Episode 11: Foster “Ah-Ha” Moments


Dr. Jane Vella and Val Uccellani are joined by Tonjala Eaton, Career Coach and GLP Partner, to reflect on the axiom “foster ‘ah-ha’ moments, not ‘gotcha’ moments”. Tonjala was inspired by Jane’s writing many years ago and set her sights on becoming a learning-centered practitioner. In 2019, Tonjala joined the GLP team as a Partner and she finally got to meet her mentor! In this episode, Tonjala reflects on the importance of giving learners the space and time to build their own connections to content – leading to empowering “ah-ha” moments.

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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.

VALERIE   

I’m your host for today’s episode, Valerie Uccellani. Today, Jane and I are joined by my colleague Tonjala Eaton to explore the axiom, “foster aha moments and not gotcha moments.” Welcome, Jane, welcome Tonjala. 

TONJALA   

Good morning.  

JANE   

Thank you, Val. 

VALERIE   

Let’s begin, as we often like to on these episodes, by rooting ourselves in our history. So Tonjala, I’d love for you to tell folks a bit about yourself and how you came to know Jane and all of us at Global Learning Partners. 

TONJALA   

Well great, first time let’s say that it is an honor for me to be here today to have this conversation. I learned about Jane Vella in 2008, while I was taking a course on Adult Learning in Michigan State University for my graduate program, we were reading and one of Jane’s books is our textbook. And I was fascinated by her work, her story, and how she built this amazing company. And I just felt drawn to the work and I said one day, I’m going to do something similar. And then when I dreamed even bigger, I said, maybe one day I’m going to work with for his company, and so, a couple of years ago, I think it was in 2019, there was an open call for consultants and I said, Here’s your chance to go ahead and apply, and I did and thankfully I’m here. 

VALERIE   

Yeah, thankfully for us as well, Tonjala, It’s been really a joy to get to know you and establish our team with you is such a key part of it. So, thanks for being here today. And of course, the main focus of today’s conversation is the axiom, “foster aha moments and not gotcha moments.” So Jane, tell us a little bit about that axiom, where it came from. 

JANE   

Thanks Val and thanks Tonjala, I’m so glad too that happened. I see this axiom as a new phrasing of our – some of our principles, certainly the principle of respect. And I had the joy of working with Tonjala – with you Tonjala, on the book club on James Zull’s book, what was it called the brain? 

TONJALA   

No, “From Brain to Mind.”  

JANE   

That’s right “to mind,” that’s right. I saw you as you lead some of those sessions with the certified teachers and practitioners, I saw you do this, this axiom of the “aha moment,” and to avoid the “gotcha moments.” I saw that in action and it was beautiful. It was gentle, it was inviting and it got people talking and it got people learning, Tonjala.  

VALERIE   

Yeah, thanks so much for connecting the axiom to the core principles, and perhaps that superbly core principle of respect. Tonjala, how about kicking us off with a few of your thoughts around what the axiom means to you?

TONJALA   

Thank you.  Oh, my gosh, it means so much. I think the first thing that I want to share, is this comparison from being teacher centered and learning-centered. 

And I think you will experience more “gotcha moments” in a teacher centered environment where the teacher is the holder of the knowledge and if someone is not aware of what that content is or what that knowledge is, they can feel like they’ve been “got” so to speak, when they have a wrong answer, or when they’re a little bit off target on the content. So, I think when we foster “aha moments,” we give people an opportunity to discover, understanding and to discover knowledge. And I think that’s the beauty of this for me is that learning should be a discovery, and I know that at GLP we use the learning journal, and I love that, because it really gets to this concept of we’re discovering new things together. So, I think the discovery process lends itself to those big “aha moments,” where you see the lights go off in someone’s eyes, and I love it. 

VALERIE   

Thank you, Tonjala, before hearing more from you, Jane, I’m just going to reflect on just yesterday, I completed an electronic feedback survey for a workshop I had participated in virtually last week about anti-racism and being a parent, in these times, where we all need and want to be more mindful of racism. And how we can foster an anti-racist perspective in our family and in our child, and it was a powerful workshop. And in the feedback survey form, they asked twice, about what “aha moments” did you have, during or since this workshop? I thought it was such an interesting question for feedback. And I’m realizing, as we’re talking about this axiom, how, as designers and facilitators, it is so valuable to focus on what those moments are, and to hear about them from our learners. 

TONJALA   

I would agree. I would agree. 

VALERIE   

I wonder if either of you want to say a little more about the axiom in terms of how you’ve experienced it, or seen it – illustrate it for us a bit? 

TONJALA   

Sure, well, I’ll offer just a few experiences from my world, I do career coaching for clients outside of my commitment to GLP. And I think how I use this is really being patient with the learner or in this case, the client to offer a piece of content, and let them explore it, let them wrestle with it. We’re talking about ways to network, give, as Jane mentioned, the client opportunity to wrestle with that to see, “how do I think about this? Is this easy for me? Is it challenging?” And I think once we kind of give over the opportunity for wrestling with content to happen, the learner will have more “aha moments,” and I think they often have to have space for that to happen. So, it’s an area where you offer something, and then the learner has their “aha moment.” So, in those are very different for persons – from person to person, and I think it’s important to note that the same piece of content may not always give each learner an opportunity to have an “aha moment.” 

VALERIE   

Oh, yeah, the words “patience” and “space,” they really require a slowing down that I think is hard for so many of us in these days. And what I’m hearing from you, though, Tonjala, is that you’ve discovered that these “aha moments” can’t be rushed, they can’t happen, we have two minutes for y’all to have an “aha moment.” Please, Jane.

JANE   

Yes, I think of two things. I think of the it’s kind of an axiom, that when GLP workers or dialogue workers all around the world use the design or the process in their own work. They are recreating Dialogue Education, and that’s a way of “aha,” getting “aha moments” for them. So, that was, that’s my “aha.”

VALERIE

I love that because it helps us see this axiom not only in light of what happens among the learners are people who are seen as learners in a learning event. But for us, as designers and teachers, as owners of a company, as executive leaders within a company, how do we create space for our own “Aha moments.” Yeah. 

 

TONJALA 

Beautiful. Yeah and I do have another example-in this example, is from daily life, when we think about adult learning is not just the learning that happens in a formal setting. So, I’m going to be very transparent here is the wheel. I went to the dentist a while ago and they did the X-rays and the dentist comes in and he informs me that I have multiple cavities. And anyone who knows me knows that’s a shock, because I take great pride in my dental care. And, so, I sit up in the chair, I’m like, “what, how, when?” I know, like, “I know you take good care of your teeth, I can see it.” And at that moment, that felt like a “gotcha moment” for me. And if he – if I view him as an educator, I felt, “wow, like he’s got me in a corner here.” But he took the time to get the mold of your teeth that they used to teach you, and he got it, and he said, this is the problem. And he explained how the small crevices that I probably can’t reach are problematic. And in that moment, he gave me space to wrestle with this news. And so it felt like an “aha moment” for me because I learned something new. And so I think these moments show up in all of our daily walks, as we’re all taking in new content and learning new things. And what I learned from that interaction is that spaces -we need space to process in so many different settings, and not just my day to day work, but just daily living. We need that space to inhale. 

VALERIE   

Yes. 

 

JANE   

Beautiful. May I add something now, Val? 

VALERIE   

Please, of course. 

JANE   

I think of you and Tess, your beautiful daughter. And I’m thinking this is a major issue for parenting. 

VALERIE   

I can’t believe you’re saying that, I was just thinking that as Tonjala shared those wisdoms.  

JANE   

Exactly. 

VALERIE   

I’m telling you! 

JANE   

Hey, you and I girl, but I – because parenting is perennial, its daily. It’s so important. 

VALERIE   

Tonjala, thank you so much for bringing this axiom out of our kind of professional worlds and into our day to day worlds. I think that’s the beauty of all of these axioms, and really, all of the principles of adult learning is that we can view them through a very narrow lens of how they help us do our jobs better, because we really are all teachers and learners in the workplace, ultimately, but also to broaden that lens, say, “how does this serve as a guide for me?” in my walks in life. And Jane, it’s so true that as a parent, I was grappling with something yesterday, as a parent of a teen, and there is no axiom that would describe better what I was trying to do, which was to foster an “aha moment” with my daughter and not a “gotcha moment.”  

JANE   

Yes.  

 VALERIE   

Thank you so much for that. What else is coming to mind as we move towards our closing? What else would either of you like to share or ask of each other, before we go to closing? 

TONJALA   

You know, the idea this coming from me is, how do we ask learners about their aha moments? When do we do that? How often should we do that? So, those are some of my questions. 

VALERIE   

Yeah. 

JANE   

And may I immediately – immediately I think Tonjala, you’re doing that, is – it’s implicit, it’s not often explicit, because if you ask me for what “aha moments” I have had in this podcast, I may not be able to put words around them. A word – a phrase that is, “what are you feeling now, in this experience of learning?” Okay, Val, what are you feeling now? I’m turning, I’m taking your role. What are you feeling now in this experience of learning? 

VALERIE   

I’m feeling this desire to slow down. 

JANE   

There is another axiom and I love the way the axioms are almost a rosary. They link together constantly. And the axiom I’m thinking of is a rather bold one, I said once, “You can’t go too slowly. You can’t teach too little.” 

VALERIE   

Thank you, Tonjala, for that question. Another thought that comes to mind as we wonder about that together is that, I think it’s in those informal conversations with the learners, that we often get excited to the “aha moments” without even having to ask for them. And I think in the virtual world, or blended learning world, sometimes we don’t have as many of those informal exchanges. It’s more we’re in the formal session together and then we’re not connected, so to speak, but it’s in that just checking in and just talking with learners where we often hear about those. And I personally am going to consider more opportunities, as was illustrated by the folks who design this workshop I recently took, to maybe ask more explicitly about “aha moments” and just see what comes back. Interesting experiment. 

JANE   

 

I would like to see when I’m on Zoom, and not as the leader, but I would like to see a room where the leader, the facilitator, teacher, whatever, or the professor would say, Jane, would you join me in a room for a few minutes? Because you – you made some good idea – you offered some good ideas. I’d like to talk with you about your experience, how you feel about this experience, and then you’d have a twosome. I am now enamored, I’m in love with twosomes. I think they are, they are so rich. And to have such a conversation documented by recording it with the permission of the person, it would be invaluable, because it would be explicit. And they would find words in the safety of a room with two. Hey, that’s a good title, a room with two or a zoom with two – how about that. 

VALERIE   

Love that whole idea, gives us so much to think about.   

TONJALA   

Now I’ve had an “aha moment” with what that would look like. 

JANE   

Tonjala, love you girl. 

VALERIE   

It’s only 8:30 here in New Orleans, and we’ve all had our “aha moments” already today. 

JANE   

Beautiful.  

VALERIE   

Hey, thank you both so much, Tonjala especially for joining Jane and me today. And I wonder as someone who’s practiced Dialogue Education for some time now, even if more recently, kind of claiming your space in Global Learning Partners community, what’s one final wisdom or reflection you’d like to leave us with today? 

TONJALA   

I really want to take Jane’s challenge of, in a group session, just popping off with one other person. I think that’s so important as we look for ways to connect in a virtual world that doesn’t seem to allow for those connections. So, I think through the connections that “aha moments” will reveal themselves is my final wisdom.

JANE   

Beautiful Tonjala. 

VALERIE   

Thank you so much. Thank you both. What a great way to kick off the day and I hope you both have wonderful days. 

JANE   

Thanks, Val. 

TONJALA   

Same to you. Thank you, Val. 

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.

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