Trust the Design: The Day I Tested this Theory

Since I received my Dialogue Education training with Global Learning Partners last Fall, I have developed at least five learning events. It’s been a game changer. The pre-event surveys allow me to develop a learning design based on the intersection between my expertise and the participants knowledge and learning goals. This alone provides me with a level of confidence in the relevance of the training that infuses every step of my work. However, it is a lot of work.

Attending to the six core principles of learning, the eight steps of design, and the 4-A learning sequence, requires a high level of focus and commitment. However, the result is trust, freedom, and empowerment: trust that even if I don’t sleep the night before or don’t feel well, I can rely on the strength of my design to lead the way; freedom to use my energy on the day of the event to express my joy in the topic and care for the participants; and, empowerment of the participants to lead the learning process by engaging deeply, collaborating and sharing existing experience and knowledge.

Every time I begin a training, I introduce participants to Dialogue Education and the design that is in their hands. I joke saying, “Using this approach means I can faint in the middle of our day together and you can carry on without me!” Little did I know that this “joke” would turn into a reality.

From June 25 to 28 I was scheduled to teach a four-day course on restorative practices to 40 educators. I had invited Jessica, a fellow educator who had come to one of my seminars and was interested in becoming a trainer, to shadow me during the event. Jessica did not see the design until she arrived at the conference center and had never led a training, but she had a lot of enthusiasm and experience in restorative practices.

When the educators entered the room on the first morning after listening to a keynote speaker for 90 minutes, I felt nervousness growing within me. Their face and body language revealed the exhaustion educators commonly feel after the last day of school. I wondered how I would be able to energize them and then I remembered the strength of my design. Specifically, I knew that the inclusive and connection-based anchor activities would enliven them, and that the relevant, experience-based learning activities would engage them. I was right! By the end of the second day, the group was on fire.

It was after that second day that I chose to go on a bicycle ride. I rode carefully down the mountain road, leaning on my brakes as I carefully made my way through the switchbacks and potholes. When I got down to the main road I sighed with relief. Unlike most of the roads I commute on, this one was newly paved, wide and free of traffic. I let go of my brakes and allowed myself to relax and glide in the sunshine.

Suddenly, I was airborne! I hit the pavement hard, breaking a rib and suffering abrasions and severe bruising. I had hit a chunk of asphalt hidden in the shadows. When someone finally came to where I was lying in the road, the first thing I asked was for them to call the conference organizer to let them know what happened, and that they would need to ask Jessica to continue teaching without me.

At nine p.m. that night, as Jessica drove me back to the hotel, I asked how she felt about leading the last two days of the conference. She said, “Sure! I can make a few changes to the design to match my knowledge but follow what you have layout for us.” And that is what she did.

On the final day, I was able to join the training and watched with pride and joy as Jessica delivered the training beautifully. What moved me even more was how comfortable the group was in carrying on without me. They had clearly been empowered and engaged enough the first two days to move forward with great momentum. Dialogue Education had saved the training. Without it, those teachers would have been left hanging in mid-air without two crucial days of developing action plans for their schools.

To my great delight, the conference organizer sent feedback that confirmed what I witnessed:

Annie and Jessica are among the best presenters with whom I’ve ever had the privilege of working. They truly believe in students, are devoid of nonsensical educational jargon, and generously gave their entire curriculum to us.

Thank you, Jane Vella, and everyone who has contributed to the development of Dialogue Education!

When did you need to “trust the design” in surprising ways?

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Annie O’Shaughnessy is an educator and consultant dedicated to transforming classroom and schools through mindfulness based restorative practices. Check out her website:

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