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

Posts tagged with "Learning"

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. 

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

I could have titled this blog post “The Travelling Consultant’s Nightmare” but I’ve opted for “Turning Lemons into Lemonade.” This is a story of turning a bad story into a good one!

When you were a child, did you ever hear the riddle: What’s the most important thing to have at a party? Common answers included:  food, party games, balloons… but, the right answer was fun! The moral of this riddle has stayed with me all these years:  when planning something you care about, don’t get so lost in the details that you forget what’s most important.

Global Learning Partners, Inc. (GLP) was invited by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) to develop a learning program for INESC – a renowned organization in Brazil devoted to human rights and social transformation. The planning started about six months in advance and dates were protected in everyone’s calendars for a three-day intensive course which I would facilitate in Brazil.

We conducted a learning assessment, adapted a course on dialogue-based learning to fit their unique context, and had all the course materials and visuals translated into Portuguese. I had time to do all the little things that one does when traveling for work:  finalize my daughter’s camp schedule, make sure my husband had everything he needed to solo parent, pack a week’s worth of supplements and travel snacks, get a good novel for the plane, and gather some small gifts for the group. You know the drill. 

As an adult learning specialist who has consulted with organizations and communities around the United States and in 19 different countries for over three decades, I thought I knew what was most important when planning a trip. I retrieved my passport and GOES traveler card from the safe deposit, and carefully reviewed the itinerary I’d been sent. But, the day the uber dropped me at the airport (nearly an hour from my house in Rhode Island) and I went to check in, I was stopped dead in my tracks:  “What? A visa?” “Yes, you need a visa.” I was not going anywhere.

How had I missed that? I seethed all the way back home.

  • Was it globalization or American conceit that made me feel I could go anywhere, easily?
  • Was it too many years of travel that made me lazy?
  • Was it an over-reliance on others, including the agent who bought the ticket?

Interesting questions, but none of them would get me to Brazil. 

So, we built an alternative plan.

Two IBP staff had graduated from a series of courses with GLP and showed a deep commitment to the principles and practices of dialogue-based learning. We all agreed they were ready to facilitate the learning “on the ground” in Brazil. I was in awe of Alex Ciconello’s last-minute flexibility and skill as a facilitator, as well as Aideen Gilmore’s attention to both details and people. I joined the group each day and all day via a large screen. The interpreters were super effective at their simultaneous translation to and from me, via headsets. We were a mutually-supportive team and, because of the commitment to a common set of principles, it worked!

But, that wasn’t what made it good.  The good part was how my not being physically there shifted the dynamic and created space that I’m not sure would have been there otherwise. I listened even more deeply than I would have had I been in the room. I was forgotten at times, as the group passionately exchanged doubts and ideas. I watched and asked to speak when I had something to contribute. The participants talked far more than the facilitators did and seemed very comfortable voicing their disagreements with what was being taught. For example, at the close of Day One we invited their thoughts on the course so far and in all my years I’d never heard such critical feedback! They critiqued the examples we’d chosen, the models we shared, and the priorities we’d set. They underscored their commitment to the tenets of Popular Education – which grew from their soil through Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire – and questioned the connections between what we were teaching and that philosophy which they know so well. 

That night, our facilitation team made adjustments to the course in direct response to the feedback we received. First thing the next morning, we invited the group to express the essence of Popular Education in words and in sculpture (see images above). From then on, we connected what we had to share back to that philosophy. And, we did so in true dialogue.

Everything shifted – they engaged in the course content, and made it their own. I don’t know if any of this would have happened had I been in the room, leading the course and creating personal connections in the way I usually do. My distance – and the skills of those in the room – created a safe space for true dialogue.

Let’s toast to bad stories that turn good!


What training or facilitation story can you tell where a bad story turned to good?

Valerie Uccellani is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of its consulting network, as well as a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

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?

Valedictorian “Schools” her Teachers: A Sign of Learning

The valedictorian stands at the podium, in front of a row of beaming adults (I can only assume they are her teachers and administrators).  She begins with this fable of a Zen student who is disappointed when his teacher says it will take 10 years of study to find Zen.

“The student then said, ‘but what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast - How long then?’

Replied the Master, ‘Well, 20 years.’

 “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?’ asked the eager student. 

 ‘30 years,’ replied the Master.

 'But, I do not understand,’ said the disappointed student. ‘At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?’ 

Replied the Master, ‘When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.’"

The valedictorian is Erica Goldson. Her 2010 high school commencement address – in which the fable becomes a harsh critique of her education and the “educational system” -- went viral with more than a million views on YouTube.

A cartoon version made the rounds on social media.

“I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system,” she says.

 She describes her education as a “period of indoctrination,” preparing her for university, “the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work….”

She equates achieving valedictorian to being “the best slave” of the system. (see the full text of her speech here)

This particular criticism of the educational system is not new or unique. But it is new and unique to hear it from a cap-and-gowned high school valedictorian graduating at the top of her class.  I came across the video, as I prepare to co-facilitate Education 2.0: Teaching in a fast-changing world at University for Peace in Costa Rica.  I find myself watching the reactions in the row of teachers behind her. They stop beaming. They fidget; they cut glances at each other.  It is uncomfortable. I feel for them! It would be easy to interpret her words as a description of their failure as educators. That is pretty much what she is saying.

 However, if we reframe it – if we ignore, for a moment the whole subject of education, and instead focus on learning – they could easily celebrate her speech as evidence of a wild success.

 Here she stands, a high school graduate, delivering a thoughtful, eloquent and brave speech. She is able to take a step back from her experience, to question her own choices:

“While others sat in class and doodled to later go on to be great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker.”

She can raise questions about a system that has rewarded her.

“I wonder; why did I even want this position? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful? Or forever lost?”

She uses the platform they gave her to challenge them:

“You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system.”

Her very act, her questions, her comments belie her message – clearly she had been learning deeply!

Jane Vella is fond of quoting Paulo Freire, “Only the student can name the moment of the death of the professor.”  This is the moment when the student realizes that she (or he) can question, disagree, challenge the professor. It is evidence of the beginning of great learning, which is, after all, a solid reason for us to pursue great teaching.

Erica’s commencement speech points not only to the problems she met in her education. It also points to the possibilities she saw and used. The possibilities lie in keeping our eyes on the path, as the fabled Zen master noted. That path is learning.

What would that look, sound and feel like for you and your school?


Join GLP Partner Christine Little, Mohit Mukherjee, and talented and passionate change makers from around the world for this year's UPEACE session, Education 2.0: Teaching in a Fast-Changing World, taking place July 5-10, 2015 in Costa Rica at the United Nations mandated university for peace. 

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?

Your Brain on Ink

Neuroplasticity. Now that’s a ten-dollar word. It belongs in everyone’s wallet. Its purchase power underwrites a message of hope and inspiration. As Jane Vella celebrates, “We can create ourselves!”

But how do we create ourselves?  Where is the instruction manual when we want a self-directed course of study? How do we SNAG the brain (stimulate neuronal activation and growth)?

One answer is close at hand. Actually the power is in your hand when you pick up your pen and write in your voice. Journaling and other forms of expressive writing – personal essays, poetry, fiction, song lyrics – are all ideally suited to fire and rewire your circuits. Imagine 5,000 years of expressive language history – papyrus and quills – meeting cutting edge science!

A group of scientists in NYC who research the brain by day are firing and rewiring their circuits by night; they write songs and perform with their band. The Amygdaloids, named after the brain structure that has a primary role in processing memory and emotional reactions, describe their music as “heavy mental.”

Since most of us are not destined for the concert circuit, a notebook and pen can be our first class ticket. As we recount a story through sensory detail, process the nuances of emotion, and explore the dimensions of thought, our neurons are firing, our circuits are wiring and we are witnessing neuroplasticity in action,  guided by our own hand. Focused and engaged attention is key, for the brain takes the shape upon which the mind rests. So, where are you resting your mind?

From Dr. Dan Siegel comes the phrase “Inspire to rewire.” I invite you to use your first journal entry to write about what Siegel’s phrase means to you. I hope that your pen and journal help your mind rest in resilience, love and integration. 

Deborah Ross, LPC has practiced psychotherapy in Northern Virginia for 20 years, focusing on both individual and couples counseling. She studied neuroscience at the Mindsight Institute with Dr. Dan Siegel and applied her findings to a therapeutic writing curriculum, Your Brain on Ink. An avid journaler, she recognizes the healing power of expressive writing and believes that this practice can change the way our brains work so that we experience a deeper sense of well-being and greater resilience. Deborah is certified as an instructor in the Journal to the Self program through the Center for Journal Therapy and offers journaling instruction through workshops and private consultation.

Teacher as Neuroplastician?

It’s true, my friends! Teachers are neuroplasticians.

In The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, Norman Doidge M.D. coins the word neuroplasticians to describe those who – quite literally – change the brain.

I was frankly shocked to hear that until very recently we all believed a terrible fallacy:  that the brain was a machine…built to last but not capable of change. Our belief in such a significant fallacy moved us to condemn blind people and deaf people and indeed, ourselves, to the condition we were born into, or developed into as children, with the idea that the brain was set in stone. Blind? You’ll never see again. Deaf? You won’t hear.

Boy were we wrong!

Take a few minutes to watch this incredible video, in which Paul Bach-y-Rita, neuroscientist, teaches a blind man to see . . . using his tongue!

Today we know that the brain has innate plasticity: and nothing is impossible! We can change. We can learn. We can become what we dream of being. We can change the neuronal networks in our brains, grow new dendrites and be what we will. And – relevant to our work as educators, we can guide others to do that – to celebrate the plasticity of the brain by using it!  Learning and Change, indeed!

So neuroplasticians is what we teachers are; we use the brain to enhance and strengthen and delight the person. For example, we tell a story to begin our math class: the experience of hearing and imagining the story moves the learners to delight, to curiosity, to experimentation.

Engaged as they are in the story, they are ready to try on the relevant mathematical concept and its accompanying skill. They laugh together! They share their expectations of the outcome of their work.

They argue and fight for their perspective.  They change their brains!

And you, the math teacher, Dialogue Educator, are the brilliant neuroplastician who designed the story, the learning tasks and materials, who managed their time and task and responded to their work.

I must confess I am moved to tears by the power of this new insight, this revision of a dominant fallacy that has held us down for all the years we’ve lived on this planet, until now! The Copernican revolution, the printing press, the world wide web – were mere blips on the screen of civilization compared to this! Because of the plasticity of the brain, we can create ourselves!

It is a new world, friends, and neuroplasticians rock!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What ideas come to mind for you?

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

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


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

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

Drawing to Learn: A Journey of Self Discovery

Through the great Dialogue Education class Designing Learning-Centered Training for Peacebuilding at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University, I realized the importance of art in my life. The opportunity to explore myself through the use of colored pens and the paper-covered tables that course instructors Jeanette Romkema* and Marshall Yoder provided was a time of self-reflection. Surprisingly, my constant scribbles on the classroom table evolved into something that had meaning and depth, reflecting ideas and narratives surrounding my work. Visual collections of terms embodying my vision, despair, and hope for my country - it all helped me ease the burden in my mind and heart, freeing me to learn. It really was an experience of complex and profound “affectionate” learning.

The freedom to sketch on my table made the learning environment conducive to my learning. It invited and honoured my learning needs and helped me absorb the new content more easily, while still being in dialogue with my thoughts on other matters. My own personal and powerful experience in the course profoundly spoke to me of the effectiveness of such an approach. Now, as my visual creation hangs in my room, it is not the notes from the class that remind me of what I learned, but this artwork. Have I moved out of the traditional structure of teaching and learning? YES! I was one of those who filled notebooks with writing, thinking it was the best method to retain information. For some that may be true, but for me I now know with full confidence that drawing (free and uncontrolled) helps me express myself and reminds me of what I am learning.

This course has helped me find myself as a learner: not through text or notes that were given to me but through something I myself created in class. I now plan to enter every classroom with blank paper and coloured markers in-hand…

Menka lives in Suva and works for Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding.

*Join Jeanette Romkema for her next Dialogue Education class, November 12-15, 2013 in Toronto.

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 Value of Design: A Student and Instructor Reflect on Why It Matters

By Dan Haase and Kyle Tennant

 Dan Haase, left, talks with his student, Kyle Tennant.

“The design bears the burden.” This is one of our favorite axioms of Jane Vella’s. Our experience with this truth came through a college graduate course entitled “Teaching for Transformation.” Before the class began, we realized we had a major problem with the WHEN. Due to an unalterable work schedule, Kyle Tennant (the student) was not able to make the weekly required course during its slotted timeframe. The eight steps were completed. All of the WHAT, the WHAT FOR, and the HOW were written. Dan (the instructor) began to wonder . . . could the design truly bear the burden? Could Kyle still experience deep learning without actually attending the class? Fortunately, another student had the same scheduling conflict. Putting confidence in the design, and with an experimental spirit, Dan offered the course as an independent study wherein Kyle and the other student would gather weekly to work through the prepared learning tasks.

This is Dan and Kyle's conversation about the outcome.

Dan:  What was your initial response to our course?

Kyle:  I think I felt both excitement and trepidation. I was absolutely thrilled to be gaining more tools for my teaching toolbox, yet taking in all of the information was certainly challenging! While I was given everything I needed to engage with the content in terms of What, What For, and How, the documents were intimidating. A learner who is new to Dialogue Education (DE) will be confused by a single learning task; imagine getting a document with over 70 on the first day of class! But you made yourself available to me via email and telephone, which resulted in an increase in excitement and courage, and a decrease in trepidation.

Dan:  I know for me, I wondered how this independent study would work since you were not physically in the class where I was facilitating the tasks. It was good that you had a classmate to walk with through the tasks and without this I don’t think the course would have worked at all, due to the amount of interaction that took place in groups. What challenges did you face as the course progressed?

Kyle:  The challenge for us was to do the extra work of synthesizing the learning tasks on the paper into a cohesive unit of our own understanding. With in-person learning, the facilitator transitions learners between tasks, and ultimately synthesizes them into a cohesive unit. In Dan’s absence, we were forced to link the sequence of tasks on our own—we had to work to see the connection between each piece of new content and each task. This process was frequently awkward and stilted, but in the end it made for a deep appreciation for facilitators in the design process.

Dan:  How would you describe the role that design played in your learning, transfer and impact?

Kyle:  The axiom we mentioned  earlier – “the design bears the burden” – was proved true in that learning, transfer and impact occurred despite our facilitator’s absence. As we worked to turn these documents into cohesive pieces of understanding, we found ourselves “getting it.” Transfer happened intuitively:  as a pastor working with adolescents, I began to use DE in our weekly meetings, taking what I had just worked through earlier in the week and implementing it a only a few days later. Impact came when I asked students to prepare mini-sessions on a given subject, and they had me and my volunteer staff drawing, acting out, journaling, and singing about the given content.

Dan:  What suggestions or conclusions would you offer to those writing learning tasks when they will not be present to help facilitate?

Kyle:  A few ideas come to mind. First, do as Dan did:  be extremely available to your learners via email and phone. The lines of communication were always open, and we met with Dan frequently. Second, be sure to provide those learners in your absence with all the necessary materials—we received the handouts listed in the HOW at the beginning of each week, so we were able to keep up with the learning. Third, remember the power of a “tough verb” and a clear task. If your verbs aren’t tough, and your tasks aren’t clear, your learners can’t learn. A tough verb and a clear task needs no explanation! Lastly, trust your design and your learners. If the design is good, and your learners are willing, learning will happen!

What do YOU think about Dan and Kyle's experiment? What's your experience with "the design bears the burden?"

Dan Haase, a GLP Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner, is Adjunct Faculty and Internship Coordinator at Wheaton College.

Kyle Tennant is a graduate student at Wheaton College.

What Do You Think Causes Malaria? Asking Questions Appropriately

The other day I had a conversation with an international DE practitioner who really got me thinking. She said: 

The GLP approach is great -- I believe in dialogue and open questions to make dialogue happen. But, people also need information! Especially in the fields of public health and financial literacy, there are right and wrong answers to questions. The dialogue approach I've seen poses questions to which any answer is correct and that's just not always the case. It's not useful to ask "what do you think causes malaria?" The people in our groups are busy trying to make ends meet -- they want to talk but they also came to learn something -- not just talk. I'm not sure the dialogue approach is right for that.

Well, I agree with her wholeheartedly -- and not at all.

Over the years, I've also seen many practitioners needlessly pose questions to which there is a correct answer. I think people understand that engaging learning involves asking questions and as a result they can become so intent on asking instead of telling that they can go too far and ask what could more easily be told. For instance:

  1. How does the pill work to prevent pregnancy?
  2. How do companies calculate credit score?
  3. What is official poverty rate in your city?

Any one of us could generate a zillion and one questions to which there is indeed a correct answer. But these are typically not the questions we want to pose to learners (unless, of course, our learners are taking a test to pass an exam as a public health nurse, a financial advisor, or a worker for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

Dialogue Education practitioners need not feel shy about telling instead of asking. The trick – as described years ago by our very own Dr. Jane Vella – is this:

Don't tell what you can ask. Don't ask if you know the answer - tell in dialogue.

That's always been a tough axiom for folks to grasp in our introductory course. And, I dare say, it's a hard one for even some seasoned Dialogue Education practitioners to fully internalize. 

Here's how I might transform the three questions above from simple asking to telling in dialogue, with this axiom in mind.

  1. Watch this video clip that shows the action of a pill to prevent pregnancy. How does this alter your perspective about when life begins?
  2. Study this pie graphic showing six factors that contribute to credit score. Which of these factors do you imagine has most influenced your personal credit score?
  3. Examine this chart comparing poverty rates in 5 U.S. cities (adjusted for differences in the definition of poverty). What surprises or alarms you?

This was fun! It's much more rich, as a designer, to provoke dialogue around facts than to try and "fish" for information from people who came to you to learn that very information.

How might you transform the question "What Causes Malaria?" into a rich dialogue?


Valerie Uccellani is a Senior Partner with Global Learning Partners.

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.

Naming the Work: Employing Verbs in Facilitation

I collect verbs. Until recently I assumed I was the only eccentric out there, engaged in doing so, but then I was introduced to Darlene Goetzman’s Voracious Verbs cards for facilitators. She, too, collects verbs. The verbs I collect come from resumés and strategic plans, well chosen in those contexts to convey strategic and/or innovative activity: achievements in the case of resumés; future goals in the case of planning documents.

I use my collection of verbs in my facilitation practice as a way of getting participants to think about the work that is before them. I encourage them to think hard and out loud, to discern together the true nature of what it is they are trying to achieve. Undoubtedly a cognitive learning task, the exercise can also have affective resonance. We sometimes feel differently when we reframe the work. Think for a minute, for example, about the difference between criticizing an employee’s work and clarifying performance expectations.              

I facilitate visioning and planning sessions with public library boards and staff, and in that context, a shared experience of landing on the right verb can shed important light on the true nature of the work required to realize the vision. Imagine the shift, for example, from thinking about organizational change as being that of building a new culture, to growing a new culture. Choosing the right verb for the strategy leads to a more expansive and more realistic understanding of the tasks involved. Naming the work as growing a new culture leads to understanding it as gradual and incremental, as a process requiring nourishment and nurturing conditions. Had it been named as building a new culture, important aspects of the work might be overlooked, as well as unrealistic expectations as to how quickly it can be achieved.

In addition to my role as facilitator, I also coordinate a leadership development program for public library staff. That work has led me to pull together a new collection of verbs – some overlap with my active, strategic verbs - but new candidates, as well. In this case, I am interested in verbs that describe the work of leadership, in particular, the people side of leadership:  awaken, empower, navigate, listen, inspire, choreograph. I believe it can be an important reflective exercise for emerging leaders to think carefully about what it means to be a leader in their given circumstance. I think it might be helpful, for example, to reframe the work of delegating to that of sharing the work, sharing ownership, and sharing responsibility for making success happen.

The verbs we choose hold connotations, sometimes metaphors. If we think of our work as that of orchestrating, for example, we consciously or unconsciously, see ourselves as arranging and coordinating diverse musicians to create a single piece of music. 

I’ve used verbs successfully as both ‘Anchor’ and ‘Apply’ activities, depending on what I am asking participants to ponder. I find it a useful way to cultivate discernment and sense making.    

How have you used verbs to enhance your work?

Anne Marie Madziak is a library development consultant with Southern Ontario Library Service (www.sols.org), an Agency of Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

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!!)

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!!)

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.

4 Simple Suggestions for Better Meetings

I’m the president of a non-profit board of trustees and before I took the helm our meetings were primarily show-and-tell sessions:  the director showed and told and we sat passively and listened, contributing ideas when we were asked. That was then. 

Fast-forward to now. I remember the moment when, after months spent introducing some SUREFire Meetings practices into our group, I realized our board culture had shifted for good – here’s what I saw:

  • Every single person was up from the table, posting ideas on the wall;
  • An enthusiastic and constructive dialogue was taking place as people worked;
  • As facilitator I completely disappeared from people’s consciousness – this was their meeting!

To be honest, I don’t use everything I learned in SUREFire Meetings, one of the courses offered by Global Learning Partners, but I use just enough to make a difference (and aspire to use even more – practice, practice!). Here are a couple of suggestions, based on small things I did that made a difference:

  1. Prepare & Seek Input – E-mail everyone in advance and ask for their input on the agenda (feedback on the draft and additional items to add).
  2. Plan for Reactions – Know that people have reactions when information is presented (whether it’s invited or not), so plan in advance a specific way to ask them to react – people feel more comfortable when they know their role, so spell it out for them and steer them in the right direction. Ask open questions!
  3. Engage – During the meeting, break up the usual round-table discussion with small groups or pairs work so everyone’s voice can be heard. For example:  In pairs, describe the new policy in your own words. Back in the larger group, what are your questions about the new policy?
  4. Be Respectful – Start and end on time, with periodic check-ins during the meeting; it sounds so simple but think how often it doesn’t happen – respect people’s time!

What have you done to make your meetings better?

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT:  There's only ONE SURE Fire Meetings course in 2013, and it's fast-approaching! March 21-22 in Stowe, VT (still good skiing at that time!). Check it out!

Ten Dialogue Education Tips for Camping

Camped at High House Tarn Bottom

I am so passionate about Dialogue Education and camping that I just couldn’t stop myself from bringing these two together while on a camping trip in northern Canada last week…

  1. Arrange your chairs, or whatever you sitting around the fire pit on, in a circle to ensure inclusion and safety. Yes, the circle is a shape and space that holds power and mystery in any situation, even camping. Many indigenous people use a ‘sacred circle’ where something is passed from person to person in a circle, giving each individual an opportunity to share whatever is on their heart/mind. It is not a time for dialogue, but is a time for deep and open sharing.
  2. Go for a ‘walk and talk’ in the forest. Although the ‘talk’ part is optional, the walking through woods and on beaten trails to discover hilltops, beaver dams, and open meadows is not. The outdoors can heal even the most wounded soul or stressed body. 
  3. Get a change of scenery from time to time during the day to keep you alert and appreciating your surroundings. Just as changing the environment can energize any group of learners, moving from a walk in the forest to a cool dip in the lake to a warm seat beside the campfire, can be refreshing and invigorating.
  4. Use the 4As:  ANCHOR your boat when you reach a good fishing spot, ADD marshmallows to your shopping list, APPLY bug repellant during bug season, and do AWAY with any unnecessary items on your trip. 
  5. Keep your campsite clean and well-organized. Just as your learning event space will lead to more learning if everything is intentionally arranged and present, so too your camping experience will be more enjoyable and relaxing if your site is well-organized and clean. Nobody likes to climb out of their tent in the morning to find their hiking boots soaking wet from a night rain; and, everyone likes to be able to find the toilet paper easily when they most need it. 
  6. Show respect to your neighbouring campers. As any good DE practitioner knows, respect leads to safety, which leads to engagement, which leads to inclusion, which leads to … well, a shared meal of freshly caught fish of course!
  7. Do your 8 steps of planning:
    • The people (WHO) – Think carefully about who you are going camping with (their expectations, needs, interests, past camping experiences), for they will impact the success of the experience.
    • The reason (WHY) – Remember why one goes camping: to relax. So, don’t take too many people, too many things or have too many expectations.
    • The desired change (SO THAT) – Your desired change should be obvious: to come back more relaxed. That’s enough.
    • The place (WHERE) – Well, it has to be in nature or it doesn’t qualify: forest, trees, water, and away from the daily grind.
    • The time (WHEN) – Go as often as possible really, but at least once a year. Summertime is obvious, but the other seasons are also wonderful. I only have 1 tip for those of you living in Canada: avoid black fly season!
    • The content (WHAT) – For me I guess there are a few things: forest hikes, long kayaking trips, food on the open fire, sleeping in the fresh air and warm sleeping bag, reading a good book, playing games, and sharing stories around the campfire.
    • The objectives (WHAT FOR) – Well, you will know you did it when you did it! Yes, it feels that good.
    • The plan (HOW) – Don’t sweat this step, because over-planning will not make for a better camping experience. Just go with the flow and see where the wind blows – and pray it doesn’t blow the smoke in your eyes!
  8. Be flexible. Since your #1 goal should be to relax and enjoy yourself, you don’t want to feel stress because something is not working out the way you planned or the weather is not what you had hoped or the ‘right’ food is not around for the dinner plan you had. Just go with the flow and you will feel … well, more relaxed.
  9. Always take an appropriately warm sleeping bag and clothes. Although in a learning event you want to always start with a ‘warm-up’, when you are camping you want to end the day feeling ‘warm enough’. There is nothing worse than feeling cold (or wet) when you are in the middle of nowhere and you have 7 more days of camping in front of you.
  10. Less is more. You decide what you need less of…

Red WinePOST NOTE: Our first evening on our camp site this year my husband Peter was bemoaning the fact that he had forgotten to take a bottle red wine to go along to go with a wonderful foil-covered meal he had simmering over the fire. Just then he noticed our neighbour camper was enjoying just that, a bottle of red wine … to which I replied, “I have a Tip for that!”. Just have a look at Tip 6 in the above list – that would do it!

Here it is again, with more feeling:

6. Show respect to your neighbouring campers. As any good DE practitioner knows, respect leads to safety, which leads to engagement, which leads to inclusion, which leads to … well, a shared bottle of red wine of course!

How are you using DE on your summer vacation?


5 Tips for Working With Small Groups

Dialogue Education™ can work with any group size,  but may look different depending on how big or small your group is. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working with small groups.

  1. Continue to use smaller groups or pairs. Avoid the temptation to have all dialogue happen within the full group no matter how small. Learners may still feel reluctant to be the first to share with the whole group even when the group is small. If the group is quite small try splitting the group in two or using pairs for initial discussions and then hearing a sample as a whole group.
  2. Be prepared. Plan ahead if you know or suspect that the group may be small. Make sure that your “How” or your design will work with a small number of people. Adapt any tasks that rely on a larger number of learners.
  3. Use Energizers. Without the buzz of dialogue that comes with a large group it can be easy in a small group for the tone to become more subdued. Inject energy through music,  change,  movement and humour.
  4. Ensure all voices have space. In a small group,  strong personalities may become more overpowering and impact the safety of the group. Refer to the “10 Types of Learners” for strategies to respond to various learner personalities. Be sure to continue to invite,  not expect,  participation in group dialogue so that learners don’t feel pressured to speak up.
  5. Make it Safe. Small groups can tend to feel more intimate. This can be a great atmosphere for learning – if safety is adequately established. Be sure to create group guidelines together,  use a warm-up,  keep it relevant but light at the beginning,  and don’t get too personal too soon.

What tips do you have for working effectively in small groups? Share them below in the comments section. And if you missed it,  check out last week's post,  5 Tips for Working in Large Groups.


Want to deepen your learning even further? Explore our Advanced Learning Design workshops! It counts toward fulfilling the requirements towards becoming a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner.

The iPhone vs. Dialogue Education

How many of you facilitators want to frisk your participants before a learning event so you can strip them of their iPhones (or Blackberries or Palm Pilots or . . . )? No more sneaking peaks at e-mail during the warm-up tasks, no checking the weather while another team is practice teaching, no calling in for voice messages during the break . . . ah, wouldn’t that be fantastic?

People think that because they’ve spent years learning how to multi-task, they can easily pay attention to a facilitator, their iPhone, and their learning partner all at the same time. Guess what? They can’t. According to Dr. Earl K. Miller, Picower Professor of Neuroscience at MIT, you can only truly focus on one thing at a time. What we think of as multi-tasking is actually just switching our focus from one thing to the next, albeit with incredible speed. But what this means is that if someone is engaged in a group conversation while simultaneously texting a friend, they are really only able to pay attention to one thing – either they don’t hear all that’s said in the group or they send their friend a garbled text message. Dr. Miller says that one reason for this is that if our brains are trying to perform similar tasks at once – like communicating orally and in writing – our brain is competing with itself to use that brain function and it’s “nearly impossible to do [two similar things] at the same time.” And then, of course, the brain gets tired and overwhelmed.

Listen to this brief piece from NPR’s Morning Edition:  Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again. Next time you frisk your students, tell them you’re simply trying to provide their brains with an oasis of focus – a welcome break for their weary minds – in their typically chaotic, multi-tasking world.

Have you forbidden mobile hand-held devices in your classroom? Do you turn off your own while you’re teaching (even on breaks)? See the comments section, below, too, for a link to Dwayne Hodgson's post about how TO use the iPhone in the classroom!

Distance Learning - What Are Your Insights?

Isabelle on the phone

Distance learning ranges from totally self-directed to totally instructor-centered. From specific attention to dialogue amongst the participants to little or no dialogue of any type. From synchronous to asynchronous to a combination of both. And from no interaction outside of the computer screen to hybrids (face to face class[es] in combination with online work).

And, within every one of these different approaches there are many variations, including the technology and its limits. I've enjoyed trying on many different forms of distance learning, as a learner mostly, and as a teacher in several situations. What I love is that each experience teaches me new ways of integrating Dialogue Education principles and practices, if I let it.

Recently I was engaged in a course that combines telephone teaching, coaching, and accountability buddies along with recorded and written materials and immediate application actions. It was quite fun to release my need to decide what was right or wrong about the "teaching/learning" in order to learn and note what was working for me and where I needed to add actions or ask questions to support my learning.

I've taken some of what I've learned and poured it into a new distance learning opportunity, a Dialgoue Education course that GLP is excited to offer:  Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design. I hope you'll check it out!

In the meantime, what new insights are coming your way about distance learning? Are you teaching from a distance? How do you feel about it?