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

A Structure for Effective Check-Ins*

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While facilitating a day-long or week-long learning event, setting aside some time for a “check-in” can give participants the pause they need to process and prepare for what’s next. It allows them to reflect, re-energize, and reconnect before jumping back into a challenging sequence of learning tasks or agenda items. Yet too often, check-ins drift away from their intended purpose. One stray comment can derail the dialogue into a series of seemingly endless rabbit trails. This has led some facilitators to abandon the practice of formal check-ins altogether.

The solution is not to stop checking in. We can’t dismiss the importance of taking a moment to re-center in the middle of a long learning event or meeting. An effective check-in invites participants to evaluate how they are doing mentally, emotionally, relationally, and physically, both for their own sake and for the sake of the group. It can help them achieve their maximum level of engagement and learning by freeing them from what may be restricting or hindering them to explore or share fully.

The following is a simple structure you can use to check-in with participants between long learning tasks or agenda items, or at the beginning or end of a difficult day.

  1. Share one word that captures how you are feeling right now. For example: Restless.
  2. Summarize why you chose this word, and what that means for your learning and our time together today. For example: I’ve been exposed to some intriguing ideas today, but I’m anxious to see if they will actually work in my own context. I’m also a little restless due to sitting for so long.
  3. Conclude your update with one of the following statement          

I would like to be encouraged.

I would like to be challenged.

I would like to be encouraged and challenged.

I’ll pass.

  1. Receive encouragements or challenges others have for you.This process creates an environment where each member has an opportunity to self-reflect, share honestly, and invite input from others. Leaders gain valuable feedback, and participants are given permission to speak comforting or uncomfortable truths as needed. This practice also promotes accountability as people follow up on challenges to see if they have been completed. In this way, check-ins can catalyze groups to gain momentum into greater learning.

Effective check-ins are:

  • Safe, not stressful. Fully listen to each person’s check-in. Let your total attention be an act of love and acceptance. Don’t let people give advice during this time.
  • Transparent, but not too long. Authentic sharing takes time. But especially in a large group, check-ins can swallow up the majority of your meeting if left without limits. The structure above provides parameters for purposeful, succinct sharing.
  • Short, but not shallow. If check-ins are kept short, it might be difficult to go below the surface level. Think of the check-in as a summary of emotions and experiences related to your learning process.
  • Encouraging. If the person checking in would like to be encouraged, offer words of affirmation and support. Notice any signs of improvement you have observed. The more specific the encouragement, the better.
  • Challenging. If the person checking in would like to be challenged, offer a challenge. Make sure it’s both measurable and doable, and record it so that you can follow up later if appropriate. Then, give the person permission to accept or reject your challenge.

When you put these principles into practice, you’ll create an environment for learning where participants feel acknowledged, heard, supported, and challenged. You’ll receive real-time information about the emotions and experiences of the learners in the room, both individually and corporately. Ultimately, pausing for a check-in prepares participants and facilitators alike to re-engage more energetically and attentively in the tasks ahead!

What type of check-ins have you found helpful in your work?

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Andrew A. Boa (MA, Wheaton College Graduate School) is the author of Redeemed Sexuality (2017). He lives in California with his wife and young daughter.

*Adapted from Redeemed Sexuality by Andrew A. Boa. ©2017. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL, 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com.

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Shared Power: Differences in Dialogue with Children and Adults

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“Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children?”​

I heard this question many times as a graduate student, but never thought I would have to answer it myself. I had no idea I would soon be working as an Afterschool Teacher with a diverse group of eighteen 4th and 5th grade students. This job forced me to reevaluate the lessons I learned as a student and practitioner of Dialogue Education and a learning-centered approach. Every day, amidst the chaos of my classroom, I thought to myself:  “Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children—especially these kids?”

By daily asking this question, I began to live my way into an answer; an answer that has fundamentally changed my understanding of dialogue, and my understanding of power.

When I first encountered Dialogue Education, I thought it was all about letting go of power. The teacher, forsaking professorial domination in pursuit of real dialogue, becomes a co-learner and creates space for learners to discover their own power. Then the teacher “gets out of the way,” relinquishing power to learners until the process is complete in an event called “the death of the professor.” In my mind, Dialogue Education invited me to let go of power as a teacher for the sake of learners and their learning, as an act of love.

Then, at my new job, I received the opposite advice: I was instructed to hold on to control as much as I could. “These kids are tough,” more experienced teachers told me. “They will push you around if you let them, so they need to know you are in control.” As much as I cringed at this advice, these teachers knew what they were talking about. The more power I let go of, the more my students took advantage of it. When I didn’t hold on to control, students would cause problems for each other and someone would get hurt. When I held on to as much control as I could, I protected students from each other, and from themselves. This, too, was an act of love.

And yet I was not content to dictate classroom dynamics, even if it led to increased order and productivity. I still believed in dialogue as well as a learning-centered approach to teaching. So I did not forsake Dialogue Education, but wrestled to re-contextualize the principles and practices for a rowdy crowd of elementary students. In doing so, I realized how Dialogue Education is not mainly about letting go of power, nor is it about holding on to control: it is about using power well so that it can be shared, which may mean letting go of power or holding on to control, depending on the situation.

This has changed the way I employ the principles and practices of Dialogue Education as taught by Global Learning Partners. Take the principle of “Safety,” for example. Sometimes, safety requires “getting out of the way” to allow softer voices to be heard. Other times, safety requires “getting in the way” to prevent louder voices from dominating. Or take the principle of  “Respect.” Sometimes, respect means allowing learners to make their own decisions. Other times, respect requires taking away this privilege when they are actively disrespecting one another with harmful words and actions. In my own class, I learned that cultivating safety and respect does not only require a soft heart; it also requires thick skin.

So, what does Dialogue Education look like with children?

It still looks like applying the principles and practices, only with younger learners who often require power to be used differently for dialogue to emerge. Ultimately, this points to the necessity of a learning needs and resources assessment, and the importance of the “WHO” in every learning situation. Before we can say what Dialogue Education looks like with children, we must ask, “Which children?”

With the children in my class, I first had to close the space so that learners could safely and respectfully engage without yelling and flying objects getting in the way. Only then could dialogue emerge. In other words, I had to use my power in such a way that this specific group of learners could use theirs. On the occasions when I succeeded, the result was an environment of giving and receiving what one another had to offer—a power that was shared, even enjoyed.

As teachers, we need to ask ourselves what will maximize learning in each situation. My goal now is not always letting go of my power, nor is it holding on to control—it is to use my power well, for and with the specific learners in the room. The principles and practices of Dialogue Education call us to use our power well and intentionally so that others can use theirs, until the power of every learner can be shared in love.

What other learning-centered principles and practices have you found to be effective with children?

How may this be different or the same when working with youth?

*****

Drew Boa works at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. He is in the process of publishing a curriculum for youth about sexual health and wellness, which he began designing while taking "Advanced Learning Design" with Global Learning Partners. He loves Dialogue Education and is a daily practitioner!

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