Dialogue Educators as Learners: What Might You Miss?

Nearly eight months ago I wrote a post for this blog entitled “Dialogue Education Has Turned Me Into A Rebel,” in which I patted myself on the back for not feeling guilty about disliking talking head panel discussions. I allowed myself to feel justified about ignoring the panelists; instead of listening to them I fantasized about redesigning their presentation using a Dialogue Education™ approach. Now I wonder what I might have missed.

One Story 100th Issue: Ron Carlson

I was recently asked about my best learning experience and I was surprised to discover that the thing that came to mind was a two-hour seminar while I was in graduate school, in a creative writing program. I was surprised because the lecturer, Ron Carlson (a wonderful writer), stood before a large group and talked to us non-stop the entire time. No questions, no interactions, no visual aids, no small groups . . . just straight lecture, the epitome of a talking head. I couldn’t get enough of what he was telling us! I took pages of notes and to this day, more than five years later, I use – on a daily basis – what I learned in that lecture. This got me thinking about what our responsibilities are as learners. Those of us who’ve been exposed to Dialogue Education are spoiled by what we can somewhat snobbishly think of as THE way to teach (and learn). We don’t always do well in learning environments that don’t cater to our particular learning styles, that don’t consider what resources and needs we bring to the learning event, that don’t respect us as subjects of our own learning. We tend to walk out of seminars once we realize the facilitators won’t use dialogue, challenge and coach teachers who aren’t trained in dialogue to try to get them to change their approach on the spot, and tune out talking heads even if we stay in the room.

But what is our responsibility as learners, to any learning event? What are the principles and practices of learning? Shouldn’t some of the same Dialogue Education principles apply when we sit in the learner’s seat? If we are participating willingly in a learning event that doesn’t meet our standards, isn’t it up to us to adjust our own approach and do our best to learn what we can, given the limitations of the circumstances? After all, the principle of accountability states that “adult learners are clearly accountable to themselves – no teacher can learn for a learner.”

Here are a few of the principles I believe teachers-as-learners should embrace as they take part in learning events that aren’t up to their standards:

Preparation – If there’s preparatory work to do, do it.

Timeliness – Make sure you’re ready to begin when the learning event begins and come back from breaks at the appointed time.

Respect – Even if the teacher/facilitator isn’t up to your standards, be respectful of their efforts and share some helpful suggestions after the event (it’s unfair to try to get them to change their approach during the event).

Attention – This goes along with respect:  don’t multi-task; pay attention as best you can; don’t walk out in the middle (if you must walk out, do it at a break); try to remain open-minded about what you might learn if you listen carefully.

Contribution – Try to be engaged as best you can, and be open to your own learning; listen to and share with other learners if possible; ask questions.

I’m glad I’d not been exposed to Dialogue Education when I attended that Ron Carlson lecture. I might have been so busy criticizing his style that I would have missed the gems of wisdom that have so deeply influenced me.

Have you been a distracted learner because of what you know about Dialogue Education? What might you have missed? What other learner-principles might you add to this list?



Thank you to author Joan Dempsey for this post!

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