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

Manage Your Power in the World - Dialogue Education and Parenting?


Usually we’re talking about workshops or courses or change initiatives when we talk about Dialogue Education, and the fact is, for as much as Dialogue Education is about learning, its roots in Paulo Freire’s theories of “liberation education” mean it’s also about managing our power in the world. Will we make decisions based on fear (be dominant or subservient), or based on dialogue and mutual-respect?

There’s no greater opportunity to gain insights into how we use our power than to notice how we parent:  like during those times when we try to force our will or mold our children, claiming it’s for their own good or safety; or the times we devalue or undermine their decision-making in an attempt to force them into behaving the way we believe they “should.” I believe these are red flags that indicate we have our own personal development work to do. Of course, it’s appropriate for parents to scream NO as a toddler runs out into the street, or set developmentally appropriate and mutually-respectful boundaries. But it’s inappropriate to use shame to try to control our teen’s behavior, like when we say “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” or when we interrupt, yet take our child to task when he or she interrupts.

Slow Parenting Teens:  How to Create a Positive, Respectful and Fun Relationship with Your Teenager, is a new book for parents who are seeking a meaningful, positive relationship with their teens. Authors Molly Wingate and Marti Woodward do a brilliant job of helping parents to recognize those attitudes and actions that either cultivate or undermine healthy relationships.

Slow parenting teens is not about raising kids without problems, struggles, or even physiological challenges. It’s about building and maintaining a relationship with your teen so you can move through “trouble” together and not as enemies. You become your teenager’s role model for owning tough feelings and choices. You demonstrate self-care, and compassion. (p122)

Wingate and Woodward offer five attitudes for creating enlivening, trusting and safe relationships with our children. Each chapter ends with numerous suggestions for improving our relationships through the gradual adoption of each attitude.

  1. Steward your teens
  2. Respect their personalities
  3. Catch them doing it right
  4. Listening is effective
  5. Parent every day

...All aspects of parenting are opportunities to build a sustainable, fun, and respectful relationship with your teenager. Even the most difficult, unpleasant aspects of parenting teens can build the relationship you want if you use the five attitudes… (p88)

Here are some of the outcomes you can expect:

Stewarding teens not only pays off in terms of energy but also in relationship quality. Teens feel cared for, but not controlled, and they’re paid attention to, not judged. Teenagers gain self-confidence and learn to trust their independent judgment. Stewardship allows them to develop judgment and discernment with your support. Your teens are more likely to turn to you for support when you foster a positive relationship…(p34)

One of the things I appreciate greatly in this book are the examples in each chapter of dialogue between parents and teens, and how they differ when we “slow parent” or “fast-parent.”

Here’s an example of how to “slow parent” (be a more effective listener):

Listening, the way we refer to it, means your teenager’s story is more important than your story. You want to hear her process, conclusions, questions, logic, and confusion. Then you’ll ask for more of her thoughts at least two times before you even venture a remark, much less an opinion… (p63)

As one who’s used Dialogue Education in my work for many years, I found these authors to be kindred spirits focused on familiar principles and practices. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’d like to have a better relationship with teens (or adults for that matter)! Not surprisingly, Slow Parenting Teens is also recommended by teens.

Darlene Goetzman, Dialogue Education Coach, is author of Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events. She is teaching a course by the same name that begins Feb 4.

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8 Questions for Understanding Your Learners


When designing any learning event, the Dialogue Education 8 Steps of Design method demands that you develop in advance a deep understanding  of who will participate, taking into account their individual experience and needs so that you can tailor the design specifically for them; any learning event that makes too many assumptions about the participants is bound to disappoint.

In our foundational course, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, we use a simple tool called the ASO Triangle – Ask-Study-Observe – which provides you with a straightforward way of truly getting to know your participants so that you can develop an exceptional learning event.

This blog post gives you a snapshot of the first leg of the triangle:  ASK!

(What follows is excerpted from the new, downloadable book, Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events – the e-book covers the full ASO Triangle, with helpful examples and suggestions for work you can do with this tool).


In the ASK dimension, you will need to decide who you will ask, what you will ask, and how will you ask it.


Who can tell you about the situation, the learners, and what content is most important for this particular learning event? You want a range of opinions and insights, acknowledging that there are some decisions that will have been made for you and the learners. Here are a few examples of the types of people you might consider speaking to, depending, of course, on the field in which participants are working and the content you will be teaching : 

  • Clients
  • Former clients
  • Family members
  • Staff
  • Supervisors
  • Case counselors
  • Department directors
  • Lead trainers
  • The CEO
  • Nurses
  • Foremen . . .


Here are 8 suggested questions to ask your learners - what would you add?

  1. Which content is most important? Why?
  2. What is missing?
  3. What could be omitted?
  4. What information will help you make choices about the content you’ll be teaching?
  5. What are the expectations of the leadership, the learners, and the other stakeholders?
  6. What would make the greatest difference for this group of learners? Their lives? Their work? Their health?
  7. Who could be a resource to help you create relevant case studies or provide other types of examples to make the content real and engaging?
  8. For the more experienced people involved in the learning event, what challenges have they have seen or experienced when they were first learning how to (or learning about) ___________? What helped and would have helped their progress the most?


Consider how much time you have and how best to learn what is needed during that time by soliciting a range of views to give you the big picture. Even with very little time you can always take a sample that represents the full range of views. You can conduct surveys that ask a variety of questions (open, ranking, multiple choice) or conduct formal or informal interviews. Each of these methods can be completed face-to-face, by phone, e-mail, or mail.

What might you add to the task of asking? What’s worked for you?

If you’d like to learn more about the full ASO Triangle . . .

  1. Purchase a copy of Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events and read Chapter 3.
  2. Sign up for Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design. (No travel involved; work on your own from home and with other participants by phone in teleconferences - starts Oct 8, so register today!!)
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4 Steps for Learning that Lasts


When you’re designing any kind of learning event – a workshop, seminar, class, meeting – one of the most important components of your design is your learning tasks, those elements of the event in which the learners do something with the content they've set out to learn. For learning that lasts, use the 4-A Model, a foolproof tool.

(What follows is excerpted from Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events, by Darlene M. Goetzman.)

The 4-A Model - ANCHOR  |  ADD  |  APPLY  |  AWAY

  • ANCHOR the content within the learner’s experience;
  • ADD new information;
  • Invite the learner to APPLY the content in a new way or situation;
  • Ask the learner to decide how or what he or she will take AWAY and use this learning in the future.

To design your learning tasks, it’s helpful to use the model in the order laid out above. It’s also helpful to view the 4As as though each ‘A’ is one of four components in a single learning task; these four parts – ANCHOR, ADD, APPLY and AWAY – complete a single learning cycle.


The ANCHOR part of the 4-A Model connects the topic you’re teaching to the learner’s experience. This component of a learning task ensures relevancy for your particular group of individuals and begins to indicate to them why this information is important to them right now. Through a well-crafted anchor question learners will be telling you and others in what way the content is relevant or connected to their experience.

The newest research on how the brain creates and stores information (creating memories) indicates that relevance, especially an affective (emotional) connection, enhances the likelihood of knowledge retention and of learners being more open to new learning.


In the ADD task, the emphasis is on adding new and vital information, and on inviting learners to do something with the new material to make it their own. One way to increase attention to important dimensions of the material is to preface a presentation with an instruction, such as:

  • As you watch this video clip, decide which features might be challenging and which may be easiest to implement at your site.
  • As you listen to the reader, circle what you see in the text box as most important for your work.
  • As you watch, decide which feature might be most useful to your clients.
  • As you study the diagram, write your questions about . . .

This provides a clear focus for the learners, makes them an active participant in the task, and reminds them of a meaningful reason for participating in this activity. (Notice that meaningful reasons come from what the learners decide in each of the above examples.)


Depending upon the content, the amount of time you have, and the level of proficiency the learners and you are aiming for, a variety of ways in which the learner works with the content are necessary for learning that sticks.

In the APPLY part of the 4-A Model you will create an additional meaningful opportunity for the learner to decide and do something with the content in order to cement his or her learning. Here are three APPLY examples:

  • Create a visual graphic of your responses to the questions; we’ll hear and consider these ideas.
  • At your table, share what you circled as important; together create a three-column poster, naming the important items, why you see each as important, and one way you could integrate this content into your daily schedule.
  • With your co-teacher, design a thirty-minute session that incorporates and reflects all you have learned about this topic while your taught it.


Research indicates that when learners make verbal and written commitments to new behaviors or practices, the likelihood that they will follow through on these commitments increases. What will help learners make their own unique decision to do something different or new later?  An ideal AWAY provides learners with an opportunity to:

  • Select a new behavior or practice;
  • Commit to it; and
  • Create a reminder that will hold them accountable to their commitment.

In others words, an AWAY task sets learners up to be more successful at practicing their learning when they’re back at home or at work. In reality, not every learning task has or even needs an AWAY, but every great design for a learning event has at least one! It is good practice for you to get into the habit of including an AWAY so that you are always considering what it is you hope the learner will do differently because of engaging with the content through the learning task you created.

How have you used the 4As in your work?

This is just an overview of the 4As. If you’d like to get into more depth, here are a couple of options:

  1. Purchase a copy of Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events and read Chapter 11.
  2. Sign up for Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design. (No travel involved; work on your own from home and with other participants by phone in teleconferences - starts Oct 8, so register today!!)
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Goodbye TMI, Hello LIM (Less is More)



Too much information (TMI), or information overload, is a spot many curriculum designers find themselves in when preparing for a new workshop or course; even the most experienced person can hit TMI when he or she is taking on a new teaching topic. Sometimes before we are ready and able to narrow down the content we're using in a learning event, we need to gestate. And, there comes a time where we must make a decision, as painful as this can be; we must choose which content will stay and which will go.

If you have taken enough time to gestate, and are feeling stuck or overwhelmed by the amount of content you're facing, here is a strategy* to move on to the next step of streamlining your content.

  1. Number a page from 1 to 100, leaving room for a word or phrase next to each number.
  2. Title your page: What content is needed for ____________________? (Fill in the blank with the title of your workshop or course).
  3. Now, as quickly as possible, without thinking, list every piece of content (word, phrase or sentence) that is needed for this learning event. Do not stop until you have reached 100 (this is very important). Do repeat any item as often as needed to keep writing. This usually takes from 20 to 30 minutes, depending upon how fast you write.
  4. When you have finished your list of 100, read through and group your entries into categories or themes (you will usually find 4 to 7). A tip for categorizing: use abbreviations for the categories so that you can mark each entry easily.
  5. Now count the number of entries to determine how many pieces of content are within each theme. Calculate the percentage of each theme to the total, which gives you an idea of the percentage of time you'll need to spend on each theme. The entries themselves provide the sub-topics within each theme.
  6. A great way to wrap up your work is to take just five minutes and quickly write a summary paragraph that names what you noticed in completing this process.

Say goodbye to TMI and hello to LIM (Less is more!) Enjoy!

I would LOVE to hear what strategies you use when you are feeling stuck selecting the "right" content. How do you narrow down your content to avoid TMI


Darlene Goetzman is the author of the new book, Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide to Designing Exceptional Learning Events. You can download a sample chapter here. She's also teaching a 6 week course that starts on October 8, 2012:  Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design.


*This strategy is a variation of  "Lists of 100", one of eighteen different techniques taught in Journal to the Self workshops: a journal writing workshop based on the work of Kathleen Adams. www.journaltherapy.com. Darlene is a Certified Instructor.

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Phases of Learning Needs and Resource Assessment


I find that sometimes Learning Needs and Resource Assessment (LNRA) work can be limited to sending some questions to the people coming to a course/learning event. In my experience, it's helpful to see LNRA work in phases. How does this strike you? Here is a chart that depicts my thoughts on this topic. What would you add, delete, change, or suggest I reconsider? What do you find in your work? Phases & Strategies of a Learning Needs and Resource Assessment

Phase One


There’s a problem or vision for which you’ve been asked to design training

Phase Two

Piloted Design Ready to be Launched

Phase Three

During Learning Event

Phase Four

Following Learning Event

Cycles of:

  • Ask
  • Study
  • Observe

Cycles of piloting (see Phase Three); suggest a minimum of two cycles.

Ultimately resulting in a design led by teacher that “teaches” what is needed and promised.

ASK: Connecting with the real people who will be coming to your workshop/course through email, phone and other mediums (read Tips and Tools May 2011).

What else might you need to do (STUDY, OBSERVE) in order to feel confident that your design and teaching are engaging, immediate (useful) and relevant for this specific group? Do you have examples in mind that are directly related to the learners’ lived experience? If not, what will you?

The type and quality of dialogue that is ideally present in a learning event using the Dialogue Education approach, means that throughout the course you and the learners will be asking, studying and observing for what needs to be modified, said, seen or otherwise to increase the learning for you and the learners.

The teacher is accountable for designing and teaching in ways that ensure the Achievement-based objectives are met. The learners are responsible for their learning.

In this Phase, we are using the feedback from the learners, our assessment of the course, and feedback from whoever (or whatever) has been put into place to determine what changes are actually happening back at work or at home.*  ** 

*When data is identified ahead of time (indicators of learning) and gathered during the event, this information can be evaluated for level of effectiveness, quality, etc. and taken into account for any needed changes in the design. **One time in-services or events in an ideal world are tied to the overall objectives of the organization, business, department, or program (for example: professional development), and are assessed and evaluated as it relates to the whole initiative.

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