Confessions of a Former Workshop Rockstar

Participating in a Dialogue Education course has been a game-changer for me. For more than a decade I’ve done presentations, designed curriculum, taught workshops, etc, and I was pretty sure that I was good at what I did! I prided myself on being an engaging communicator and went out of my way to have appealing PowerPoint presentations and dynamic videos. I knew my content well, I could respond with spontaneity to my audience, and I told great jokes! In short, I thought I was a workshop rockstar.

However, the thing about rockstars is that what they do is all about them.  It’s their performance, their knowledge, their recognition. What I learned through Dialogue Education training is that it’s really not about me, the facilitator. It’s about the learners – they need to feel like the rockstars! I’m embarrassed to admit how often I didn’t even consider the learners or their needs because I was certain that my methods were tried and true.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I was a horrible teacher or that my methods weren’t useful, but what I needed was to move from a teaching-centered approach to a learning-centered approach. Here are some tips that helped me, and hopefully will help you, to do that.

1.  Love Your Learners

One of the assigned readings in our Dialogue Education course was this blog, Dialogue Education and Love: The Power of Sacrifice by Fred Defoy. It challenged trainers to demonstrate love to their learners by prioritizing their comfort and learning needs over the trainer’s preferences. When I used to prepare for workshops, I planned for how I liked to learn, for what would be enjoyable and interesting for me, and focused most of the time on what I said and did.

If we truly care if the people we’re communicating with really ‘get it’ (and aren’t just impressed with a cool presentation), then our love for our learners should motivate us to do what’s best for them, rather than default to our preferences. It’s unlikely that the way they learn will always be dynamic and exciting for us, and that’s okay. We need to push through the discomfort of designing for those who learn differently and resist the urge to leave out learning styles that are not as familiar.

2.  Comprehension over Coolness

Just because we’re using flashy or trendy methods in our teaching does not mean we will be understood. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t new and effective techniques and models to strengthen our teaching. It just means that anything we do in a learning setting should be a catalyst for our content to be understood and practiced.

Our methods, whether traditional or contemporary, should leave our learners with a deep understanding of the content, and the tools and skills to demonstrate what they’ve learned. We need to align all we do with and for the learners to deepen their learning experience.

3.  Share the Spotlight

When we think a workshop is about us as the facilitator, we assume that all we have to do is speak or demonstrate and people will automatically get the content. We need to give learners a chance to do something with the content; to take time to discuss it, and practice it, and even teach one another!

When we do this, it’s possible that our learners may become our co-facilitators.  We’ll see that we’re not the only rockstars in the room! We won’t have to worry about whether the learners “got it,” we’ll be able to see that they did.

4.  What Ever you Do, Don’t Wing It

Where did we ever get the idea that “winging it” is cool? Since when does coming to a learning experience unprepared, with hastily scribbled notes written in the lobby, make someone a fun or easy-going teacher?  When we wing it we don’t have the ability to carefully consider the eight steps of design through a learning needs and resource assessment process. We give just one big information dump that our learners then have to figure out on their own.

We need to care enough about our learners and our content to take the time to craft each event with diligence and specificity. We need thoughtfully crafted achievement-based objectives, well-sequenced learning tasks that invite personal meaning-making and sharing, and carefully attended core principles of adult learning.

Thanks to Dialogue Education, I’ve had my perspective on teaching and learning turned on its head. I’ve realized that to truly be effective in my work, I need to approach teaching in a completely different way: it needs to be learning-centered. I’ve learned that we’re all rockstars – teachers and learners alike!


What insight have you had recently that has pushed your thinking about how to maximize learning?

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Cindy Stover ( is a Justice Mobilizer for the Christian Reformed Church in Canada where she works to help people understand their call to enact justice and mercy in every area of their lives, from how they shop, to how they talk to their neighbours, to how their communities respond to the most vulnerable.