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

Posts tagged with "Teaching"

Re-igniting a Passion for Teaching (and learning!)

It’s been a year since I was introduced to the principles and practices of Dialogue Education. When I think about the four days I spent at the cozy Stowehof Inn in Vermont during the Foundations of Dialogue Education course, one memory in particular stands out to me. The topic was the teacher as a learner.


When Peter Perkins, our facilitator, made the statement “we as teachers deserve to be changed as a result of the learning events. There’s got to be something in it for us too.” I actually got tears in my eyes. That’s it! I remember thinking. That’s what I’ve been missing! You see, I’m a student at heart. You know the type… makes straight A’s, takes extra credit hours, and attends multiple conferences a year… a real school dork! But, my career had progressed to the point where I was spending hours a week training others. And by “training” I mean standing in front of the room spewing my infamous wisdom to those sitting in the seats. Sure, I was funny and likeable, and included “hands on activities” which people always seemed to enjoy, but let’s face it… I was talking and they were listening. And, we were both suffering as a result. It had gotten to the point where I could have delivered those trainings in my sleep. I was on autopilot and it didn’t matter who was in the seats on a given day, the training was pretty much the same. 

Since returning from Vermont, my colleagues and I have embarked on an amazing journey to bring Dialogue Education into our work. We’ve designed and facilitated a number of learning events using these principles and practices and I’ve been changed from each and everyone one of them. I’ve learned so much from the people who have joined me in the various learning events over the last 12 months and I’ve learned about myself too. Sure, it was scary to step off my high horse, take a seat alongside the learners, and open myself up to what they brought to share with me but I’ve found my passion for teaching again. More than anything I’ve learned to model inquiry and a desire to learn. Listen more, talk less, and remember that doubt doesn’t need to be resolved… these are the things I chant to myself during every event. As the facilitator, it’s not my role to convince everyone in the room of my point of view but rather to facilitate respectful dialogue around the expression of doubt so we can all learn from the experience. We are all giving up our time to be in that room and we all deserve to be changed as a result of the learning event. Yes, even the teacher.

What have you learned along the way that has inspired you?


Susie Kantz (skantz@unm.edu) lives and works in New Mexico where she designs and facilitates learning events for Early Childhood Educators.

Shared Power: Differences in Dialogue with Children and Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what does Dialogue Education look like with children?

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

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

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

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

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


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

An Action Package for Managers, Part II

In Part One of this blog series we shared a story about how Global Learning Partners (GLP) and pro mujer collaboratively built the skills of managers in the context of their day-to-day work. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the video about that process, enjoy it here.

In this post we briefly show how the structure and implementation of the learning program for managers reflect critical principles of adult learning.

To start, take a close look at the snapshot, above. The green paths are three, six-week periods of self-directed on-the-job learning. The red circles are four in-person gatherings, called “refueling stations.” Each of the carefully facilitated in-person gatherings:

  • is built on a concrete set of learning objectives that name what the managers will have done by the end of the time together;
  • balances action with reflection, allowing time for managers to exchange past experiences around a particular aspect of their work, and plan for how they will approach that aspect moving forward; and,
  • focuses on relevant content, prioritized through both self-assessment and outside perspective.

During the weeks of self-directed learning, managers used personal workbooks with a consistent structure to try out new skills on the job as exemplified in the box below. On the recommendation of managers during the rapid pilot phase, each workbook begins with a proposed timeline for pacing themselves through the self-directed learning.


Key Skills

Step One: Reflect

e.g. Reflect on which leadership qualities you exhibit most consistently.

Step Two: Discover

e.g. Read this one page resource about feedback and select one strategy you’ll use this month.

Step Three: Try It Out

e.g. Select three staff from whom you would value feedback on your work. Adapt this draft invitation for their feedback and review these tips for how to accept their feedback well.

Step Four: Plan

e.g. Use this action sheet to capture one thing you will continue and one thing you might do differently as a result of the feedback you received.


We congratulate pro mujer staff in Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and Bolivia for the collaborative design and implementation of a practical action package built entirely on the true meaning of “learning by doing.” This has been exciting work!

What ideas for “learning by doing” does this two-part blog inspire in you?


Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.

An Action Package for Managers, Part I

Do you sometimes find that training doesn’t stick? Watch a four-minute case study with a creative approach to taking new skills out of the workshop and into the workplace.


Keep an eye out for Part Two of this blog for a closer look at this work.

What ideas for your organization does this blog inspire in you?​


Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.


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?


Tuesdays with Jane: Week #1

(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 the Foreword and Preface to the book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)


The Foreword by Malcolm Knowles; the Preface (2002)

When we read the fax Malcolm sent in 1993 with his draft Foreword, my sister Joan and I wept. It is such a gift! This is a beautiful man with my friends, humble and abundantly generous. 

You will learn more from this book

than from any textbook written by me…

The Preface to the Revised Edition (2002)  

I remember the response of David Brightman, my editor at Jossey Bass, to my suggestion that, in this revised edition, we include the perspective of quantum thinking. “What in the world?” he wrote back. “Never! Your work is accessible and we want this revised edition to maintain that accessibility!”

Of course, he finally agreed, and I linked arms with Danah Zohar and Margaret Wheatley to show how dialogue in educational design and practice corroborated quantum thinking.

The response of many readers reminded me of my dear mother’s response to my using saffron and curry on our Sunday dinner:  “What a waste of a good chicken!” However, I remain convinced that the connection is sound. My recent reading of James E. Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain (2012) showed me that current research in neuroscience corroborates the conjunction of quantum thinking and dialogue in education. 

When David Brightman invited me to do this revised edition, I also said I would not change the stories or the twelve principles and practices. This preface makes a clear case for the stories’ diversity in cultures and the global usefulness of the principles and practices. 

Here are some delightful lines in the Preface: 

Danah Zohar 

  • “How can we teach multitudes on a human scale?” p.ix
  • "We must change the thinking behind our thinking!" p.xxi


  • “Notice The Thinker is thinking with his toes!" p.xii
  • "Prepare yourself for a quantum leap into a familiar place.” p.xii



What line moved you in the Foreword or the Preface of the 2002 revised edition of Learning to Listen Learning to Teach?      


Learning in Community: The Potential of Coactive Vicarious Learning

As the parent of a child with a developmental disability, I continue to experience the importance of “coactive vicarious learning”. I can explain things repeatedly, make detailed lists for how to do something, and even demonstrate whatever the task(s) may be. In the end, my daughter usually teaches me that what works best is to observe, ask questions, try it out, get feedback and then try again. Over time, she makes sense in her own way of what needs to be done and how she can best do it.

And that makes perfect sense! She is a different person than I am with different talents, challenges and ways of navigating the world. If I want her to really understand and “own” whatever I am trying to teach her, I need to acknowledge that my way is not the only way and to support her in bringing her skills, approaches and interests to the task.

It seems that what my daughter is slowly but surely teaching me could also be of some value to businesses and other organizations. In his recent synopsis of on-going research by Christopher Myers, Michael Blanding notes:

“Companies routinely expect employees to pick up new job knowledge through vicarious learning—through reading descriptions of tasks in knowledge-management databases or by observing colleagues from afar.”

Myers suggests this approach both ignores the critical importance of tacit knowledge and assumes “that the person undertaking the learning wants to duplicate exactly what the other person is doing—despite the fact that they may be perpetuating mistakes made by a predecessor or simply following procedures that may be a bad fit for a person of a different personality and skillset.” 

In what I suspect is not a revelation to Dialogue Education practitioners, Myers goes on to suggest that instead of seeking a more effective one-way transfer of pre-formed knowledge packets, we should be “talking about co-creation and building it together.”  What we need is coactive vicarious learning where “both the learner and the sharer of knowledge bring things to the table and together create something new.”

[Photo: "What is the best way to carve a turkey?" Coactive vicarious learning in the kitchen at a Paterson family gathering!]

Sounds great, but what might that look like in practice within organizational settings?

Myers observes that some of the best learning among co-workers occurs in more discursive settings in which colleagues are able to “dig in with each other” and ask “‘Why did you do it this way, and not that way?’” Managers can be more intentional about creating times, places and a culture that supports not just the sharing of stories, but also asking questions and creating shared meaning together through dialogue.

This is not the first time someone has suggested that more discursive forms of interaction can promote better learning and improved performance within organizations.  (For example, check this out.)  So why then do we continue to have organizations “stuck” in their traditional approaches to training, knowledge transfer and performance improvement? How can we shift our focus to creating supportive environments for these forms of interactions not just in workshops and “training settings,” but also in the day-to-day interactions of organizations and communities?

Myers points to one possible strategy for making progress in this area:

“Managers don’t have to redesign a building to engineer these encounters. Just by observing where employees naturally congregate and then tacitly condoning those conversations or actively participating in them can go a long way toward normalizing the kind of office culture that encourages employee interaction.”

I would really appreciate the opportunity to gather around the water cooler or in the lunchroom to share stories and learn with my colleagues. However, like a growing number of organizations I exist in a network that is spread across a wide geography. And as we have come to see more and more within the world of community change, the dialogue and learning that wants to happen is often between peers who are literally hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Our “water cooler” has become the internet and websites set up as places for virtual shared learning.

So how can we incorporate principles and practices of dialogue education more effectively into these virtual settings and processes?

I am looking forward to exploring these and related questions at Global Learning Partners’ upcoming Learning Design Retreat later this month. But for now, I need to go learn more from and with my daughter! 

What do you think?  How does this resonate with your experiences?


Chris Paterson is a Co-Founder and Senior Fellow with Community Initiatives. He has over 20 years of experience working with groups of leaders to develop effective collaborative planning efforts, use information-based tools as catalysts for shared learning, and engaging in local and national peer learning networks and events. Through his efforts, Chris seeks to create environments that foster dialogue, promote learning and bring a bit of joy to work that serves the well-being of all community members. To learn more about Chris and his work, please visit http://communityinitiatives.com 

On Assessing Learning Needs & Resources: The Art of the Question

In a recent Foundations of Dialogue Education course in Stowe, Vermont, 10 wonderful and wise learners examined three aspects of engaging and getting to know participants in learning events or meetings by Asking, Observing, and Studying.  This art of engaging learners prior to coming together suggests that first, whatever you do; do no harm!  Remembering that the intention is to create an opportunity to engage and respect each learner through inquiry of what they already know and bring to this event (Resource).  Whatever we ask can be done so to strengthen the apparent relevance of the topic and the work each person will apply it to.  It is so important to be specific and super intentional, avoiding asking extraneous questions such as those that ‘might be nice to know’ but not really necessary or engaging given the situation of these people. 

That architectural axiom of “Less is more” is top and center here.  Remember folks are busy and may engage at this point if it feels relevant and meaningful.  The questions you choose need to be limited and clearly related to the context of those responding, while done so in a way that gets them thinking about the event already and recognizing that what you ask may well be used in your preparations.  What you discover may suggest meaningful “generative themes” of the group with which to further engage participants in the content of the event.

Here are examples of questions I have used in two different contexts:

Context:  4-day Foundations of Dialogue Education Course

  1. Briefly describe your current role in planning, designing and facilitating learning events at your place of work.
  2. What have you seen work well AND what positive things resulted with learners when a learning experience was designed effectively?
  3. Share two (2) frustrations or challenges you often experience with learning events that you plan, run or even attend?
  4. What are 2 or 3 things that you believe to be effective and useful in designing and facilitating effective learning experiences for participants of your events?
  5. Review the draft achievable objectives for the workshop. Which (3) objectives would you say at this time you are MOST INTERESTED to achieve during this workshop?
  6. As you think about how this course will help further develop your own practice of designing and facilitating effective learning, what are 1 or 2 aspects of your current practice that you already know that you want to develop further or that you want to discover new ways to approach it?

Context:  A Statewide Summit on Housing Victims of Violence:

  1. What most engaged you to be part of this statewide Summit on housing victims of violence?
  2. In order for you to best contribute to this summit, what 2 or 3 things would you like to know about the domestic and sexual violence community and programs?
  3. In order for you to best contribute to the housing summit, what 2 or 3 things would you like to know about the Vermont housing community and programs?
  4. Based on your experience, what 2 or 3 key elements are necessary to achieve safe and stable housing for Vermont victims of domestic & sexual violence?
  5. Based on experience, what are 2 or 3 of the biggest challenges in housing victims of domestic and sexual violence?   How might challenges be unique to these victims?
  6. What 2 or 3 ways do you think housing and service agencies could work together more effectively in successfully and stably housing victims of domestic violence?

And now here's a question for you!

What are a few questions you have found useful to your context?

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?

Tips for Effective Time Management

Managing time is a challenge for even the most seasoned facilitators. Here are a few tips to help you ensure you facilitate the planned learning design in the designated time:

  1. Start on time. When learners don’t arrive on time, it can be challenging to know when to start. It’s okay to wait a few minutes, but in general work to start on time. This will also show respect to those who are there.
  2. Use two time pieces. Having a clock on the wall is critical and having a watch or other timing device with/near you at all times, helps you for 100% awareness of the minutes and hours. Time has a way of passing by quickly unless you monitor it constantly.
  3. State how much time each task is when you give it. When learners know how much time they have, it will not be a surprise when you call them back to the large group after engaging in a learning task. If timing is short, stating it can also help energize learners.
  4. If you are working with a co-facilitator, ask him/her to be your timekeeper. It is sometimes a challenge to monitor time when there are other things demanding your attention i.e. questions from learners. Relying on your co-facilitators in this way can be easy and helpful.
  5. Mark the time breakdown in your workshop design. Making notes to yourself about timing, materials and things to mention while facilitating can help you stay fully focused.
  6. Use learners. Sometimes asking a learner to let you know when a certain amount of time has passed, can be helpful. In some cases this request can help a learner focus and feel validated.
  7. Be flexible. Sometimes a learning task will take more or less time than you expect – don’t be afraid to adjust your workshop accordingly. You are responsible to ensure learners are meaningfully engaged and have enough time to work with and personalize the new content. Although a well-though out learning design needs to be followed and trusted, as you learn more about the people in the room and their needs, changes may need to be made.
  8. Check outside factors that may impact your planned time and timing. Although you may have the learning event perfectly planned out, life has a funny way of throwing curve balls. Check with those in the building and in the group for things like: lunch bells, outside meetings, others using the room, or events in the area. The fewer surprises the better.

10 Tips for Groups Where Language May Be a Challenge

by Kathy Hickman, Jeanette Romkema and Elaine Wiersma

From time to time we work with a group where language is a challenge (e.g. dementia, low-literacy, different languages of origin). It is important to understand learners’ language abilities (expression and comprehension) when planning for an education event. During the learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA) process, find out what you can about learners’ comfort and abilities related to reading and writing. Then carefully and intentionally design your event. Here are a few things to keep in mind when language may be a challenge.

  1. Use visuals. Where possible use visual aids to teach the new content or to make a point i.e. video clip, role play, pictures, cartoons, etc. When you need/ want to share words visually, support them with a visual representation as well. In general, limit written text.


  1. Offer choice. Adult learners will choose wisely according to their needs and comfort level. For this reason, when you offer choice about how to do an activity (drawing or writing) or receive information (follow along in the brochure or with the drawings), adults will engage in a way that is most helpful for them. Be sure to create safety (“it’s okay to do it different”) and give reminders about the options for a task. Remember that too much choice can also be overwhelming for learners living with dementia.


  1. Use props. Whether as a metaphor or a concrete example of what you are explaining to a group, demo objects can be helpful in learning or understanding a complex or new concept or skill. The key is to find props that communicate clearly and simply. You can also SHOW rather than, or perhaps as well as, TELL to explain a new concept or skill.


  1. Engage learners by DOING. The best way to learn something is to do something with new content to test, challenge and/or practice it. If you ensure that this activity does not involve much writing OR that there are options for how to do the task, learners will be successful regardless of language abilities.


  1. Use language that is familiar to the group. As a general rule of thumb, everyday language is more easily understood compared to academic or professional language.  Listen to the words used by learners when you speak with them as part of your assessment process and during the course. Check with others within the community or others who are familiar with this group about what language is most appropriate and is most likely to be understood. Make sure that this language is reflected in your design and facilitation. This will not only aid the learning but also shows respect for the learners.


  1. Reading aloud. By asking for volunteers to read instructions aloud and at times reading aloud yourself, ALL learners will have the chance to know what is expected of them. This increases safety for learners that have difficulty reading because they know they will not have to read in order to participate in the group.


  1. Be clear and simple. You may think that this goes without saying, but all too often professionals get caught up in jargon or the complexities of their field. Teach as if you are having a casual conversation – keep it down to earth.


  1. Use stories. Story is a powerful thing for all human beings. When written text is a challenge to read or understand, oral text is often helpful. Stories are personal and often come from or touch the heart – this is why they are so powerful.


  1. Use role play. It is a form of storytelling, but can also help learners experience how it must feel to be in a particular role. Get learners to act out a role they are not normally in to gain empathy and new insights into another person’s reality. It is critical that this is done with safety (e.g. in small groups or pairs, with those who would like to volunteer or use a demonstration role play with facilitators).


  1. Ask learners to retell or summarize. We sometimes assume a nodding head means understanding. This is not always true. You can help learning and assist in the personalizing of new concepts when you ask learners to retell or summarize their understanding of what has been presented or explained. This can be done with a partner or small group, with a question attached to discuss together. Frame this so that learner safety is ensured (e.g. no wrong answers, affirm, and respectfully clarify as needed).


Kathy Hickman is Knowledge Mobilization Lead at Alzheimer Knowledge Exchange and Education Manager at Alzheimer Society of Ontario khickman@alzheimeront.org;

Jeanette Romkema is Senior Consultant, Partner and President of Global Learning Partners jeanette@globallearningpartners.com;

Elaine Wiersma is an Associate Professor, Centre for Education and Research on Aging & Health at Lakehead University ewiersma@lakeheadu.ca.


Dialogue Education in the University: Creating the Environment for Learning

This is just one resource in a series to support the application of Dialogue Education to higher education.  For more resources, we invite you to check out our full Dialogue Education in the University collection.  


By Jeanette Romkema and Dan Haase

NOTE: These tips were written with the undergraduate professor and students in face-to-face full-time learning environment in mind. However, they can be equally valuable in the post-graduate, virtual learning environment, distance learning, and part-time university program setting.

Dialogue Education in action at Humber College in May 2014.

(Dialogue Education in action at Humber College in May 2014.)

So much depends on the space (whether face-to-face or virtual) and how it enhances and/or limits learning and the learner.  Taking time to consider the place and space is vital to designing an effective university course.  Below are a few suggestions for creating the best environment for learning.

  1. Begin the course before the course begins.  Start the teaching and learning with a learning needs and resource assessment (LNRA).  This fosters respect and safety and can offer a great deal of important information about the students coming to your course and what you might need to consider in designing a meaningful and relevant learning environment.  Beginning a course before the course begins lends itself to an environment where students feel cared for and heard. 
  2. Clearly articulate your expectations in the course syllabus. The design bears the burden and the syllabus shows this design to the students before they start.  The syllabus clarifies expectations, demonstrates the care that has gone into making the course meaningful and relevant, and names ways students will be involved in their learning journey.  Offer students the syllabus prior to the first class meeting.  
  3. Arrange the space to maximize learning.  Sometimes sitting in a circle will encourage deeper sharing and more courageous questions. Other times sitting in small groups is what you want to stimulate creative thinking and deep engagement. Most often, sitting in rows will discourage dialogue and encourage passivity – and so should be avoided. We always want to ask ourselves: How should I set the room up to maximize learning? In the virtual learning context, we need to ask ourselves: How and when should I invite small group dialogue and investigation?  NOTE: If you don’t have assistants to help move the furniture around, just ask for some volunteers from the class to come early (to set up) or stay late (to return to how it was).
  4. Stand when presenting new content, sit when facilitating dialogue.  One should probably be sitting more than standing if this guideline is followed.  Sit down with your students when possible and become a learner among learners. Although with large groups this may not be possible (as you need to be able to see everyone), the desired shift in power can still be communicated by inviting learners to engage with the learning rather than only the professor, and encouraging dialogue with each other and themselves rather than only with you.
  5. Call students by name.  Learning your students’ names even before the first class communicates that you see them as unique individuals.  Many institutions provide class rosters with photos online that you can view before the class begins.  Provide nametags for students so they too can respond to their peers by name, and feel more connected as a group.
  6. Invite and include all voices.  Students need to feel their experience and comments are important, and that you want to hear them. Open questions and meaningful learning tasks help raise all voices.  Small group and pair work can also assist in maximizing engagement and learning.  Students need to feel you are genuinely interested in what they think and their need to authentically engage with the new content. Sometimes this can best be done in an online discussion which can “level the playing field” for even the quietest students who may be hesitant about speaking up in a face-to-face setting.
  7. Consider the aesthetics of your room.  Too often university classrooms are sterile environments, void of natural or man-made beauty.  Bringing in a rug, lamp, freshly cut flowers, or some plants can brighten a room and help learning.
  8. Find ways to include food.  Food and snacks bring students together and can foster community during break time or while you are teaching.  For some students crunching and chewing actually helps them concentrate and learn more easily.  If appropriate, invite students to rotate the task of bringing in snacks – many will rise to the challenge. In some cases, arranging a time to go out for a meal may be a helpful community-building event.
  9. Use the classroom to test, try, compare and analyze theory.  Since your time with students is limited, work to get students to study the necessary theory outside of class, so you can engage with the theory during class.  This means we treat students as adults: we need to assume reading is actually completed before arriving in class. When professors read homework/ readings to students during class (through a PowerPoint or handouts), we are encouraging passivity and discouraging ownership of one’s own learning.
  10. Invite students to personalize their learning plan.  Assuming professors actually want to offer ways for students to demonstrate real learning, offering choices on exam style (oral or written) and type/topic of the final assignment  (for example, a research project or scholarly paper) can provide more focused motivation for the students.   Since students have unique interests and motivations, we should reflect these in our learning programs. Consider what cumulative innovation, essay, article, action plan or analysis best captures and demonstrates that the learners have learned by doing.

Jeanette Romkema has taught courses at Dordt College, Tyndale University College and Seminary, Emmanuel College of Victoria University of The University of Toronto, and Summer Peacebuilding Institute of Eastern Mennonite University, and will be teaching at Wycliffe College in 2015. She has also taught university professors how to strengthen their work with Dialogue Education in Africa, USA and Canada. 

Dan Haase is Internship Coordinator & Instructor at Wheaton College and works with his entire department to embrace Dialogue Education principles and practices in the university classroom.

3 Tips for Engaging Presentations (Hint: It’s not about you!)

Want engaging presentations? Here's a hint. Stop thinking it’s about you.

Presenters often think of “engagement” as an adjective; we believe we must be engaging when we present. It is much more useful to see engagement as a verb, applied to the people you're addressing. And – this is important – we are not the actors. They are!

Sure, we need to have some content. We need to have a message. And it helps if we have style. But engagement doesn't happen because our story is so compelling. It happens when the people we’re addressing see themselves in the story. And it’s much easier for that to happen when we put them into the story from the get-go.

Below are three easy shifts you can make to start engaging your audience.

  1. Before you touch that slide deck or open up your PowerPoint, spend some time thinking about who is in the room. Why are they there? What would they being be doing if your presentation really hit the mark? (This thinking is way more valuable than thinking about what content you want to share. Think about your audience first, and keep coming back to them throughout your planning.)
  2. Define the Big Question you have for them and be sure to ask it. (Hint:  that question should not be "any questions?”) Once they are engaged in answering the question, they become the protagonists of your presentation. Yes, that cuts into your presenting time, but think about this:  if your goal is for this group to take some action or learn something specific, having them simply listen passively won’t help you achieve your goal.
  3. Be selective -- really selective -- about the content. In fact, just enough information to help them dig into the Big Question and no more. If they walked out remembering just three things (which is likely!), what would they be? How about one thing? You probably know a lot more about your topic. You may really love it. And most likely you have done a lot of thinking about it. You want people to understand everything you understand. But guess what? That's about you!

Your presentation needs to be about them.

Christine Little is a Partner at Global Learning Partners. You can work with Christine at the International Dialogue Education Institute - with Peter Perkins she's co-facilitating a 3-hour workshop entitled Your Self as an Instrument of Change. You can also sign up to work with Chris in a one-on-one private consultation at the Institute.



An Interview with Peter Perkins, GLP Senior Partner

This is the first in a series of interviews conducted by Joan Dempsey, GLP's Dialogue Education Community Director, with people who believe deeply in the power of dialogue to influence learning that lasts. She starts the series with members of the GLP core consulting team.

We as DE practitioners do not arrive; we journey into our practice, continually deepening our practice and adding our own meaning. ~ Peter Perkins

Joan Dempsey (Joan):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Peter Perkins (Peter):  “Less is more!”

This axiom actually comes from schools of architecture, where the less that’s built into a home or office, the more comfortable and usable is the resulting space. I see myself as a designer of effective and sustainable learning, in much the same way an architect designs efficient, beautiful and enduring buildings. To do this, I must be careful and intentional about not over- or under-building the learning design for the learners.

Joan:  Name some of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.

Peter:  Silent Listening - I have moved from using primarily active listening (from Carl Rogers' person-centered-therapy) to silent listening, in which my silence allows me to listen more intently for the learner’s threads of meaning and new discovery. I listen for when I can add to the learning without usurping the deeper reflection and meaning-making by the learners themselves. I still have an important role with my voice, but I find it more useful to the learner if I listen deeply throughout.

Joan:  Of all the Dialogue Education principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Peter:  The 6 foundational principles of Dialogue Education (DE) and learning:  Respect, Relevance, Immediacy, Safety, Engagement, and Inclusion

These principles are the basis of all the other principles and are simple, clear, and powerful when steeped into a design for learning events or consulting work with organizations. Malcolm Knowles and Jane Vella gathered these principles for two different types of research:  in formal university- and field-based discovery. These principles hold up over the test of time, culture, geography, class and content. For example, designing consultations or workshops that truly respect the participants’ knowledge, skills, attitudes and cultural settings will be far more successful than disregarding (disrespecting) them.

Joan:  When you attend learning events that are not learning-centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Peter:  The monologist simply reading his notes or slides with little regard for those in the room … I can read on my own and save time and money, and forgo the illusion of learning.

Joan:  Why do you love DE? 

Peter:  I don’t love DE; rather I am thankful and indebted to those who contributed to its creation and its continued development as a gathering of ideas, theories, tools, and considerations in how I do my work.

Joan:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story(ies).       

Peter:  SURE-Fire meetings workshop – Following a successful redesign of a statewide directors meeting, the executive identified an issue and asked when we might meet to address this issue. A graduate of the SURE-Fire Meetings workshop paused and then – in true SURE-Fire fashion – rebutted:  “Do we need to meet?” They talked it through and in only a couple of minutes realized that meeting in person was not the best approach for what they hoped to accomplish; they set up a short phone conference-call instead.

Another time I was facilitating an organizational learning event and partway through our work, a participant blurted out that she still goes back to the Steps of Design every time she designs a workshop or other event. She had graduated from our foundational Dialogue Education course, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, seven years earlier!

Joan:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Peter:  Dialogue Education is an accumulation of theory and practice from many practitioners tested across myriad cultures and content to deepen a learner’s engagement, increase meaning making by the learner, and result in more sustainable learning that is more likely to transfer in their own setting as they need it. DE is a way to transform facilitation and teaching to be more effective for the learner.

Joan:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Peter:  DE is not static. We as DE practitioners do not arrive; we journey into our practice, continually deepening our practice and adding our own meaning. Continue to develop from within your integrity as a practitioner!

DE is not a set of tools; rather it is a way of thinking and being with learners. Use the principles – rather than the techniques – as your guide. Do your work differently on a regular basis – don’t let DE be defined only by sticky notes, or – as valuable as they are – the 4As for designing learning tasks (Anchor, Add, Apply, Away.) Let your work be defined by decision making to best meet the strengths and needs of those in the room.

Joan:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Peter:  I most often draw on studies and practice in human organizational development, sociology, and psychology to steep my DE work into a larger context of theory and meaning of being human in our individual contexts.


Peter Perkins is co-facilitating a session entittled "Your Self as an Instrument of Change" 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. He's also teaching two upcoming workshops in Stowe, Vermont:  Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach (September 23-26, 2013) and Advanced Learning Design (November 18-20).

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.

10 Axioms for Learning Design (and just what IS an axiom, anyway?)

If you’ve been kicking around Dialogue Education circles long enough you’ll have heard a bunch of axioms bandied about. You might have read Dr. Jane Vella’s A Few New Axioms, about the new truths that have become apparent to her during her retirement years, or seen the results of the experiment Dan Haase and Kyle Tennant undertook as a result of an axiom.

But what is an axiom, really?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines it this way:

  • A self-evident or universally recognized truth; a maxim.
  • An established rule, principle, or law.
  • A self-evident principle or one that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument; a postulate.

In the world of Dialogue Education learning designs, we have ten favorites that we explore in our Advanced Learning Design course and we invite you to ponder them for a moment as you read them here:

  1. Don’t tell what you can ask; don’t ask if you know the answer:  tell in dialogue.
  2. Even a group of 4 (or 400) can be broken down to pairs: let every voice be heard!
  3. A warm-up is a learning task related to the topic.  It is not an extra.
  4. A learning task is an open question, put to a small group with the resources they need to respond.  It is for the learners, not you, the teacher.
  5. A critical incident (case study posing a problem) needs to be far enough away to be safe, and close enough to be relevant.
  6. Pray for doubt!
  7. The more teaching (professing), the less learning.
  8. We should generally be teaching half as much in twice the time.
  9. Aim for the proper sequence or flow, from simple to more complex.
  10. The design bears the burden.

In Advanced Learning Design we do a task together towards the end of our three-day course that’s focused on the axioms:

Think about what you have found most stretching and provocative during the past three days. Create your own pearl of wisdom to express your learning in the form of an axiom!  Write or draw it on the paper provided and bring it to our axiom wall.


Take a Gallery Walk and express your reactions to what you see.

While we can't have a typical Gallery Walk here on our blog, we do have a comments section below that will suffice. A lot of you are very experienced teachers, facilitators and trainers – what are your favorite axioms related to learning designs? We invite you to share your comments below.

If you’d like to discover more pearls of wisdom for yourself, please join us in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 19-21 for Advanced Learning Design. This course is unique because only in Raleigh can you have dinner hosted by Dialogue Education founder Jane Vella on her back porch!

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.

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.

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?

10 Tips for Co-Facilitating

Teaching, training, or facilitating with someone else is very different from doing the same work on your own. Here are some tips to ensure you are successful:

  1. Check in with each other in advance. As soon as you know you will be working with each other, get together to plan. You need to agree on the timing, who will do which sessions and what roles and responsibilities you each have.
  2. Tell your co-trainer what you expect and need. The first time you meet, tell each other what you expect from a co-trainer and how you work best. Everyone has a different understanding of co-training and this needs to be shared before you work together.
  3. Check in with each other during the training. When possible and necessary during each session, check in with each other briefly. Sometimes, for example, you just need to tell the person you are going to end early or that you will need paper, but sharing this information can help the flow of the workshop and minimize frustration. The best time to check in with each other is during breaks. Avoid talking to one another when learners are working on their own rather than listening attentively to the dialogue.
  4. Check in with each other before and after the training. Before the training you need to check in with each other about what you are planning to do and if anything has changed since you last spoke. After the training you need to check in to share your thoughts on how the session went, what needs to change in the following session, and what could be done better next time. Because ‘the unexpected’ can always happen, checking in before and after a session is critical. This is also a great time to affirm each other.
  5. Support your co-trainer. While your co-trainer is leading an activity you should be fully attentive to what he or she needs and what the group may need that you can best do. Helping your co-trainer hand out paper, support a confused working group or tape something on the wall, can help him or her be more focused on the task at hand and keep up the energy of the group.
  6. Don’t interfere. While your co-trainer is leading an activity, don’t interfere or contradict him or her (unless it is critical to the learning). You need to stay focused on what is happening so that you can support your co-trainer without being an interference or burden.
  7. Set personal and team goals. Before you teach, name 1-2 things you want to remember and work on in the session. If you share these with your co-trainer, you can also get feedback on these goals at the end of the session. Setting team goals is also a great idea.
  8. Stay on time. Always try to stay within your delegated time frame. The sessions are often scheduled for a short amount of time, where every minute is valuable and accounted for. If you use more than your allotted time, it will impact your co-trainer’s activity and the learning that needs to happen.
  9. Affirm each other. Whenever possible and true, affirm your co-trainer. Everyone feels nervous about teaching, especially to peers. You need to take every opportunity to tell your co-trainer what he/she is doing well.
  10. Work as a team. At all times, you want the learners to see the two of you as “a team.” Support each other, affirm each other in front of the group, and weave the work your co-trainer did into your work. You want the learners to think “Wow, you work well together!”

What would you add?


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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.

10 Tips for Using Guidelines

Guidelines in Life

Using guidelines during a learning or work event can be extremely helpful (and sometimes paramount to a successful session!). Below are a few things to keep in mind for ensuring they are relevant, needed, and meaningful.

  1. Use Guidelines for especially difficult groups or topics, multi-day events, or when you think issues around power may arise. Generally, shorter events don’t have Guidelines.
  2. Use Operational Guidelines that everyone understands will always be used for regular meetings. It would be healthy to create these with the group initially, and then check in again as needed. They can be read aloud and changed as needed.
  3. Always invite the group to suggest most of the guidelines. It’s good to start off with one or two that are important to you, but then the rest should come from the group.
  4. Always make sure that every individual agrees to the list generated. I sometimes ask people to raise their hands or nod their head if I know the guidelines are critical or were not easy to write. This should be done quickly, but then you really know everyone has agreed and you can hold them accountable.
  5. Post the guidelines somewhere visible to all. It is important that you be able to gesture to them as you read them, and that people can remind themselves, as needed what they promised.
  6. Take time agreeing on “the cellphone issue.” Everyone has different ideas about this and the issue can carry emotional “energy,” so it is best to really open it up to make sure there is true agreement.
  7. For a multi-day event, check in at the beginning of each day to see what needs to be added or changed, and to make sure everyone is still in agreement.
  8. On the first day of a multi-day event or even on a 1-day event, check in with the list (quickly) after lunch. Sometimes things change or something happens around which people realize they need a new guideline.
  9. If someone is not following the guidelines, it is best to first check in with them privately. Sometimes people forget or misunderstand guidelines and just need to be reminded. Sometimes they don’t really believe they are “serious,” in which case you will need to clarify this.
  10. I always include a guideline about personal needs:  “Attend to your personal needs.” This gives people “permission” to stand when needed, get a coffee or go to the bathroom without having to ask.

What would you add?


Blog post author Jeanette Romkema is teaching Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach in Toronto, Ontario, Canada November 13-16, 2012. Please join us!

15 Tips for Effectively Working with Interpreters

By Jeanette Romkema and Christine Little

TranslatorInterpreters are crucial partners when facilitating dialogue in multilingual groups. The goal of any training, workshop, presentation or meeting is to build understanding. This is much harder when the facilitator doesn’t speak the language of the group, or a subset of the group does not speak the main language of the event. But it can be done, and language barriers may even improve dialogue when people are more intentional about really listening and trying to understand each other. Here are some road-tested tips for facilitators when working with interpreters.

Three kinds of interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation – Via headphones, listeners hear a session in their own language as interpreted by someone in the interpreter’s box, or through someone whispering in their ear almost at the same time as the original speaker is sharing it. This allows for almost ‘natural’ conversation between the speaker and the group.

Asynchronous interpretation – Listeners hear a session in their own language from an interpreter at the front of the room after it is first said by the speaker. This usually means your time is doubled because everything is shared twice.

Whisper or elbow interpretation – The interpretation is simultaneous but there is no equipment and no interpreter’s box. A whisperer literally whispers in the trainer’s ear everything that is being said in the large group, or sits near and interprets for a small subset of the group which doesn’t speak the main language used in the event.

NOTE: The terms ‘interpreter’ is often confused with ‘translator’. However, they are not the same. An interpreter works with spoken language and a translator works with written language.

  1. Budget more time. Even if the session uses a lot of dialogue in small groups, conversations in the large group, questions, and instructions for group work take more time. Budget twice as much time for asynchronous interpretation.
  2. Use pair, trio, and group work more often. This gives everyone a break from listening to the interpretation (regardless of which type is used) and gives needed breaks to the interpreter. Working through interpreters is tiring work for all involved. Small group work, in their own language, will get everyone talking, build engagement and increase the energy level.
  3. Give participants a translated copy of the workshop/course/meeting design. Writing the entire plan, activities, and resources out on handouts or in a course binder will help the group stay on track and reduce confusion. Bilingual people often find it especially helpful to have the entire course or meeting proceedings in both languages. 
  4. Give all of your written materials to the interpreter in advance. The more you can give to your interpreter beforehand, the better able that person will be to effectively interpret for you. He or she can study and ask about key terms, highly referenced theories, or critical charts. A prepared interpreter is a valuable asset!
  5. Meet with your interpreter to talk through how you want to work together. For example, the interpreter may want you to speak more slowly. You may want the interpreter to let you know (aloud and in the moment) when they sense something is still unclear in the group or if they are unclear about what you are saying. If you haven’t worked with interpreters before, ask them what works well in their experience.
  6. Write up and translate all in-the-moment changes. As we work our way through a session, we may need to make changes based on what we see and hear in the room. To minimize confusion,  ask someone to write these on flip chart paper or a slide so everyone knows what is happening.
  7. Ask the interpreter for advice. Ideally your interpreter is intimately familiar with the culture and language of the people you are working with. He or she may offer insights about how your content or activities will work with the group. This valuable information can help you plan.
  8. Budget time to test interpretation equipment. There is nothing worse than wanting to get started and having technical difficulties! Budget time in advance of the session to make sure everyone has the proper equipment, knows how to use it, and knows what to do if it is not working.
  9. Check in often to be sure the technology is working. People will experience technical difficulties. They may suffer in silence. Check in, and be sure to tell people it is okay to stop everything till the issue gets resolved. (Remember, this is about dialogue!) Once the norm is firmly established, people will help themselves when technology fails.
  10. Insist that people use their equipment when others speak an unfamiliar language. Sometimes we get lazy or think we know more than we do, so we take our headphones off, and “wait it through” while others speak their language. This may create pressure for others to take their headphones off. Besides the obvious cost in understanding, this trend limits participation. Speakers from other language groups will soon stop speaking, when they see that others are not making the effort to listen. 
  11. Use a ‘whisperer’ instead of asynchronous interpretation. Using simultaneous interpretation is wonderful when the trainer is speaking and everyone is wearing headphones. However, if you are working with 2-way asynchronous interpretation (often for budgetary reasons), using whisper interpretation when the group is speaking can keep the energy up, save time, and make the conversation more natural.
  12. Choose your small groups intentionally. Form small groups in a way that learners can really communicate with each other. Find out who is bi-lingual and use them as a resource. If possible, have a bi-lingual person in each group so that you have the option of joining in with groups when/if needed. This will also help when writing on flip charts or using other untranslated materials.
  13. Trust your participants. It can feel lonely when learners are all engaged in a dialogue and you are sitting outside of it. However, give yourself permission to see the exciting dialogue in the room as the sound of learning happening! As good facilitators of learning, we want to see learners engaged in the content – and doing this in their mother-tongue will make this easier and more engaging. 
  14. Trust your instincts. You know the sound (and look) of people who are un-engaged. When you notice the energy in the room is going down interest is wandering, or people are finished, it is time to check in or move on or change the task. It is amazing what we can understand without knowing a language!
  15. Don’t translate all the group work. We naturally want to know/see everything that is written on flip chart paper and other visuals, but choose carefully what you spend time translating and when. Some written work is important for the group or individual, but you only need to hear the summary shared in the large group (or maybe not at all!). Translate the written work that you need to refer to or build on later. Bilingual participants or your interpreter may be able to translate on the same paper during a break.

What tips would you add?


Both authors have worked extensively in languages other than their own and Jeanette Romkema is teaching Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach (in English, but open to non-English speakers) in her home town of Toronto, Ontario, Canada November 13-16, 2012. The course is filling up quickly, so register today!