An Interview with Michael Culliton, GLP Partner
This is the third 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. Today's interview is with GLP Partner, Michael Culliton.
Joan Dempsey (Joan): What’s your favorite axiom, and why?
Michael Culliton (Michael): “The learning is in the doing and the deciding.” In James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain he notes that we can’t say that people have truly learned anything until they engage in “active testing” of the content. This is not just philosophical, it is biological! We actually need to do something.
Joan: Name 3-5 of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.
Michael: Pay attention to the physical “geography” of the learning environment. For example, in the circle, have just the right number of chairs (one for each, no extras; it says, “I know how many folks are in this group–and it cues the group if someone is missing); keep the circle in shape (so everyone is “in” and each can see all). To me, this says so much about the “intention” of the time and the process.
Monitor for visual noise: on the walls, only keep up the charts and visuals that are still needed. I have been to events where facilitators just keep adding more and more visuals to the room that are not ever referenced again. For me–and some other visual folks, this creates the equivalent of a room full of “screaming monkeys.”
Remember: it is possible to sit and teach. I was so habituated to standing. When the setting and size of the group allows, sitting for me signals so much about dialogue, power, roles.
Joan: Of all the DE principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?
Michael: 1) Congruence – Knowing the principles of DE is not enough: I must put them into practice in a way that brings each to life: in the design, in the learning event; with the learners and with us as facilitators. 2) Autonomy – Questions of power and agency abound in the design and facilitation of learning. The principle of autonomy demands that I be aware and intentional as I design and facilitate: recognizing, honoring and celebrating the power of learners to do and decide for themselves.
Joan: When you attend learning events that are not learning centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?
Michael: That often I am in a room with other participants who are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and yet there is no structure or time to share any of our energy and knowledge with one another.
I once took a history of modern art class with 70 other people. For weeks, we listened to lectures. Not once were we invited to share any of our own passion or knowledge.
Imagine if the teacher had asked: “Turn to the person next to you and tell about one of your favorite paintings. What do you like about the work? What does the work elicit for you?"
Michael with Teryn Jones, who recently co-taught with him as part of the GLP certification process
Joan: Why do you love DE?
Michael: To me the principles are not just about learning, but about life. The principles and practice serve the building of respectful, collaborative relationships and offer tools for creating processes that harvest shared wisdom in service of repairing the world and shaping interactions and structures that are more life-affirming, sustainable and responsive.
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.
Michael: Over a decade ago, I helped design and lead a two-year program to support community leaders in developing local legislative advocacy programs. Most of the programs are still going and report success in influencing policy. In addition, several participants still talk about change in both personal and communal confidence and skills. This shows the power of DE in developing individual leaders and organizations; in making a difference for individuals and for communities.
Joan: What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?
Michael: When people leave a DE event, they have actually practiced DOING whatever it is they are learning. (As opposed to just “hosing people down” with lots of information, which is the MO of a lot of learning, be it lecture or webinar.)
Joan: What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?
Michael: Team up with another dedicated practitioner to study, design or teach together. I am consistently delighted and deeply influenced by what I learn from others who work out of the DE approach.
Joan: If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?
Michael: The use of Open Space Technology within multi-day DE-designed events is something I find powerful: it provides a vehicle for emergent conversations and creative explorations.
When there is pattern of tension between two deeply held values within a group or organization, I have found polarity mapping to be a powerful and instructive tool.
Joan: What else would you like to share?
Michael: As a practitioner of DE, I don’t think I ever “arrive”: there is always more to learn, re-learn, explore, and research. It’s a courageous, exciting, and very satisfying journey!
Michael will be teaching the following courses in 2014 – join him!