Episode 1: A Design is Like a Lectern: You Can Lean on it!
GLP Founder Dr. Jane Vella and Rebecca Hutchins, Owner and Chief Business Officer of GLP, chat with Sister Janet Srebalus about the axiom “A design is like a lectern: you can lean on it!” Jane met Sister Janet more than 50 years ago during her time in Tanzania, and they have been dear friends and mutual mentors ever since. Listen for stories and insights from these two long-time practitioners.
This show is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton Jr, with theme music composed by Kyle Donald.
Read the transcripts for the episode below.
JANE: Welcome to Simply True. with yours truly, Dr. Jane Vella. On this podcast, we sit down with dear friends and colleagues from over the years. To do one thing. Explore the simple truths behind some of my favorite sayings in dialogue education.
REBECCA: Hello, I’m Rebecca Hutchins, co-owner of Global Learning Partners and Chief Business Officer. And I’m your host for today’s episode of Simply True with Dr. Jane Vella. Today, Jane and I are joined by Sister Janet Srebalus, who’s joining us from Tanzania to explore the axiom, a design is like a lectern, you can lean on it. Welcome. Hey, Jan. Hi, Jane. Glad to be with you. Oh, this is wonderful. Yeah. Amazing. So let’s begin today’s episode by rooting ourselves in our history. Sister Janet, I know you and Jane go way back. So, I would love for you to start off by telling us a bit about yourself and how you came to know Jane.
SISTER JANET: Oh, that’s good. Well, I’m a Mary Knoll sister. As you said, I come from Tanzania. I’ve been missioned here in Tanzania, East Africa since 1966, or almost 55 years. My goodness Jan. Yeah. But I met you, Jane, when you were also a Mary Knoll sister, and you were studying for your master’s degree in literature at Fordham University that I think that was 1965. I see. Yeah. And our first meeting was very brief was at Mary Knoll Center in New York. However, I really got to know you, Jane, when we were both assigned to teach it one of our Mary Knoll secondary schools in more Tanzania. Remember that? Oh, do I ever? Well, I was just a young first time missioner with only a minimal teacher training. And my first year duties at a girls boarding school involved not only teaching English, but also for other subjects. Oh, my Jan. And I was also supervising there. Not only that, I was also supervising the kitchen, and student dining room. And I was a house mother for two dormitories. My first year was pretty hectic, as I tried to, you know, juggle all those new responsibilities. And I was really totally overwhelmed, and really dejected. Then at the beginning of that second year, you Jane, were assigned to the school. And you were my savior, a breath of fresh air. Golly Jan. You were well, you taught me to listen. And you taught me how to teach. But I think the biggest help you did was you affirmed whatever I did. And you helped me to relax.
JANE: I fell in love. Of course. Yeah, well, I mean, well, we had a lot of good times. Yeah. Good friend since then.
SISTER JANET: Yeah, a friend, not only friend, but you’re my mentor. And then we know we lived together for five years.
JANE: That’s right. And the mentoring goes both ways. Let’s clear on that.
SISTER JANET: Well, thanks for that. Thanks for that. As the years went by Jane, you know, you Jane took another path, then went beyond Tanzania and eventually started the company, which is sponsoring this podcast, Global Learning Partners. But we’ve always remained friends. And you’ve continued to mentor me. And I also had the opportunity to take two Global Learning courses. And also you sent me copies of all your books, and I’ve diligently read them and they have been my main stage as I moved from secondary school to university teaching. And now I’m mostly devoting my energies to a seminar work on personality growth, communication skills and community building. But at all these stages, what has really helped me and my students is the attention to planning or designing the content process. And hopefully that content and process reaches the outcomes that the students have expressed in what they want to learn. So that’s why I chose this axiom. Which is simply true. For me, a design is like a lectern, you can lean on it.
JANE: Beautiful Jan.
REBECCA: And before we get to that axiom, I just wanted to touch on something that you said, Sister Janet, speaking of learning to listen, I was telling Jane that the other night I was reading her book, A Teacher’s Stories: Learning to Listen to Life, and there’s two stories that speak to the adventures that you and Jane had way back. One of them being titled “Take Us to Your Captain”, and the other “What’s a Friend For” during your hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. So, I just wanted to note that I read about some of your adventures.
SISTER JANET: Oh, wonderful. Those were special times for sure.
REBECCA: Yeah. So of course, we are here today to discuss the axiom that you chose sister Janet, the design is like a lectern, you can lean on it. Jane, can you say a few words about where this axiom comes from?
JANE: I wish I could remember when we first started using this, Rebecca, I can’t. But, however, I’m sure of one thing. It emerged from our need to have a framework that people could turn to, at the moment of starting a course. How do you start? Where do you begin, what comes first. And so we used to call these the seven steps of planning. I believe that’s what’s in many of the books. And now we have the eighth step, which our wonderful team has added, which is so that naming the outcomes really. And also, I changed at some point from planning to design. And the reason was that when I plan, it never turned out the way I planned it. Because you’re always working with a new group. You’re always working in a new context. And you have to adjust the design to fit the learners. And I wish I could tell you when but that’s how I see it. It emerged as a necessary element of design.
SISTER JANET: I like the word design. And, I’m an artist I love to paint and, I don’t know, design seems very artistic to me, too. And it leaves room for flexibility as well. Yes, yes.
REBECCA: Great. So, I would love for both of you to share a story with our listeners that really illustrates this axiom, a design is like a lectern, you can lean on it. So, Jane, why don’t you go ahead?
JANE: Well, I’d like to build on Janet’s word flexibility. And name a story that took place just last month, a group of the certified teachers at Global Learning Partners and I spent 10 weeks reading together James Zull’s book From Brain to Mind. And, I had made a design and Valerie set up this program, and people signed up if they wanted to join. And, I said to Valerie at one point, “Valerie, you’ve got the design” – we were going to talk together for an hour each week about one chapter. And, I had set up open questions, learning tasks, etc. And I said, Val, if these folks don’t find this useful, we can just leave it. It was my crazy idea to do this. So here they came up their own will and said they would do it with me. But, I wasn’t sure if this was appropriate. And, don’t you know Valerie used the most wonderful word Jan. She said, Jane, instead of saying we’ll stop it, why don’t we say we’ll adjust the design. I love that phrase one. Yeah, and it’s your flexibility and it’s a wonderful example of how we adjusted the design, you know, Rebecca, at least three or four times over the 10 weeks, and it worked, I think it worked for a number of people because they kept coming back.
REBECCA: So true. We have to be flexible in, in all aspects of life, whether it’s something that we’ve designed, or just how we start our day, etc.
JANE: Right. Exactly, exactly. And, I want to add, that the leaning on the design doesn’t mean that you don’t adjust it, you lean and you adjust, so true. Fold the opposite side.
REBECCA: It’s so interesting how so many of the axioms are connected in some way.
JANE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Oh, I find that very much.
REBECCA: Sister Janet, what story comes to mind for you with this axiom?
SISTER JANET: Well, just to continue that thought of flexibility. For me, it gives both freedom and that also kind of a security, maybe that’s the lectern for me. But instead of giving you an example of how it worked for me, I’m going to give an example of a time when I didn’t use the design and I really was at sea. I didn’t have that lectern to lean on. This happened a couple of months ago, when I had two seminars very close together. And I had scheduled them too close to the first one. I prepared the design material very meticulously, and believe me, it takes time, even days for good design to come together. Yeah, you know that Jane? Yes. Oh, man, and you know, to work out all the seven or eight questions and the materials and the how you’re going to do it? Well, I spent so much time on the first seminar, I didn’t leave enough time for this second one. And I thought, Oh, well, it’s a familiar subject. I’ve facilitated many seminars similar to this one. So, I can wing it. Well, this time winging it didn’t work, not having a set timetable, and also the materials you’re going to use with questions. When I didn’t have that in hand. And this participant started asking questions. And the discussion started going in different directions. I found myself monologuing to answer the questions. Exactly. Yes. I couldn’t get back to where I could give put it into their hands. So head back. Yeah. These were the questions that they could have struggled with themselves and found their own answers. But my own anxiety forced me or, took me into another direction. And I took control. Beautiful example. Yeah. Wow. So I mean, more you have and the more you have a design, I find, you know, you keep the energy going even in that situation, the energy just drained out of the group. Imagine. Yeah, and, so since then, I really, I’m really careful to prioritize having a design, that that’s why I chose this one to talk about, because I think it’s really important, so that you don’t step in and take over.
JANE: Oh, that’s beautiful, dear. And, the recent podcast series is, is called as you know, Jan, Shift the Power, telling us so wisely, we shift the power by all the preparation and the time and the effort that goes into making an effective design. Yes. Wow. Thank you, honey.
REBECCA: Yes, thank you so much. And, I want to take us back to your days together in Tanzania. And think about some stories from those days where you put together a design and either it worked or something didn’t work and you had to be flexible and maybe re-prioritize or re-think quickly on your feet.
SISTER JANET: Well, on my part, when we were both targeted by the Ministry of Education, to design some materials for teaching English. Yes, I remembered you remember my last one? Yeah. Yes. So, in designing those materials, they were going to be put in the hands of students themselves. One of the designs was comprehension stories which the students would read. And then we would ask open questions, so that they could, in their own words, describe what they understood from that passage. Most of it had to do with Tanzania and culture, Tanzania and life. It was at a time when Tanzania, which had just had a few years of independence, and had been using the Cambridge examinations for secondaries. Yes, but we were moving from that transition from Cambridge to national exams. And the Ministry of Education wanted the materials to be contextualized not to be stories about young people in Britain or Scotland. So, we had a good time thinking of stories and designing questions that they could answer, in their own words. Beautiful, Jan.
REBECCA: That is a very beautiful story. And it is so great to hear a bit more detail about your time together all those years ago in Tanzania. So, thank you so much for that. And thank you, Sister Janet, for joining Jane and I today. And as we work towards closing out this podcast episode, I wonder, as someone who has been practicing dialogue education, and the seven or eight steps of design for quite some time, what’s one final wisdom that you would like to leave us with today? Maybe it’s an insight, or maybe even a new axiom that has been simply true for you over the years?
SISTER JANET: I don’t know if it’s a new axiom. But for me, when I first started reading the axioms, there’s the one that really stands out for me is affirmation, always start with affirmation, and your students will feel safe, they will feel in a place where their voice is being heard. And with that encouragement, they participate even more. So, I’d like to stress that affirmation. And the second thing that has worked for me is the axiom specifics work better than the general. When I’m working with young people or people who aren’t used to hearing their own voice, they tend to start out by giving very general answers like, oh, that I understand that or it’s very good. And, so I always like to affirm that Oh, that’s a good answer. Yes, yes. Can you Now give me an example from your own life? And Exactly, exactly. And once they start giving in, I usually tried to model it. I’ll give examples from my life, short ones. But once they start giving, it goes to another level. And yes, this happened just in the last seminar I had, it was just wonderful. I was amazed at the self revelation that some of them gave, and that encouraged others to also follow suit. So that’s another one I want to underline specifics were better than general. And always, always affirm, and celebrate. That’s your word to Jane, that I love to use celebration, celebrate. And every class is a celebration. It’s a party. So true, beautiful.
REBECCA: Thank you so much, Sister Janet, for those important words of wisdom that can be applied to all aspects of life, really. So, thank you both so much for joining us today. And for your time. It was a great experience and so great to hear some of your stories from Tanzania. Thank you, Rebecca. And thanks, Jane, and thanks for inviting me.
OUTRO (MEG): Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Simply True with Dr. Jane Vella. This podcast is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton, with music by Kyle Donald. If you enjoyed the show, consider leaving us a review on Apple podcasts or your preferred podcast player. To find out more about Global Learning Partners, whether it be our course offerings, consulting services or free resources, go to www.GlobalLearningPartners.com. We invite you to sign up for our mailing list, subscribe to our podcast and find us on social media to continue the dialogue.