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

Team Building, It Doesn’t Have to be an Add On


In the International Budget Partnership (IBP), we have been working hard to embrace the principles and practice of Dialogue Education in all our meetings and learning events. Recently though, we have had to think about teambuilding or creating a network-dynamic through these events. At first, that felt overwhelming. Then, I realized: by embracing learning-centered principles and practices we are actually already working on teambuilding in our workshops and learning events without it being an “add-on.” Great!

Here are some aspects of design and facilitation we keep in mind to deepen the learning of the priority content we teach as well as working on building connections and a sense of team. Yup, double-dipping we can all love!


  1. Invite small group and pair work. By inviting participants to share with just a few people, all voices are raised, and meaningful and purposeful dialogue is shared.             
  2. Invite story sharing. By sharing our personal stories in the context of learning, we are also sharing part of ourselves. This is powerful and helps connect us.
  3. Sample personal action plans. We often have time at the end to reflect on our learning and decide what we want to move forward in our work. Hearing colleagues’ plans is interesting and helpful.
  4. Mix the groups throughout the day(s). It is human nature to want to stay sitting with the same people, even in an all-day learning session. Invitations to move to other tables is sometimes all we need to sit with people we don’t know as well.
  5. Mix the size of groups. Shifting from pair work to small group work to large group work keeps the energy up and helps deepen our relationships.



  1. Check in at the beginning. Most individuals are not ready to learn the minute they step in the workshop room. Opening the space for personal sharing before launching into the day can be extremely helpful to some.
  2. Use “we” language when possible. Language usage is important and can help minimize the sense of us/them or you/me. Using “we” while facilitating reminds everyone that we are part of the same team.
  3. Minimize "the single story." We never want to pretend to know someone else’s story or to speak for them. Reference specific stories and experienced already shared in the room, and refrain from generalizations.
  4. Offer tons of affirmation. Resistance can be experienced for a diversity of (valid) reasons: I don’t feel ready for what you are saying; I feel excluded from the group; I am confused and don’t know what we are doing; or, I don’t know why I am here. Affirmation helps minimize resistance.
  5. Co-create guidelines. When they are created by the group and agreed to by them, you can use it as a tool for ensuring safety and respect for your event.

At IBP, these tips continue to strengthen our skills as well as our sense of team. And, the good news: we don’t need special workshops on teambuilding!


How have you seen teambuilding naturally happen as a result of using Dialogue Education principles and practices?


Aideen Gilmore (agilmore@internationalbudget.org) is Senior Program Officer with the Training, Technical Assistance and Networking team in the International Budget Partnership. In this role, she works to build civil society organizations (CSOs) capacity to perform analysis of and advocacy on public finance and fiscal justice issues. 

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A Tribute to Michael Culliton - Living Beyond this World


Life begins with love, is maintained with love, and ends with love.

- Tsoknyi Rinpoche

Friends, this tribute aims to convey the spirit, courage, humor and brilliance of a remarkable man, Michael Culliton. Michael is a Senior Partner of GLP, a seasoned teacher, a thoughtful consultant, a wise mentor, and a lifelong learner. If you know Michael, you are a lucky, lucky person!

Back in the Fall of 2015, Michael was diagnosed with cancer. He wrote about it with rare honesty: One of the most challenging things for me to figure out is who to tell, when, and how much information to share. I find myself feeling really awkward.  True to Michael’s generous nature, he wondered about what was best for others, offered sensitive and light-hearted ideas for how to approach the topic, and shared what everyone wanted to know but may not have felt comfortable asking. In short, he knew:

  • The cancer is not curable
  • It can be treated and managed
  • In terms of time, I have years -- better than months, not as good as decades.

With his devoted partner, Bruce, and their dear friends, Michael decided to use his last years to their absolute fullest. He enjoyed trips he always wanted to take and brought love wherever he went. Michael also continued to bring his head, heart, and hands to a stream of challenging GLP projects – and made contributions to the work of diverse organizations such as:

  • Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, Home Weatherization Assistance Program
  • Collaborative work between the State of New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department and the University of New Mexico Continuing Education
  • State of California First 5 Program
  • St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center.

Even in just the last few years, numerous courses have benefitted from Michael’s empathy for his learners, attention to detail, and diligent research. He has built deep, collaborative relationships with clients and colleagues. While many people in their last phase of life might have chosen to sit on the bench and let others play, Michael has spent the last several years hitting home runs!

Last week, GLP partners and staff had its bi-annual gathering and, despite deep wishes to do so, Michael couldn’t join us. Instead, he sent us a note, some of which we’d like to share with you now:

I cannot tell you how delighted I feel when I think of all of you gathered to support the opening and writing of this next chapter of such a powerful organization. Buckle up and hang on to your hats, friends! I am confident GLP is on the edge of some major growth and exciting changes!


This same delight gives me pause in terms of writing this note. [Bruce and I] are feeling as though we need to pull back and regroup (like those little turtles some of us have seen at the lake when we met in Raleigh). This morning, during the meeting with the oncologist to explore next steps, we decided that it is time to enroll in hospice. This means I have [very limited time] to close out this wonderful life.

So, dear GLP community, we invite you to take a moment and celebrate the beautiful man who has brought so much to our field of learning – and, most importantly, to our sense of wonder and appreciation.

It’s a gift we’ve been given to share memories and appreciations with Michael while he is still with us. If you would like to do so, please click on “Leave Comments” directly below this post. You know that Michael would be keen to reply to each of you personally, but that will not be possible. However, he will experience great joy in reading your thoughts.

Michael, thank you for teaching us how to end a life on earth with gratitude, passion and love. You will live with us way beyond this world!


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Quick Checklist of 5 Tips for Engaging Webinars


What do you do when you have 50 minutes to teach a topic and your only access to the learners is a chat box?  Before you press send on your slide deck, check out this quick checklist that might spark a little extra engagement for the participants of your next webinar.  If you want a more thorough look at a learning-centered approach for developing a webinar, check out this post from Dwayne Hodgson Certified Dialogue Education Teacher.

1.  There are engagement activities scheduled before, during and after the webinar.

A participant packet sent out ahead of time can include a pre-webinar reflection on the topic, space for writing during the webinar, and a post-webinar suggested activity such as planning to talk to a colleague about what was learned.

Tip: Remind participants at the beginning of the webinar to print the packet and write on it if they haven’t already.

2.  Your webinar agenda slide lists what the participants will do during the webinar.

It is sometimes easier (or a habit) to start with a list of the items you want to cover. Writing down what you want people to do after the webinar can help you decide what they will need to do during it.  It can also help you eliminate unnecessary content when you have a short time with busy people.

Example webinar goal: Participants will use a new resource guide during the month following the webinar.

Agenda:  During this hour, you will

  • Examine how the guide can help you in your daily work
  • Discover how each resource in the guide can aid your daily process
  • Take a first step in improving your daily process

3.  Engagement activities help learners connect with what they already know about the topic, introduce new content, and apply it to their situation. 

The Global Learning Partners 4-A model (Anchor, Add, Apply, Away) is a foolproof tool for learning that lasts.


  • Share in the chat box. What good practices do you already do that have the most impact on improving your daily process? (prior knowledge)
  • Answer the webinar poll on your screen: Which of the tools in the guide are you most interested in learning about. (new content)
  • Share in the Q&A Box.  What is a next step that would have the most impact for your work in improving your daily process? (action or next step)

4.  Your slide deck includes graphs and limited text in plain language.

The adage “Less is more” was never truer than for webinar slides.  A quick search of “death by PowerPoint” can yield some good ideas on getting your message across with the least amount of text or with graphics.  Just keep going through your slides and striking out unnecessary words. Speak conversationally to your audience using “you” (see examples in #3 above).

Tip:  More in-depth content can be shared in a separate document; your webinar platform may be able to have it right there ready to download.

5.  Your reflection questions or engagement questions use powerful or appreciative open questions for critical thinking and deeper connection.

Appreciative inquiry deliberately asks positive questions to ignite constructive dialogue and inspired action. Small tweaks can add an appreciative approach to your engagement questions.   You may need to leave a few extra seconds of quiet time for participants to think before moving forward.


Open question:  Share in the chat box:  What do you already do to improve your daily process?

Appreciative open question: Share in the chat box.  What good practices do you already have that make the most impact on improving your daily process?

You can learn more about a learning-centered approach in your online learning activities in Global Learning Partners courses and our extensive collection of blog posts from our international network of practitioners, teachers and other experts in similar fields.


Rachel Nicolosi is a member of the GLP core consulting team and recently completed several client projects which required webinars to spread good ideas within a state and across several states looking to adopt best practices and learn from each other.  She says that having a practitioner on the webinar who has had experience using the content being shared is one of the best options for getting participants what they need to know to help them take the next step in applying the content.

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Active Learning Held in High Esteem at One of Nation’s Top Medical Colleges


The University of Vermont College of Medicine set a goal to fully embrace “active learning” by the year 2019 – and they are succeeding!

When the College received a generous alumni gift, they wanted to make sure to invest it in the most impactful ways. Their research showed that, in order to become the best medical school in the nation, they would need to replace their traditional teacher-centered approach with an evidence-based learning-centered approach. They are now a model for engaged, active learning. You can see it in their curricula, their space, and their overall culture of teaching.

Visit this site to take a closer look at HOW the College of Medicine is undergoing a transformation. Here you’ll find 1) a description of active learning; 2) reasons WHY the school is committed to it; 3) WHAT methods are replacing lectures; and 4) a video on the learning environment. As one of the nation’s oldest medical schools, facilities were built for a much more “teacher-centered” approach – but this video illustrates how they repurposed space and used technology to be more student and learning-centered. This is awesome!

We also recommend taking a moment to enjoy this short NPR Interview  with Dr. William Jeffries, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education at the Robert Larner M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  In the interview, Dr. Jeffries reflects on his own realization that lectures were not the best teaching approach. He offers a beautiful example of how to teach pharmacokinetics using this new approach, while acknowledging that the principles of active learning apply to all topics taught in the medical school.

“We’re finding out a lot from the neuroscience of learning that the brain needs to accumulate the information but then also organize it and create an internal story that makes the knowledge make sense. When you just tell somebody something, the chances of them remembering it diminishes over time. But, when you are required to use that information you are likely to remember it much better.” 

For more insights into the benefits of active learning on learners, teachers and community, contact Dr. Jeffries: (william.b.jeffries@med.uvm.edu). To discover more about what a learning-centered approach might look like in your organization, sign up for a Global Learning Partners course or some one-on-one coaching with a member of our core consulting team.


What does UVM’s experience say about how to elevate active learning in your setting?

* * * * *

Val Uccellani crafted this short blog. Val is a co-owner of GLP, Inc., a member of the Board, and a Senior Partner, as well as coordinator of GLP’s consulting services and certified practitioner network. Needless to say, she’s thrilled to discover places like UVM that are paving the way for a revolution in learning!

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Thinking Forward Together: Helping Organizations SOAR!


Why do 60 to 80 percent of organizational change efforts fail?[1] Most fail because they do not engage those most impacted by the change and therefore do not generate the energy needed to create the change desired. The practice of Appreciative Inquiry encourages us to: “Imagine an organization where there is a shared vision, and everyone helped create the plan to move towards that vision.”

Global Learning Partners Certified Dialogue Education Teacher (CDET), Jay Ekleberry, has guided numerous organizations through a powerful, Appreciative Inquiry-based SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) process. Through this process, an organization employs a variety of methods and connects with as many stakeholders as possible to:

  • identify current strengths,
  • name ways to build on those strengths, and
  • co-author, with its community, how those strengths and opportunities inform what the organization should aspire to be.

The shared accountability and commitment created during the process provides the energy needed for the change effort to have impact after the process.​

This dialogue-based process has been proven successful across a wide range of both for-profit as well as social-benefit organizations, large and small. One inspiring case study of the Thinking Forward Together process comes from the Wisconsin Union. Through the process, the Union worked closely with the broader community to define a strengths-based vision for their future and create results measures that they renew annually.

Recently, The River Food Pantry completed a SOAR process that included development of new succinct statement of their Mission (what we do), Vision (what we reach for), and Values (what motivates us). Using an appreciative and inclusive approach, the team named aspirations and goals for each aspect of their priority work together.

Data now confirms what we knew intuitively: positive emotions resulting from a focus on strengths can promote an upward spiral toward optimal individual and organizational performance.[1]

There are a variety of ways to engage in the SOAR action research process, from a one-day summit to an extended, multi-month data gathering effort. Each organization needs to decide for itself what will work best given its context.

Two things that make the SOAR process work for any organization are:

  1. Scalability- Appreciative Inquiry, and the SOAR process, have proven to be scalable to any size organization, having been successfully applied to small staff local community programs up to immense human systems like the US Navy and the Canadian national healthcare system.
  2. Approach- Every SOAR process should be customized for the human system using it – this is not a one-model-fits-all process. One of the axioms of Appreciative Inquiry is “as many people at the table as possible.” SOAR is best accomplished when an organization commits to learning the principles of the process and conducts the inquiry while creating a variety of engagement methods throughout the process. 


Who do you know that can benefit from this sort of process?

* * * * *

Jay Ekleberry has been a Certified Dialogue Education Teacher (CDET) with GLP for many years. Recently, Jay completed his tenure at University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he guided the Division of Social Education’s organizational development processes, assisted in student leadership training and directed a variety of non-credit programs. He is the co-creator of a two-day course “Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry” that he has facilitated for many groups over the last decade. The course (of course!) is grounded in principles and practices of dialogue-based learning as taught by GLP.

For more insights into guiding such an approach in your organization, or to inquire about support for that process from Jay, email him at jay.ekleberry@wisc.edu .

[1] Journal of Change Management, 12/2011, Volume 11.4

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