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

Using Dialogue Education in One-to-One Situations

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By Karen Ridout and Michael Culliton

In preparing for a one-to-one situation, we have found the principles and practices of Dialogue Education to be sound and reliable. Based on experience, here are our suggestions.

  1. Use the structure of the 8 Steps of Design to prepare for both the overall one-to-one plan and each session.
     
  2. Sketch out the first seven steps: Who, Why, Content, Achievement-based Objectives, So that, When, Where and How.
     
  3. In a one-to-one event, consider two kinds of content:
     
    1. External content: skills, knowledge and attitudes that are drawn from research and the study of best practices.
       
    2. Internal content: the skills, knowledge, attitudes, experiences and perspectives that the person coming to the session brings.
       
  4. Build a catalog of useful learning tasks—Step 8—for external content. Remember to consider all three domains: cognitive, affective and psychomotor.
     
  5. Design thoughtful open questions that will elicit internal content.
     
  6. Decide if you will be explicit about the structure. The question to ask yourself: Will sharing the Design Steps (the structure) help or hinder the work we need to do together in the one-to-one session?

    If it will help, share the design. If it will create confusion or get in the way, don’t share your design; just use it as a guide for your work with the person.
     
  7. Be prepared to improvise. Preparing a design for a one-to-one session is like writing a musical score. During the session, you may draw on this score. With the internal content, you’ll also need to be able to improvise, like a jazz musician. However, as we improvise, we thoughtfully draw on the Four A’s, creating opportunities for sound learning and change through meaningful and skillful use of learning tasks (Anchor, Add, Apply and Away).

What has worked for you in one-to-one situations?

[Here is the “cheat sheet” that GLP Senior Partner Karen Ridout uses for planning and facilitating her one-to-one coaching sessions.]

*****

You can join GLP Partners Michael and Karen in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Raleigh, North Carolina or San Diego--just a few of our at upcoming 2015 workshops!

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The Incredible Power of Silence in Learning

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Participants relishing their productive silence at the October 2014 Foundations of Dialogue Education workshop in San Diego, CA

With the speed of life and technology, it seems that many of us are managing our lives in 10-minute increments. Even that 10 minutes can be difficult to protect with the “ding” of incoming e-mail, the “whistle” of an incoming text, and the vibration that signals updates on Linked-In, the all-company messaging app or Facebook account.

Uninterrupted, quiet, thinking time can seem unfamiliar, disorienting, and deliciously welcome.  I was struck by this earlier this month while facilitating a beautifully designed learning task in GLPs “Foundations of Dialogue Education” course.

In pairs, participants had spent a good chunk of time identifying content, writing achievement-based objectives, and then fleshing out one task for their design using the 4 A’s. They recorded their work on charts and then posted these in a gallery. Working solo, we then took time to read each sample and to write two pieces of feedback to each designer: one thing that we liked and one caution or suggestion. These were written out on sticky notes and then added to the charts.

You could have heard a pin drop. You could see the concentration…in cartoon terms, you could “see smoke coming out of people’s ears” as they deeply and intentionally engaged in the task.

The experience was so remarkably powerful: focused, sustained concentration; an absence of multi-tasking, distraction, and noise. Silent. Together. Doing something meaningful. This soothing, reflective atmosphere unfolded over a period of more than 20 minutes. As we gradually and naturally finished the task, there was a collective sense of calm and accomplishment that was palpable.

I feel such gratitude to the skilled GLP designers—Chris Little, Dwayne Hodgson, Kathy Hickman, Peter Noteboom, Jeanette Romkema and Valerie Uccellani—who worked on this version of the course and gave us this learning task. The power of the time made me wonder: How do I invite and attend to silence, to this kind of extended focus within the learning designs I create? It also brought my attention back to the importance of sequencing tasks in a way that invites not only dialogue among participants via spoken word, but also via other means: written feedback, respectful silence for reflection…

What role does silence play in the design and facilitation of learning events you lead? 

 

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An Interview with Michael Culliton, GLP Partner

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This is the third in a series of interviews conducted by Joan Dempsey, GLP's Dialogue Education Community Director, with people who believe deeply in the power of dialogue to influence learning that lasts. Today's interview is with GLP Partner, Michael Culliton.

Joan Dempsey (Joan):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Michael Culliton (Michael): “The learning is in the doing and the deciding.” In James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain he notes that we can’t say that people have truly learned anything until they engage in “active testing” of the content. This is not just philosophical, it is biological! We actually need to do something.

Joan:  Name 3-5 of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.

Michael:  Pay attention to the physical “geography” of the learning environment. For example, in the circle, have just the right number of chairs (one for each, no extras; it says, “I know how many folks are in this group--and it cues the group if someone is missing); keep the circle in shape (so everyone is “in” and each can see all). To me, this says so much about the “intention” of the time and the process.

Monitor for visual noise: on the walls, only keep up the charts and visuals that are still needed. I have been to events where facilitators just keep adding more and more visuals  to the room that are not ever referenced again. For me--and some other visual folks, this creates the equivalent of a room full of “screaming monkeys.”

Remember: it is possible to sit and teach. I was so habituated to standing. When the setting and size of the group allows, sitting for me signals so much about dialogue, power, roles.

Joan:  Of all the DE principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Michael:  1)  Congruence - Knowing the principles of DE is not enough: I must put them into practice in a way that brings each to life: in the design, in the learning event;  with the learners and with us as facilitators. 2) Autonomy - Questions of power and agency abound in the design and facilitation of learning. The principle of autonomy demands that I be aware and intentional as I design and facilitate: recognizing, honoring and celebrating the power of learners to do and decide for themselves.

Joan:  When you attend learning events that are not learning centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Michael:  That often I am in a room with other participants who are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and yet there is no structure or time to share any of our energy and knowledge with one another.

I once took a history of modern art class with 70 other people. For weeks, we listened to lectures. Not  once were we invited to share any of our own passion or knowledge.

Imagine if the teacher had asked: “Turn to the person next to you and tell about one of your favorite paintings. What do you like about the work? What does the work elicit for you?"

Michael with Teryn Jones, who recently co-taught with him as part of the GLP certification process

Joan:  Why do you love DE?

Michael:  To me the principles are not just about learning, but about life. The principles and practice serve the building of respectful, collaborative relationships and offer tools for creating processes that harvest shared wisdom in service of repairing the world and shaping interactions and structures that are more life-affirming, sustainable and responsive.

Joan:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story.

Michael:  Over a decade ago, I helped design and lead a two-year program to support community leaders in developing local legislative advocacy programs. Most of the programs are still going and report success in influencing policy. In addition, several participants still talk about change in both personal and communal confidence and skills. This shows the power of DE in developing individual leaders and organizations; in making a difference for individuals and for communities.

Joan:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Michael:  When people leave a DE event, they have actually practiced DOING whatever it is they are learning. (As opposed to just “hosing people down” with lots of information, which is the MO of a lot of learning, be it lecture or webinar.)

Joan:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Michael:  Team up with another dedicated practitioner to study, design or teach together. I am consistently delighted and deeply influenced by what I learn from others who work out of the DE approach.

Joan:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Michael:  The use of Open Space Technology within multi-day DE-designed events is something I find powerful: it provides a vehicle for emergent conversations and creative explorations.

When there is pattern of tension between two deeply held values within a group or organization, I have found polarity mapping to be a powerful and instructive tool.

Joan:  What else would you like to share?
 
Michael:  As a practitioner of DE, I don’t think I ever “arrive”: there is always more to learn, re-learn, explore, and research. It’s a courageous, exciting, and very satisfying journey!

Michael will be teaching the following courses in 2014 - join him!

Foundations of Dialogue Education, Sept 22-25, 2014  |  Anchorage, Alaska

Foundations of Dialogue Education, October 6-9, 2014  |  San Diego, California

SURE-Fire Meetings, October 23-23, 2014  |  Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota

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Upping the Ante on Brainstorming:  5 tips to increase group creativity and productivity

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Next time I’m planning an idea-generating session, I’ll consider suggesting that we invite a few new people to the group who can offer a novel take. Maybe I’ll even throw a rubber chicken into the circle when things are running along a predictable path! ~ Michael Culliton

For years I have used “brainstorming” to help groups generate creative responses to important and challenging situations. Recently, I’ve run across several things that have led me to realize that if I really want to help groups cultivate and amplify creativity, then I need to do some things differently.

The journey began with reading James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain as preparation for Dr. Jane Vella’s plenary session, “The Biology of Learning,” at the October 2013 International Dialogue Education Institute. This has heightened my curiosity about learning, creativity and the brain and led me to, among other things, a fascinating interview with Rex Jung, a professor of neurosurgery and a clinical neuropsychologist talking about creativity and the everyday brain.

It was in the interview with Dr. Jung that I heard the bad news:  my beloved brainstorming was not a healthy host for creativity. The studies supporting this conclusion are presented in a New Yorker article by Jonah Lehrer, “Groupthink: the brainstorming myth.” (If you are interested in a thorough and nuanced explanation of the research mentioned below, I highly recommend the article.)

Based on the research presented in the article, here are five things I plan to do differently.

  1. STOP using the term “brainstorming.” As far back as 1958, a study at Yale University showed that the process doesn’t yield the best results within a group. So, I think it’s time to give it up. I’m not sure what to call the revised process of creative idea generation just yet (any ideas?).
  2. Ask people to engage in “solo” idea-generation first.  Subsequent research at Northwestern University confirmed the Yale study and also showed that a group produces a greater number and better quality of ideas when people generate a solo list of ideas first and then bring them to the group. (Sorry fellow extroverts!)
  3. When the solo ideas are brought to large group, introduce a “debate condition.” Studies done in 2003 at Berkeley found that ideas and actions are more effective when they are vetted via a process that allows for questioning and challenge. (Farewell my sweet brainstorming guideline of “No judging, analyzing, or evaluating of ideas!”) Given the principle of “safety,” as a Dialogue Education practitioner I’ll need to experiment with structures that allow ideas to be vetted while honoring this important principle.
  4. In group idea-generating conversations, experiment with ways to interject “errant responses” that have the potential to interrupt predictability and foster “aha’s.” The same Berkeley researcher mentioned above found that “unfamiliar perspectives,” as well as “unexpected” – even wacky – responses, can help groups think their way off of well-worn paths. Next time I’m planning an idea-generating session, I’ll consider suggesting that we invite a few new people to the group who can offer a novel take. Maybe I’ll even throw a rubber chicken into the circle when things are running along a predictable path!
  5. Structure meeting and break-times in ways that foster more mixing and happenstance. Recent studies at Harvard University suggest that physical proximity and spontaneous interactions foster creativity. This has led me to wonder how I as a Dialogue Education practitioner can better structure meeting and break-time environments to increase the opportunity for people to interact with a greater number and variety of people. For starters, in designing meeting processes, perhaps I’ll make greater use of tasks that invite people to share “cocktail party style” or “speed-dating fashion.” Maybe I’ll put the beverages at one end of the room and the snacks at the other.

I’m looking forward to playing with these changes in the idea-generation process and to discovering how these revised practices help me and the groups of which I am a part to be even more creative and productive.

What ideas come to mind for you?

What might a Dialogue Education-based idea-generation process, one that puts the research outlined above into practice, look like?

How might a Dialogue Educator introduce such a practice to a group or in meeting?

*****

Michael Culliton, GLP Partner, is co-facilitating a session entitled Educational Jujitsu for the 21st Century: Applying User Research and Design in Learning at the Learning & Change International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013 in Baltimore, MD, USA, where he's also offering one-on-one private consultations.

You can also work with Michael is an upcoming workshop:  Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach   |   October 1-4, 2013   |   San Diego, California

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