate that image into each part of the learning, including the summary reflections at the end. I have found that when intentionally chosen in this way, the selected image has the power to act like a suitcase in which participants can pack their learnings and experiences. Simply seeing the image again can evoke the learning and emotions of the session in a way that makes it a powerful teaching tool.

These days, any time I read civil war history, I think of the imaginary Lincoln statue described above. My sincere hope is that the images I choose to supplement learning have the same staying power for those I work with as well.

How do you use images in your teaching and designing?

* * * * * * *

Matthew Short (matt.short@gmselca.org) is Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelical Mission of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, ELCA. He is a father, husband, digital native, and Lutheran pastor who loves using images in preaching and teaching.

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Trust the Design: The Day I Tested this Theory


Since I received my Dialogue Education training with Global Learning Partners last Fall, I have developed at least five learning events. It’s been a game changer. The pre-event surveys allow me to develop a learning design based on the intersection between my expertise and the participants knowledge and learning goals. This alone provides me with a level of confidence in the relevance of the training that infuses every step of my work. However, it is a lot of work.

Attending to the six core principles of learning, the eight steps of design, and the 4-A learning sequence, requires a high level of focus and commitment. However, the result is trust, freedom, and empowerment: trust that even if I don’t sleep the night before or don’t feel well, I can rely on the strength of my design to lead the way; freedom to use my energy on the day of the event to express my joy in the topic and care for the participants; and, empowerment of the participants to lead the learning process by engaging deeply, collaborating and sharing existing experience and knowledge.

Every time I begin a training, I introduce participants to Dialogue Education and the design that is in their hands. I joke saying, “Using this approach means I can faint in the middle of our day together and you can carry on without me!” Little did I know that this “joke” would turn into a reality.   

From June 25 to 28 I was scheduled to teach a four-day course on restorative practices to 40 educators. I had invited Jessica, a fellow educator who had come to one of my seminars and was interested in becoming a trainer, to shadow me during the event. Jessica did not see the design until she arrived at the conference center and had never led a training, but she had a lot of enthusiasm and experience in restorative practices.

When the educators entered the room on the first morning after listening to a keynote speaker for 90 minutes, I felt nervousness growing within me. Their face and body language revealed the exhaustion educators commonly feel after the last day of school. I wondered how I would be able to energize them and then I remembered the strength of my design. Specifically, I knew that the inclusive and connection-based anchor activities would enliven them, and that the relevant, experience-based learning activities would engage them. I was right! By the end of the second day, the group was on fire.

It was after that second day that I chose to go on a bicycle ride. I rode carefully down the mountain road, leaning on my brakes as I carefully made my way through the switchbacks and potholes. When I got down to the main road I sighed with relief. Unlike most of the roads I commute on, this one was newly paved, wide and free of traffic. I let go of my brakes and allowed myself to relax and glide in the sunshine.

Suddenly, I was airborne! I hit the pavement hard, breaking a rib and suffering abrasions and severe bruising. I had hit a chunk of asphalt hidden in the shadows. When someone finally came to where I was lying in the road, the first thing I asked was for them to call the conference organizer to let them know what happened, and that they would need to ask Jessica to continue teaching without me.

At nine p.m. that night, as Jessica drove me back to the hotel, I asked how she felt about leading the last two days of the conference. She said, “Sure! I can make a few changes to the design to match my knowledge but follow what you have layout for us.” And that is what she did.

On the final day, I was able to join the training and watched with pride and joy as Jessica delivered the training beautifully. What moved me even more was how comfortable the group was in carrying on without me. They had clearly been empowered and engaged enough the first two days to move forward with great momentum. Dialogue Education had saved the training. Without it, those teachers would have been left hanging in mid-air without two crucial days of developing action plans for their schools.

To my great delight, the conference organizer sent feedback that confirmed what I witnessed:

Annie and Jessica are among the best presenters with whom I've ever had the privilege of working. They truly believe in students, are devoid of nonsensical educational jargon, and generously gave their entire curriculum to us.

Thank you, Jane Vella, and everyone who has contributed to the development of Dialogue Education!

When did you need to “trust the design” in surprising ways?

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Annie O'Shaughnessy is an educator and consultant dedicated to transforming classroom and schools through mindfulness based restorative practices. Check out her website: www.truenatureteaching.com

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