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

Posts tagged with "Jane Vella"

Tracing: From Decision Back to Principles and Practices

After completing the Foundations of Dialogue Education course in Vermont with Michael Culliton, Peter Perkins and Kate LaRose, Rev. Christine MacDowall kindly flew down to Raleigh to spend a week with me. Imagine!

Christine had flown from Melbourne, Australia to Vermont to take the course, after having read a few of my books and realizing how dialogue in her educational practices as a pastor would be very useful to her congregation and to herself!  

On my back porch we laughed, ate, told a thousand stories and worked hard. Christine wanted to apply the system she had just learned and practiced to her pastoral context. “I see a number of moving parts,” she told me. “I need to see them all working together.”

“What can I do to enable Christine to put all this together,” I wondered. 

I woke one morning with the idea of TRACING – moving from the experience Christine had just had back to the principles and practices of Dialogue Education. The learning task was this: 

Read aloud the first learning task Michael and Peter set for you in the course. Look at all the principles and practices cards spread out on the table. Name one of those that might have guided Michael and Peter as they composed that first learning task.

Christine immediately saw a principle she could trace the learning task back to, and then recognized there were three or more principles and practices that could have informed the designers’ decisions.

“It seems when you use one, you use them all!” She smiled at her own wise observation. “It is an iterative system!”

We went on through five or six or more learning tasks from her experience in the course, tracing each back to principles and practices:  sequence, engagement, small group work, reflection, praxis… “Aha!” she said, “I see.”          

How can you use tracing to check your design work or maximize impact?


Dr. Jane Vella is a celebrated author, educator and founder of Global Learning Partners. 

School of the 80s: Learning from Leisure, Experience, and Vulnerability

I’ve been in school, one way or the other, on both sides of the desk for the past eighty years. I have never been in a school where my learning was so delightful, my appetite for it so voracious, my joy in it so deep – as this “School of the 80s.”  

As I tried to understand why this is happening, I thought of three factors that go with my being 86 years old.   

  1. I have exquisite LEISURE
  2. I have long experience to use as a base for new learning
  3. I have new VULNERABILITY

Look forward to this decade, all you young’uns. You will be amazed!


I remember when Julius Nyerere, first President of Tanzania, published the paper “Education for Self-Reliance” (published in 1967). The paper emphasized practicality, relevance and immediacy. “Teach them something they can use NOW,” Nyerere appealed to Tanzanian educators.  

Sister Margaret Rose, the wise and saintly woman who was the Founder of Marian University College where I was teaching at the time, argued with her friend Julius: “Without enough leisure, the girls will not learn!” 

Sixty years later, I see that in my life. Learning and leisure are partners.

A parallel invitation, from Father Robert of St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, NC is: “Put silence in.” Robert does that himself in the liturgy, before his sermon, and in conversation. “Put silence in.” Hmmm, silence in dialogue? Yes!


I look back on the experience of my life with awe, thanks and praise. Every event – joyful, tragic, comic, sad – has the Grace of God in it. I can see that now and expect the next event to be so touched. That new appreciation of my experience makes it a useful base for new learning.

The learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA) and the first of the 4A model for design learning tasks (Anchoring/inductive work) - moving from the particular context of the learner to the general new skill, knowledge or attitude - both serve the use of past experience.  


I walk slowly. I tell friends: “Don’t walk behind me. I just may just slip into reverse!” I need help with some basic tasks around the house! I forget stuff! I am vulnerable.

So, I have to ask for help and that has evoked a new Jane. I like her! I respect my vulnerability as an exquisite gift which shows a human, needy old lady who trusts friends to respond. They do! Oh, my, they do!

Somehow this relates to my capacity for learning – I am not sure how, but it does. I see perspectives that are different from mine with new empathy, and awareness that I might just need such a new perspective at this point in my life. 

Come and have a leisurely cup of tea on the back porch with the old vulnerable lady who has a store of stories for you from her rich experience and new learning!


How much LEISURE do you invite your learners to in your learning events?

How do you use what you know about your learners’ EXPERIENCE – past and present – to shape engaging, challenging, and relevant learning tasks?

How can you celebrate your own VULNERABILITY at any age, so you gladly ask for help?

* * * * * * *

Dr. Jane Vella is a celebrated author, educator and founder of Global Learning Partners. 

Cognitive, Affective, Psychomotor: The True, the Good and the Beautiful

Not in that order: but do you see the connection?

I was stunned, reading William Isaacs’ 1999 book Dialogue: And the Art of Thinking Together to discover the correlation between our well-tested axiom “learning is always cognitive, affective and psychomotor” and the classic theme of the true, the good and the beautiful. I had never seen that before!

To the ancient Greeks, human society was characterized by three value activities:  the pursuit of objective understanding, the subjective experience of beauty, and the shared activity of coordinated and just action. They called these three the True, the Beautiful, and the Good. p13

But of course! 

James E. Zull in The Art of Changing the Brain showed us how effective epistemology is rooted in biology. We learn as embodied men and women, boys and girls, as neuroscience literally unfolds the magnificence of the structure and processes of the brain.

I breathe a sigh of thanks and praise to the Creator; then laugh out loud in joy as more and more corroborates of the basic principles and practices of using dialogue in education are manifested. Yes!

It’s true and good and beautiful!   

What have you read lately about teaching, learning or the brain that had you pause?


Dr. Jane Vella is a celebrated author, educator and founder of Global Learning Partners.

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #17

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 16 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Reviewing the Twelve Principles and Quantum Thinking

This is a great chapter, offering a multitude of examples featuring all of the principles and the entire quantum thinking concepts. This chapter can be read again and again!

Some great lines from Chapter Sixteen:

  • “Respect for the who informs our designs in dialogue education.” p227
  • “It takes time for roles to change and for safety to work its magic towards honest dialogue.” p230
  • “…the root of [the word] doctor is the Latin verb docere, which means ‘to teach.’” p231
  • “Praxis—action with reflection—is more than practice.” p232
  • “When you invite ‘a chorus of conversations’ in lieu of your own monologue, when you invite learners to find their own voice and not listen only to yours, you invite a quantum leap into learning.” p238
  • “Our job in adult education is not to cover a set of course materials, but to engage adults in effective and significant learning.” p238


You did it! You spent some Tuesdays with Jane and reviewed Learning to Listen Learning to Teach. Tell me, please, what use this has been to you.

Thank y’all!

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #16

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 15 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Accountability:  Knowing How They Know They Know

Chapter Fifteen is the story of a tough situation in Bangladesh at the Diarrheal Disease Hospital. It was an almost impossible situation:  trying to teach busy physicians a new way of teaching in a ridiculously short period of time. Everything seemed to preclude any accountability!

 Some great lines from Chapter Fifteen:

  • “[The doctors] gave their time to this educational program because they knew their present paradigm was not working.” p214
  • “I had come to teach and knew I would stay to learn.” p215
  • “If [the doctors] wanted esoteric language and studied complexity, they had the wrong teacher.” p219
  • “[The doctors] themselves asked for more hours each day. This itself was an indicator of learning.” p222
  • “…there are three things that make accountable learning happen: time, time and time.” p222


Speculate. What do you think happened to those twelve doctors without any system for reinforcing and supporting their learning? 

What is your opinion of my statement on page 222: “Today I am convinced that single events such as this course in Bangladesh are somewhat futile.”

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #15

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 14 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Engagement:  Learning Actively

Hospice has long been one of my favorite organizations. This chapter shows the remarkable, inclusive engagement of staff at a large hospice as they made a necessary new strategic plan.

I noticed that the question So What on page 210 has become the new eighth step of the Design Steps: naming indicators of learning, transfer and impact: So That!

I like the review of the quantum principles on page 211—inviting readers to relate these to engagement.

Some great lines from Chapter Fourteen:

  • “[The Hospice Director] was determined to make the planning process inclusive by engaging as many staff and board and community members as possible.” p204
  • “The distinction [between a consultative voice (suggestions) and a deliberative voice (decisions)] clarifies each person’s role and invites creative thinking.” p205
  • “The design, and our relentless implementation of it, demanded intense engagement.” p210


Bryson’s text on strategic planning provides a useful framework. What one thing did you see us do in this chapter to make that framework work towards inclusive dialogue?

How have you used dialogue in your designing and teaching your particular content?  What one thing do you do to engage all learners as fully as possible?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #14

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 13 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Teamwork:  Celebrating Learning Together

This chapter celebrates the transformation of young, war-scarred soldiers into laughing, joyful teachers of literacy to their adult compatriots. Reading it again brought back to me the awe I felt as I faced these young men and women, newcomers to civilian life, hungry for meaningful work and for a paying job, ready to learn!

When they all broke spontaneously into The Soldiers’ Song (page 198) I was not the only one with tears in my eyes. They had learned teamwork in the life and death environment of their war years; now teamwork would serve them as they became peacemakers through the living words they taught. 

I remembered thinking that “Tainie” Mudondo was in fact, a giant of a woman.

Some great lines from Chapter Thirteen:

  • “…’The observer is part of what she observes.’” p193
  • “I called on my newfound awareness of my role as a consultant with a consultative voice and discovered the joy of detachment.” p194
  • “A lesson from all this is the need for a team to form its own consensus over time and  become a unit with an integrated focus.” p196
  • “The heart of the matter lay in the meaning and potential of the dialogue that would have to occur among team members and between literacy coordinators and the adult student.” p197
  • “The people of Zimbabwe did not simply need to learn to read and write; they needed to learn to work together as members of village and community teams to create their new nation.” p199


In light of what you now know, name one thing we could have done to create a structure for continuing education and training of the community literacy coordinators. 

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #13


(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 12 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Assuming New Roles for Dialogue:  Embracing the Death of the Professor

I remember being deeply intimidated by these two short workshops done at Maryknoll’s School of Theology in upstate New York. These men and women were top flight professors. When I heard that Richard Schaull from Princeton was coming, my knees buckled. Dr. Schaull had been invited by Paulo Freire to write the foreword to Freire’s classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed!

This short chapter captures some of the hard work done by these professors to change their deeply engrained practices and their perception of their role. 

Some great lines from Chapter Twelve:

  • “Modeling an approach to learning means being true to it in all circumstances.” p180
  • “We teach the way we have been taught.” p181
  • “[The professors] all remarked on the obvious need in this approach for preparation time, not only for researching content but also for designing learning tasks.” p186
  • “[The professors] do not have to die when the student ‘names the death of the professor.’  They have to do something more difficult. They have to live and learn.” p185-6
  • “…participation does not exclude personal responsibility.” p188


What one thing did you see these professors do in this chapter that you can do, and perhaps do today in your designing and teaching?

Why do you think I agreed to such a short (three day) workshop with the professors?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #12

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 11 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Immediacy: Teaching What Is Really Useful to Learners

Reading this chapter brought deep emotions:  some trembling fear welled up from the bone-deep memories of that experience, the joy of dancing in the classroom, and the love of those brave folks who worked in war torn villages. I remembered with tears the respect I felt for the American staff and the Salvadorians who worked with them and with village folk. It was an honor to be with them for that short time. I learned so much from David and Maria and Carlos!

Few situations evidence immediacy as well as this one.

Some great lines from Chapter Eleven:

  • "Since these folks and the people they served were in a daily life-and-death situation, everything we did in the six-day workshop must meet real needs.” p162
  • “I asked that we first design our designing.” p163
  • “This dialogue approach is a structured partnership for listening and learning, with clearly delineated roles.” p164
  • “Perhaps nowhere in the world of education is the power of the backseat driver felt as in adult learning.” p165
  • “…when a new person joins a group, it becomes a new group.” p168
  • “Since it was all occurring in Spanish, my linguistic disadvantage was actually a distinct cultural advantage.” p173
  • “In a quantum perspective, the context is definitive.” p174


What part of the story moved you most? What did you take from this chapter your own work?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #11

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 10 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Learning with Ideas, Feelings, and Actions:  Using the Whole Person

This chapter is deeply emotional for me:  the experience is still alive in my bones! I choked up when I read it recently. And it is about ideas, FEELINGS, and actions—how  about that!

There are stories within stories in this dense chapter:  about courageous honesty, unthinking domination, the intense experience of STARPOWER and the daring improvisation, painful recognition of an inglorious past and the kiss of peace. My own apprehension and lonely decision-making are at once a dark and enlightening frame.

This chapter has much to teach!

Some great lines from Chapter Ten:

  • “…on the one hand, they all wanted more clarity of their role; on the other hand, they were all afraid someone would tell them what that role was.” p152
  • “For the first time in my life I saw a priest cry.” p157
  • "Out of different cultural paradigms they responded differently, but with a unity based on nothing more than their shared humanity.” p159


Name some things you have done in your designing and teaching that reflect the power of this principle:  learning involves cognitive, affective, and psychomotor aspects… and the power of the stories in this chapter.

What do you think? Can a chapter in a book really teach?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #10

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 9 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Learners as Decision Makers:  Harnessing the Power of Self through Respect

The memory of those weeks in Nepal gave me chills of joy and excitement as I read Chapter Nine! The snow capped mountains, the Himalayas! The spirit of that group of Save the Children Nepal expert staff! The laughter in that dirt floored stable!

I think this is my favorite story in the whole book because it is dense with learning: principles, practices, examples, situations used to evoke new thinking, and new actions!  

Wouldn’t you love to talk to Durga today?

I must confess that I was in tears as I read page 145 on Ram Bhal’s design for the closure of the workshop!      

Some great lines from Chapter Nine:

  •   “The content of a course is sheer potential, waiting for learners and teacher to develop it to fit their context.” p130
  •   “Durga … pointed proudly to himself, saying, ‘Subject!’” p130
  •   “Imagine a toothache six days walk away from a dentist!” p131
  •   “They named the stable gaiko got: ‘the place of learning.’” p133
  •   “Education and training are only as good as they are accountable.” p134
  •   “’Talk, talk, talk,’ she had said. ‘All they do is talk, and we… we learn nothing!’” p136
  •   “Perhaps the best part of this dialogue education approach is that the teacher learns, changes, and grows.” p146


What struck you most in this chapter? What ideas, attitudes or skills from this chapter have you used in your designing and teaching?

Where is your personal gaiko got?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #9

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 8 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Praxis:  Turning Practice into Action and Reflection

Chapter Eight shows an almost impossible training situation in a distant island republic on the most distant small island of that nation. The diversity of the learners—from many different organizations—and the breadth of the mandate from Save the Children was overwhelming. Without the collaboration of Karen and Michael, I might well have given up! However, I made enough mistakes for all of us to learn a great deal!

I found many lessons for my present life as I read the story and remembered the blue-green water and bright blue skies of that island event. This chapter can be praxis for you as you read about and picture the action, and consider what you might do in such a demanding situation!

Some great lines from Chapter Eight:

  • “We do indeed evoke the world we perceive.” p118
  • “They knew they knew, because they had just done what they were learning. Their practice was becoming praxis.” p120
  • “What we did in the training room is what they would do in the villages.” p121
  • “When you do not know what to do next, admit it and get some help from colleagues.” p123
  • “Mustafa Hussein put it clearly: ”We see now that change is from the heart!” p126


Describe when your mistakes proved a rich source of learning for you and the group of learners. Why do you think the mistakes described in this story are so helpful to your learning the value of praxis?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #8

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 7 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Sequence and Reinforcement:  Supporting Their Learning

Chapter Seven is a poignant memory for me of an incredible experience with beautiful people. I was certainly the learner in this story from the back porch of a migrant workers’ shack in North Carolina.

Again, the principles of sequence and reinforcement were appropriately demonstrated in this situation. Many other Dialogue Education principles are also evident:  their respect for me, the engagement of the young man with the bloody toothache, and the kindly laughter that encouraged us all. The lessons they taught are operative in my life today! How can we create for our children events that bring them into intimate contact with the other?   

Some great lines from Chapter Seven:

  • “Prepare the field before planting seed.” p105
  • “If anyone were to visit our back porch language lab, they surely would have suspected that I, in my casual dress, was the migrant worker and the men were sophisticated language consultants from the Caribbean.” p109
  • “Some indicators of success in teaching are more moving than others.” p109
  • “’Reserve judgment, Jane, for the first ten years!’” p110



Describe a time when you realized you (the teacher) were learning more in the teaching/learning event than anyone else in the room!

Who is the other in your life now? Describe a time when you had occasion to meet the other.

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #7

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 6 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Sound Relationships:  Using the Power of Friendship

Dr. Margie Ahnan and I go way back—to a Save the Children workshop in Indonesia in the early eighties! We played tennis, drank wine, and talked into the wee hours when she came to visit me in Raleigh. Margie wrote to me once from Jakarta where she was doing clinical work and teaching midwives and doctors about the power of dialogue in health care:  The tigers are loose in Jakarta! Margie is herself a tiger!

This chapter is profoundly rich. If I had one chapter to share with students of education, it would be Chapter Six where many teachers speak:  Margaret Wheatley, Robert Sigmon, Dana Zohar, Thomas Kuhn, Kurt Lewin, Donald Oliver, and Carl Jung.

This chapter offers concrete actions, principles in practice that worked eminently well in this one situation. The Design Challenge expands these principles by inviting the reader to imagine further actions in his or her own context.

 Some great lines from Chapter Six:

  • “The power relationship that often exists between a ‘professor’ and learners is a function of a system where power is often used to dominate. Our efforts through education to build a world of equity and mutual responsibility cannot be designed without attention to the power of sound relationships.” p86

  • “…mutual responsibility cannot be designed without attention to the power of sound relationships.” p86

  • “The first sound relationship is with oneself.” (as quoted from William Blake) p89



Remember a time when you, as teacher, developed a meaningful relationship with a student. Tell what you recall happened for that student because of your relationship. Name some other principles and practices you have used to show respect to learners and assure their learning.

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #6

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 5 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Safety:  Creating a Safe Environment for Learning

Chapter Five presents a story that shows the importance of safety by describing what happened when it was not effectively used. I expect many readers have identified with elements in this sad story.

I like the summary of six learnings from the errors made in the program:  Adult learning and teaching is political, problem-posing, part of a whole, participative, person-centered and prepared.

I also like the recognition and description of the positive aspects of the program that featured the engagement and honesty of village participants in the dialogue.

Some great lines from Chapter Five:

  • “Adults have shown that they are not only willing but also ready and eager to learn when they feel safe in a learning environment.” p71
  • “We needed some quantum thinking about the whole!” p75
  • “We did not feel safe, as women in an experimental venture, and we projected that feeling onto the program.” p76
  • “The Swahili proverb tells it all: Kupotea njia ndiko kujua njia! ‘By losing the way one learns the way!” p77



As you read this chapter, what other ways of doing a learning needs and resources assessment in that Ethiopian drought situation could have been considered? That is, what else might I have done to get inclusive participation from the learners and the community?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #5

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 4 of Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Learning Needs and Resources Assessment: Taking the First Step in Dialogue

Chapter Four is an amazing true story. The heroine is Fatuma, rifle-bearing leader of the Afar nomadic people of northern Ethiopia!

Although this chapter teaches the usefulness of the practice of inclusive learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA), many other principles and practices are also evident:  relationships, respect, the use of visuals, engagement, safety, teamwork, critical incidents and hopefully the laughter of the reader at Fatuma’s strategic ploy to win “an outbreak of seriousness in the training room.”

I did go back to Ethiopia a year later, and was delighted to visit Fatuma and her people at their camp. They killed a goat, not a camel, and we had a great feast!

The reference to the Appendix which has a number of particular strategies for doing an effective LNRA in any situation was useful.

Some great lines from Chapter Four:

  • “Who needs what as defined by whom” (Hutchnison) is at the heart of the learning needs and resources assessment. p57
  • “’Don’t just do something, sit there.’” p59
  • “…the key [to adult learning] is the respectful relationship of learner to teacher.” p62
  • “The needs assessment, however, was not yet complete. What about the other definers?” p64
  • “The culture of the roadside is not the culture of the mountainside…” p66



As you read this chapter, what other ways of doing an learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA) in that Ethiopian drought situation would you consider? That is, what else might I have done to get inclusive participation from the learners and the community?

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #3

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 2 in the book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)

Quantum Thinking and Dialogue Education

I love this chapter! I like the way I made a quietly conservative selection of six quantum thinking concepts, and promised to use these concepts in analyzing and interpreting the upcoming stories.

I just realized that by making such a selection, I was actually manifesting quantum thinking:  the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the whole is in every part.

Why these six? Again, I really do not know:  perhaps they seemed to me fundamental and somewhat accessible. Their inter-relatedness corroborates one of the concepts:  everything is connected.

Chapter Two is too heavy on theory and even the promise of application in the stories does not help. Whenever I get a chance to write a new edition of this book, I will offer more examples of each of these familiar but elusive concepts: 

Relatedness:  everything is connected. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Duality:  consider either/or thinking

Energy:  it takes energy to learn

Uncertainty:  pray for doubt

Participation:  we evoke the world we perceive.

This chapter is short:  six pages! I may indeed have muddied the waters by introducing quantum thinking. I hope not. Every day I see evidence of these and other quantum concepts in my quiet, retired life:  I am more than the sum of my old, aching parts! The whole picture of my health is seen in a few drops of blood! My energy is renewed by engagement and exercise! My whole life is in this moment! Quantum thinking!

Some great lines from Chapter Two:

  • “…a constructionist perspective invites learners to develop the theory and practices they are learning in the light of their context.” p31
  • “…prepare men and women for the work of the world, not merely for work in the world.” p33
  • “notice how energy rises when learners are aware of their responsibility to decide.” p35



Which of these six quantum thinking concepts has been most useful to you in your design and/or teaching?


Tuesdays with Jane: Week #2

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read Chapter 1 in the book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)


Twelve Principles for Effective Adult Learning

Mmmmmm, I love this chapter! I like the way it integrates quantum thinking as it describes not only each of the twelve basic principles and practices but also how it anticipates for the reader the upcoming story.

Why these twelve principles? That is a question I have often been asked. I really do not know:  Twelve tribes of Israel? Twelve apostles? Twelve months in the year? Your guess is as good as mine.

They have stood the test of time in being twelve sound pillars on which to build an effective design for learning. They hold hands, one to another, corroborating the perspective of quantum thinking:  everything is connected.

Chapter One is boldly deductive, starting out with the bare content: twelve principles!  The hinted promise of particular instances (inductive work) does not inhibit the commanding stance:  from my experience I have made this selection. Listen to me!

Yet, I read a certain openness as well:  these are not presented as the twelve principles and practices, but as those that emerged from my experience as largely effective. On page 3, I promise fifty more stories as well as principles and practices readers can find in Training Though Dialogue (1995). 

This chapter renews my conviction that we must design with confidence and conviction, boldly stating the content we see essential. Learners will select and construct that content for their context. They will add to it as that context demands such additions. And so, we all learn!

Some great lines in Chapter One:

  • “In adult learning, accountability is mutual.” p13
  • Zohar: “The questions we ask determine the kinds of responses we get.” p15
  • “As subjects, we evoke the world we perceive.” p16
  • “Inviting learners to be subjects of their own learning is the practice of freedom.”  p17
  • Zohar: “You hear a chorus of conversations!” p22



Which of these twelve principles has been most useful to you in your design and/or teaching?


Excellent Engagement

I want to be challenged when I am learning by excellent engagement. By this I mean, I want to be challenged by a learning task that stretches me, moves me to deep reflection and critique, and pushes me to hearty implementation of new concepts, attitudes or skills.

Recently I was at a session where the teacher had all of us do “a little exercise.” No! Engagement is not a wake-up opportunity or nod to the principle that does not stir synapses and grow dendrites. I came there to learn!

As teachers/professors/facilitators/leaders, we need to design learning tasks that challenge learners in a delicately constructed sequence, and deal with significant content. These carefully developed learning tasks should welcome doubt and criticism, moving learners towards authentic constructivist application to their unique contexts. Joy is the measure, and you will see and hear that joy as teams of learners report their findings and their creations with laughter and renewed energy.

Today, every learner is sitting on a small device that has immediate access to all the information you as teacher or professor have to offer. Our demanding role, it seems to me, is to design that access so that their learning is useful in their context.  

Excellent engagement—nothing less is worthy of your learners!  

Don’t Tell What You Can Ask…

When my friend Maria and I get together, watch out world! Sunday, over a cup of tea on the back porch, we struggled with this axiom:

Don’t tell what you can ask

Don’t ask if you know the answer,

Tell, in dialogue

“How?” asked Maria. “How do you tell in dialogue?”

Swimming this Monday morning I found this response. How about considering two interfacing frames for “telling in dialogue”?

One is the Eight Steps of Design where the SO THAT behavioral indicators of learning, transfer and impact hinge with the WHY, and of course, the content: WHAT. Those behaviors (actions) are how learners learn the content and how they know they know when the session is over. The 

  1. inductive work, anchoring the new content with the context and experience of learners
  2. input: the content presented, (added)
  3. implementation:  learners doing something ( those behaviors** in a small group (action)
  4. integration: taking it away to their context

Designing the learning event, where you will “tell in dialogue”, you make explicit the bright hinges between the content: WHAT, the situation: WHY, the behavioral indicators of learning SO THAT and, of course, the achievement-based objectives: WHAT FOR: By the end of this session all will have… which are a foreshape of the learning tasks and materials: HOW.

These learning tasks are designed using the four steps to connect to the context of each learner, to present clearly the new content and invite learners’ interaction with that content in small groups, anticipating some kind of projection of that content into their personal context.

There is a lot of telling within these two frames. As teacher-designer I have the deliberative voice, deciding what will be taught/learned. This decision has been informed by my earlier dialogue with learners through the LNRA: the learning needs and resources assessment. The breadth of that LNRA has given me some idea of the learners’ contexts.

So the materials I decide to use in the learning tasks are selected with concern for the principles of relevance and immediacy.

Telling in dialogue is hard work from the very beginning of the design phase! It is evident throughout the design and in all aspects of the event.

In our Sunday tea party,Maria and I agreed that this axiom, which encapsulates the system of Dialogue Education, guides us to avoid too much WHAT for the WHEN. A careful selection of strategic content can start adults on a personal learning journey within their own context.

Download and read this example. Mark what you see as telling in dialogue. Please share your markings with me at jane@globallearningpartners.com.  I will share them with Maria!

The Praxis of Dialogue

One of my favorite axioms is: There are three things that make effective learning happen, in this order: time, time and time.

While the wry humor in that axiom always gets a belated laugh, the significance and meaning it offers is not at all trivial. I discovered the biology behind my simple axiom as I reread, with delight, Norman Doidge’s amazing book The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

Consider the implications of this paragraph from p 24:

Traditional rehabilitation exercises typically ended after a few weeks, when a patient stopped improving, or “plateaued,” and doctors lost the motivation to continue. But Bach-y-Rita, based on his knowledge of nerve growth, began to argue that these learning plateaus were temporary —part of a plasticity -based learning cycle— in which stages of learning are followed by periods of consolidation . Though there was no apparent progress in the consolidation stage, biological changes were happening internally, as new skills became more automatic and refined.

In our present school system we rush students from one 45 minute session to another, without any reflection time or periods of consolidation.  This lovely story of a dinner table conversation between a father and his six year old son captures this principle:

Dad: What was the best thing that happened at school today, Tim?

Tim:  Recess! We went out into the garden!

I see that Tim knew he needed a period of consolidation; he wanted to learn! He knew praxis: action with reflection long before he took the Foundations of Dialogue Education course!

How can we re-design our courses, webinars, or learning tasks to include what the brain is telling us it needs: a quiet time, a period of consolidation, the opportunity to reflect on the new information or skill or attitude we just met?

In Johannesburg, South Africa years ago, I was doing a course on Dialogue Education with law professors from the university.  My friend Tricia, whom I met at a Quaker meeting, sat in on the course to observe the process. I shall never forget her comment at the end of the first day: “That is amazing, Jane. Have you ever thought of using quiet?”  Tricia challenged me then to consider The Praxis of Dialogue.  Norman Doidge offered me today the biology behind it.  

  • When have you used quiet to enhance learning in a course or workshop? 
  • When have you given yourself a period of consolidation to ensure your own learning?

How to Stop Dialogue and How to Make Dialogue Thrive

We know from biology that fear incites the amygdala in the brain to pour adrenalin into the bloodstream, to give us the sudden energy that gets us out of a burning building. We know that while the amygdala is working, synapses in the brain are inhibited so we can focus on the danger at hand. No new dendrites grow in an adrenaline-soaked brain!

Thank you James E Zull and “The Art of Changing the Brain”.  So fear is a sure way to stop dialogue. “You stupid child!  You’re going to get it!’  Fear, scolding, laughing at a learner, shaming of any kind inhibits movement towards the frontal cortex and stops learning.  It is all biology, baby!   #1 Dialogue Killer: Fear 

My dear friend Paula and I sat by the fire one cold winter evening and considered what else inhibits those synapses, stopping learning, cutting off dialogue.

How about “BUT”? I offer an insight or a suggestion and someone in the group says BUT…dismissing my idea, giving 19 reasons why it would never work, kicking the amygdala into action.  Dialogue dies.  #2 Dialogue Killer: BUT…

How about what I irreverently call dialogue interruptus.  You are speaking and I speak right over your voice, interrupting any listening or possible responses to your contribution. #3 Dialogue Killer: Interrupting

How about “just”?  This is often a self-inflicted killer: When I offer my idea I say: ‘This is just an idea…”  “Hello, it is just me.” I have dismissed my own ideas and my own self!  # 4 Dialogue Killer: Just

How about “I”?  When Mary offers an idea, John immediately says: “I tried that once and it was a mess!”  Or “I did this and that” or “I can see how that would be difficult in MY situation…”  I, I, I.  Mary’s offering is dismissed by what Paula and I called the Greedy Grabbing Eye.  #5 Dialogue Killer: The Greedy Grabbing “I”

Dialogue is a gentle, loving, productive art and is both susceptible and vulnerable. It needs attention!  It needs a quiet amygdala (safety), throughout the room. It needs our preparatory work through the LNRA so we know as much as we can about the learners’ themes and contexts.  It needs some quiet time and always careful listening.

Dialogue thrives when I begin my response to your idea with AND, not BUT. 

Dialogue thrives when I let you complete your thought and never interrupt you. 

Dialogue thrives when I do not put myself or my ideas down.  Instead of “It is just me…”, “Hello, it is Jane!”

“This is what I think.” Instead of “’I’ just thought perhaps we could…”

Dialogue thrives when I avoid an immediate reference to my situation, beginning my response with YOU instead of I. “You must have felt frightened in that situation”, instead of, “I had a close call on the highway just last week…”

What other Dialogue Killers do you notice?  And what are the opposite behaviors that can make dialogue thrive?

Lavish Praise!


I had the great fortune to take my first Dialogue Education course back in 2001 at Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute with two facilitators named Peter Noteboom and Jane Vella. At the time, I remember it as a great course, but I didn’t really understand how completely transformative it was going to be for me in so many areas of my life.

The transformative potential was partly a function of how the Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach course—now called Foundations of Dialogue Education—built upon what I had already experienced as a learner, framed the learning process in an easily-accessible set of principles, validated the good practices that I had picked up from great teachers, and corrected some of the bad habits I had acquired in graduate school. But it was also because it was fun and I felt that I had the safety and space in which to learn, muff it up and try again. This was so unlike university!

In fact, on the first day, I was so excited by my learning experience that I ran up to Jane at a break and blurted out, “This course is so much better than the book!”

Jane took this exclamation surprisingly well. And rather than chastising for my back-handed complement, she graciously took it as a sign that I had found a way of learning that worked for me. She simply smiled, said, “Thank-you, Dwayne” and got ready for the next learning task.

I also recall being challenged that week by one of her many axioms of Dialogue Education: “Lavish praise”. I initially interpreted “lavish” as an adjective describing the type or volume of praise that I should offer learners. But being an introvert and someone who tends to be more analytical and problem–focused, this seemed alien to me. It was fine for someone like Jane who electrified the room when she walked in, and who exuded a joie de vivre. But it just didn’t seem like me.

Now that I’m an 11 years veteran in the parenting business, I’ve finally understood that “lavish” is more properly understood as a verb. And more important, a verb in the second person singular—the imperative! You (the teacher) lavish praise. Or perhaps even the French subjunctive: Il faut que…. You must! Thou shalt lavish praise! Even when you don’t feel like it, or they don’t deserve it or they are completely wrong-headed. Praise them for the effort.

As I see my kids struggle to learn new ideas, skills and attitudes, I’ve learned the importance of praising them for making the effort: “You can play this piece, Isaac. You’re working really hard to learn this song and you’ll get it like you did the last one. Just try that part again.”

And recently, I’ve started to remind my kids about how our brains are plastic, and that we can work to re-wire our brains through trying. The hard work that Isaac is doing at the piano of making his eyes, brain, ear and fingers work together is essential to forming new neural pathways. “You and your brain can learn anything, Isaac, just keep at it”.

Now “lavishing praise” doesn’t mean that I don’t correct my kids or learners in my workshops. It is still important to correct vital misinformation—“Those scissors will hurt you, Isaac! Stop running!”—but on less critical issues I try ask them to step back for a second, inquire why, and work with them to critically analyze their perspective. And then I make sure to affirm the effort that it takes to do this!

Yesterday we held a small tree-planting ceremony to thank Isaac’s grade two teacher who is moving to a new school. One of the parents spoke about how the teacher had a reputation for being tough on the kids.  But, the parent said, the kids observed that the next time they did it correctly, the teacher would always complement them.  Lavishing praise, reinforcing the positive behaviour.

I’m beginning to see that parenting and teaching are like caring for a tree: work with the good soil that you have, plant new ideas, add compost, mulch and water to help them grow, gradually expose them to the wind, cold and sunlight to strengthen them, prune them a bit so they can bloom more, rejoice in the sheer beauty that bursts forth….and very importantly, lavish praise!

P.S. Happy Birthday, Jane!


Dialogue Education Essentials: The Right Bit of WHAT for the WHEN


"If I only had enough time I could cover this subject!"

You may have said this yourself. And I'd be surprised if you hadn't heard other teachers say it! If the content of a learning event is worth its salt in meaning and significance, you'll never have enough time.

The fourth step of the 8 Steps of Design allows you to consider the time and timing for your learning event (the WHEN). It assures that you know how much time you have with a set of learners for them to learn the content of the event (or the WHAT).

We all know how easy it is to design too much content for the alloted time, or what we who use Dialogue Education like to call "too much WHAT for the WHEN." Skilled educators are aware of this danger to learning, and they design with it in mind. Less is more! (As a little aside, see why GLP Senior Partner Peter Perkins loves the axiom less is more.)

The end is learning, not sharing buckets of information!

It is skilled and difficult work indeed to select those items of content that are essential to developing knowledge, attitudes and skills for the purpose at hand. I have not discovered a perfect magic formula to avoid too much WHAT for my WHEN. But I do know it helps to be aware that too much content in a given time frame is a danger to learning.

And, to help you out with this challenge, my colleague Darlene Goetzman has written a terrific chapter (download it here for free!) about how to select the "best" content for your learning event in her helpful, downloadable coaching guide, Dialogue Education Step by Step: A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events.

All of this explains why this is one of my Dialogue Education Essentials:

Cuidado! Be careful! Beware! Attention! Angalia! DANGER!!!     


What tips do you have for avoiding this danger?


Join Jane Vella October 24-27, 2013 at the International Dialogue Education Institute for her plenary session, The Biology of Learning.

Dialogue Education Essentials: Verbs for the Learners

Verbs in the Learning Tasks Are for the Learner

My good friend Agnes took the course Learning To Listen, Learning To Teach years ago. She had a hard time, as a professor, moving from telling to teaching, using Dialogue Education. We walked around the lake in Raleigh N.C. many a time while I gave examples of learning tasks, explained what she was reading in my books, laughed with her about her keen sense of wanting to do this in her classroom and her frustration at not grasping it.

One spring afternoon, as we chatted amiably on our lake walk, Agnes stopped and turned to me.

"Oh, Jane,” she exclaimed, “I see! A learning task is a task for the learner!"

We danced the rest of the way around the lake to the tune of : By George, she's got it! (From "My Fair Lady," with Rex Harrison, shown above.)

One way to sure you've got it is to be certain that the verbs in your learning tasks are verbs for the learners; verbs that tell the learners what they are to do.

Here’s a sample learning task – note that the verbs tell the learners what they are to do:

  • Read and mark up the story on page 18.
  • Describe in pairs your best learning experience. Analyze it by telling one another what you think made it work for you.
  • Find a URL that will be useful in showing the form and functions of the amygdala.       
  • Create - as a team of two - a four picture cartoon illustrating the importance of verbs for the learners.

Create. Find. Analyze. Describe. Read. Mark.  All are verbs for the learners!

By George, she's got it!

Join Jane Vella October 24-27, 2013 at the International Dialogue Education Institute for her plenary session, The Biology of Learning.

Dialogue Education Essentials: Safety

The system that is Dialogue Education demands safety. Learners must feel safe with the content, with the teacher, with the environment, with their colleagues. The designer/teacher must feel safe with her partners, with her design, with the group of learners, with the environment. Safety is not merely a nice aspect of the system:  it is absolutely essential. The brain cannot work if you’re not safe; when the amygdala is churning out adrenaline because a person is scared, mad, or sad – at risk, in danger – then synapses shut down and new dendrites cannot grow.* No new learning.

Fear is never a tool or a condition for learning.

Safety throughout a learning design invites challenge:  Bring it on! Safety is seen in the beauty of the materials, the sequence of the learning tasks, the visible relationship between partnering teachers, the relationships developing in the small groups and in the large group, the setting up of the environment, the fragrance of good coffee or cinnamon buns, the sharing that took place before the event in the Learning Needs and Resources Assessment, the positive framing of feedback, the timing of learning tasks . . . in short, the whole design, the entire system.

Did you notice how these principles and practices cling together, and connect? The shin bone connected to the foot bone…We can dare to call this an organic system, the means congruent with the end:  learning.

*Thanks for the brain ideas, from James E. Zull’s, 2002 book, The Art of Changing the Brain.

Join Jane Vella October 24-27, 2013 at the International Dialogue Education Institute for her plenary session, The Biology of Learning.

Dialogue Education Essentials: Laughter

Today begins a new series called Blogging Towards Baltimore. Why Baltimore? Because that's where we'll be learning together at the International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013. Each post will help to set the stage for the Institute.


Dialogue Education Essentials

Lately, Dr. Jane Vella, founder of  Dialogue Education has been thinking a great deal about the GPS that keeps Dialogue Educators on course as we design and lead learning events. She’s challenged herself and others with this question:

What are the ESSENTIALS  of Dialogue Education, without which it isn’t what it says it is?

“Suppose,” says Jane, “we speak of DEE:  Dialogue Education Essentials. And when I say essentials, I mean it isn’t apple pie without apples!”

Dialogue Education, says Jane, is a system - a somewhat mature system, but with all the chinks and weaknesses of any system. It is growing and developing – maturing, really – each time we do the solid research that manifests the usefulness and effectiveness of the system's components.

Over the coming months, Jane will be sharing with us her insights into the Dialogue Education Essentials, beginning today with laughter.

We invite you to offer evidence that these DEEs have worked in your diverse situations. Such precision, says Jane, can only shore up this beloved, demanding, sweet and successful-for-the-learners system we call Dialogue Education!

Dialogue Education Essentials:  LAUGHTER

A Dialogue Education event that did not ring with laughter would be suspect in my eyes.

  • Laughter is a physical, emotional, cognitive indicator of safety, engagement, and the relevance of the content.
  • Laughter is an indicator of the relationship at work in the small group, and of the group with the teacher!
  • Laughter is an indicator that the amygdala in the brain, which forces adrenaline into the bloodstream when a person is frightened or at risk, is at rest. A quiet amygdala is a physical, measurable sign of safety and of many of the other principles and practices of Dialogue Education!* (*Zull, James E., The Art of Changing the Brain 2002, From Brain to Mind 2011)

Laughter is an indicator to me that the human beings involved in learning together are not taking themselves too seriously. It is God's world. Isn't it great to have been invited along for the ride?

My friend Paula Berardinelli read a set of short stories I recently completed.

"Jane,” she said, “some of those stories were so funny. You have a future as a stand-up comic!"

I had to be honest.

"Paula,” I said, “at this stage in my life, I'm afraid it will have to be a sit-down comic!"

What do you think about laughter being a Dialogue Education Essential? How have you experienced laughter during learning events?

Join Jane Vella October 24-27, 2013 at the International Dialogue Education Institute for her plenary session, The Biology of Learning.

The Gift of Knowing - Da'at

Gift of Peace

I learned something this week: Da’at is the Hebrew word for knowing, knowledge that is powerful, participative, productive.

Da’at is cognitive, affective, psychomotor knowing: ideas, feelings, actions interwoven and effective towards new behavior. Da’at is what the four year old is searching for when he says, “Me do!”

Da’at is the renewed and reformed consciousness that is the end of the means we call Dialogue Education. Da’at leads to peace.

We do not do the strenuous work of designing and leading Dialogue Education events for any purpose less than peace. When human beings know, and know that they know, they can use their human power to construct that knowing towards peace.

All of the scriptures of the world speak of peace as a gift and as the purpose of right living. The Christ said: My peace I give to you. Peace is a ready gift that is ours for the willingness to accept it. Every learning task we design, and lead, or do, can strengthen that willingness, and assure that acceptance.

The means is dialogue, the end is da’at, the purpose is peace.

When do you see da'at at work?

Towards a New Consciousness

Walter Brueggemann is a scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures. He says:

Moses was not engaged in a struggle to transform a regime (in Egypt ); rather his concern was with the consciousness that undergirded and made such a regime possible. 
                THE PROPHETIC IMAGINATION  p. 21

Reading this, I was blown away! I saw for the first time that our work in education is towards a new consciousness, not new regimes or new systems. The regimes and systems arise out of the consciousness of the men and women who build them.

Folks, this changes everything. I have understood the Berardinelli Theory of Impact (From How Do They Know They Know? Evaluating Adult Learning, Jane Vella, Paula Berardinelli, Jim Burrow), which we enthusiastically teach, as meaning behavioral indicators of learning and transfer, and systems change indicators of impact. The latter always bothered me because I figured I’d never live long enough to see this distant enhancement:  munitions factories closed, jails and prisons razed, universities alive with learning . . .

Now I am studying indicators of changed consciousness in myself:  joyful laughter at the puppy, frank communication, thoughtful speech, slower response time, colorful plates of food (lots of green), daily swimming . . .

Measurable, cogent, documented indicators of change in my consciousness as a result of learning. Now, watch the new systems arise!

So I had lunch with Paula Berardinelli and described this new learning: Yes! She said. Yes!

Dialogue Education teaches evaluation:  measurable, documented indicators of learning (behaviors) and transfer (behaviors in a new context) and impact (behaviors showing a new consciousness).

What do you think?


Bring this kind of theoretical thinking with you to the only remaining Advanced Learning Design course in 2013, in Stowe, VT November 12-14. Join facilitator Peter Perkins.

A Few New Axioms

SlowYou are going to have to walk slowly to keep up with me! is my warning offered to those who dare to go for a walk with me these days.

Another new axiom I am living by is Keep your eyes off the clock! Both of these speak to my predilection for “busy," for “productive," for “hurry up.” Hey! I’m retired: this is as dressed up as I get. This is as fast as I go. This is as much as I can do.

I’m afraid my cherished axiom – learning needs three things, in this order:  time, time and time! – is under serious scrutiny. Keep your eyes off the clock is more to my taste these days. Perhaps in our eighties we get to choose our favorite axioms.

Have you noticed how flexible time is: when I am doing what I love, time flies. When I am working at something tedious and somewhat difficult . . . the hands of the clock will simply not move! Love what you do and time is a delightful friend, keeping up with you and your current energy.

Another new (and somewhat related) axiom:

Dialogue Education works as a learning system because the teacher works so hard at designing it.

Abraham Lincoln said, “If I had eight hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my axe.“ That good man must have known about the designing of Dialogue Education:  long, hard, necessary work!

It is beautiful to be retired now and to be able to keep my eyes off the clock. It is also challenging for a man or woman to change the predilections and habits of a lifetime, to slow down and enjoy the sweet gift of life.

I expect I am (slowly) sharpening my axe . . .