Episode 102: The Creation of Dialogue Education

Dr. Jane Vella, the founder of Global Learning Partners, shares how her journey as an international teacher brought to life the core principles of adult learning that we now call Dialogue Education. She reflects on how the approach has evolved through praxis and explores a vision for the future of learning-centered approaches in the quest for peace.

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This show is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton JR. You can learn more about GLP at our website, as well as check out Greg’s work and services!

Theme music: ‘Pretty Face’ by Una Walkenhorst. You can hear more of Una’s music on her website!

Read more about Jane and her history here.

Read transcripts for the episode below.


Meg (10s): Hello and Welcome to Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast, where we talk about the revolutionary power of a learning centered approach. Through this podcast we hope to inspire creative thinking and provide practical tools and techniques to deepen learning through dialogue. We’re your hosts, Meg Logue and Peter Noteboom. Today, we’re joined by the founder of Global Learning Partners, Dr. Jane Vella to discuss the past, present, and future of Dialogue Education. So Jane, you are of course, a bit of a celebrity in the world of adult learning, but for the audience members who may not have heard of you before or heard about dialogue education, can you tell us a bit about your journey as a teacher and what led you to creating what we now know as Dialogue Education?

Jane (56s): As I said, often, I’d been a teacher all of my life. I mean, I’ve been in the classroom all of my life on one side of the desk or another. And, I have been a teacher also, and I moved through school and university, and then I had the opportunity to teach in Tanzania. And the teaching in Tanzania was largely with adult communities. And I was able to discover through this long experience, some pieces that work that were brilliantly.

(1m 37s): And I thought, I want to name these and use them all the time. I came back to the United States. I did my studies for my doctorate at University of Massachusetts Amherst and those principles and the practices that emerged from them and became a, a kind of a, a theory, a system’s so to speak that well, it worked for my dissertation and that was what was important at the time, but I was able to really reflect on it and certainly do a great deal of reading of the masters of adult education, a Colb and of course dear Malcolm Knowles and I had a great teacher.

(2m 27s): And so when I started teaching at North Carolina State University, as my first job, after getting my doctorate, I taught this, I was teaching a class on adult and how to design and do adult education. And I use this as the content. And so it, it was born in my experience and largely my experience in Africa, but also my opportunity at Amherst at UMass to reflect on that experience.

(3m 8s): And then happily, I left the university and I started a little company called Jubilee Popular Education center, popular education was a word that Paulo Freire from Brazil had given to this kind of work with adults, especially in with rural adults’. And especially with people who have well marginalized. So what has happened, there are people all over the world who are excited about using this. I think it can apply to almost everything.

(3m 49s): So that’s what I see as the beginning. What do you think Peter?

Peter (3m 53s): Well, you know, I like the last phrase you said, you know, you can apply it to almost everything it’s so versatile. Yes. And, you know, it’s become over the years, kind of a rich ecology of more than a system, a number of different things that relate and connect to each other. But if you had to name a kind of a central tenet, the essential fire of Dialogue Education or what, what this has become, what would it be?

Jane (4m 22s): You know, I would go immediately. I love that question. Thank you, Peter. But I would go immediately to our Greek word, Praxis- Praxis means action with reflection. And as a person, myself, my own natural move is fast and my own natural move is due. What needs to be done and get it done. And I needed Praxis as a person myself, to recognize without that time at Amherst, without that reflection, I don’t think we’d have This well, I wouldn’t have the books anyway.

(5m 10s): And you know what I mean? Praxis to me is that central tent. So that in any situation, well, heaven helped me listen to what people are doing, learn what they are doing, what they are context is. And then I think about it and see what is the appropriate way to not to speak to them, but to invite them to do things new, because that’s why they came.

Peter (5m 48s): You know, there is a theme underlying that that’s so important to me in a way, I think I’ve heard you speak about it too. And when we were working on trying to name this podcast, we landed on the phrase. Shift the Power.

Jane (6m 2s): Oh, I love it. I love it.

Peter (6m 4s): What does that mean to you?

Jane (6m 5s): Oh, sweetheart. If you want to ask a corollary question to your question, what’s the tent I would ask. What’s the shadow behind the tent. And to me, we see that when we study a system of education and it’s a hard thing to do because it’s painful and you see the domination that arises when you say professor Vella and its domination, it’s Power, but it’s often, I think we’re so used to it because when I went to graduate school for heaven sake, we saw people teach and we thought, that’s how you teach in graduate school or, or in the, in the fourth grade, they better know who the teacher is and they better do what I say.

(7m 1s): That’s what I grew up with. And frankly, I’m delighted to be free of that as you can see, I offer. And you know, this breath of you, both of you, this is often, I don’t know. I don’t know.

Peter (7m 18s): What is that a phrase you used to say so often? Or where did it come from? “Only the learner or the student can name the moment of the death of the professor”.

Jane (7m 26s): That was from Paulo. And I, if I may just take a little moment on this dear, I see something a what’s the word I’ve often wondered about that? The death of the professor, in a sense who is killing you, who’s killing the professor. No, I don’t like the idea of that. I like to think of recognizing, and I say it this way in this, in Dialogue when we use Dialogue cause, that also comes both from Kolbe and, and a lumber of people, but also from freire. When we dialogue, the dialogue is not between the teacher and the learner.

(8m 10s): It’s a, even the Dialogue whether you’re dominating are not, but its among learners of whom the teacher is one. I love that phrase. And once you say what you get the sense I’m learning this afternoon, a great many things that are not just about the computer. Do you see what I mean? You get it. It’s your imagination. It’s your naming yourself as a learner. Wow.

Peter (8m 42s): You know, I want to follow up with one more question and I know that Meg got many more, but you know, I think you also just in your response, just now put your finger down on Learning centered.

Jane (8m 53s): Yes. Yes. Learner centered approaches.

Peter (8m 56s): How does that connect?

Jane (8m 57s): Well, I’m so glad you raised that Peter cause early on, we always have you recall when you first took the course and started working with this idea and this and this way, we talked about learner centered and I realized over the years and frankly, I cannot tell you a moment of a, when I changed when I changed them, when my thoughts changed, but I realized it’s Learning centered ’cause the teacher is also learning. And the fact is it’s it’s like that wonderful phrase “The end is learning.The means is Dialogue.

(9m 39s): But the purpose is peace.” We have to be in the big picture. And I, I think so we moved and I don’t remember that it was any, you know, decision or anything like that. I just moved out of learner centered to learning centered and focus on what makes learning happened for this group.

Meg (10m 6s): I’m wondering if, if you can recall a moment, call it an ah-ha moment. Where you saw what was possible in learning?

Jane (10m 16s):
Well, I think I would move immediately dear to Kamala Harris, introduce me to a word at this time. She said is an inflection point. I had never heard that word before. I’ve heard reflection, but not inflection. I had to go to the dictionary and when I went, I discovered it means a time when you turn a corner and take a new direction. Well, I must tell the story and I’m delighted. It’s in one of my books somewhere. I forget which one, but it’s a great story. I’m in Tanzania. I’m in Africa teaching and my friends and I was a Saturday morning.

Jane (11m 1s): We were on holiday at, at another house in the mountains and we just went for a walk, a long, long walk and we got lost. We got lost. We were in a new village and we weren’t sure how to get back up the mountain. There were two of us, two women. So we’re sitting under a tree and a great tall Tanzanian fella came by, clearly with a walking stick by moving fast on his way home. That was maybe two or three in the afternoon. And he was definitely heading home and he saw us and greeted and we chatted for a while and we explain that we had kind of lost our way.

(11m 48s): And so he’s looking, I often wonder what he thought of these two crazy women sitting under a tree, but there we were, he introduced himself as Marwa now Marwa, is the name given to every elder son born among the Bakoria, Bakoria, we explained that we were lost and Marwa said, Oh, I know the way up the mountain I’ll show you. When he turned around from his determined March home to go with us, walk with us. I said to him, well Marwa just show us the way I know you are heading home as well? Why don’t you just show us the way we’ll find it?

(12m 28s): We’re okay. We’ll see a familiar thing. We’re okay. And Marwa raised himself up quite tall, tall fellow. And he said, no, no, no, no. Among the Bakoria people, if a stranger asks you the way you don’t show them, you walked with them. And I realized that I had come to Tanzania, to Africa to learn and Marwa and all the Marwas there where my teachers and even so we can credit those people for having created Dialogue Education, as it is, at least in the beginning,

Meg (13m 13s): That that phrase that he shared with you is such a beautiful translation into the whole learning centered approach. And the concept of Dialogue Education this idea that you are walking, walking with. And so I wonder if you could tie it back to how that influenced your, your journey to put a name to some of these things.

Jane (13m 38s): Well, I really want to make very clear. The last book was on teaching and learning and I think there are four books kind of contain this, that I’m responsible for the development of Dialogue education as a system or your word, Pete. I forget what the word was that you made up to describe and ecology. Exactly. That has been the work of hundreds and hundreds of people. And I, this is an opportunity for me to say something that’s very near my heart. Every time someone uses, those are the principles of the practices, all the elements of Dialogue Education, as it exists, you are changing it.

You are making it appropriate for a new group. You are amending the very principles by your work. So it’s research and I love the phrase. “Dialogue Education is a research agenda where trying to discover how people, adults learn, how people learn. “Generally, it’s a research agenda and every time you design, you are making a change. And that’s so exciting.

Peter (15m 8s): You know, you’ve touched on another thing for me that’s so we are an important about this ecology is that on the one hand, it’s about designing, learning objectives, achievement based objectives to accomplish, to, to show and to practice a good learning is by doing and deciding that’s where the learning happens. And so on the one hand, it’s a very careful analytical in touch approach with what the learners will be doing. And it, as a learning facilitator and person accompanying that journey, it’s a lot of planning and preparation. On the other hand, there’s this big picture, the purposes piece.

Jane (15m 48s): Yes.

Peter (15m 49s): And it’s not just a particular learning objective in a particular 30 minute session. It’s, it’s something bigger than that. I sometimes describe it as walking one another home.

Jane (15m 60s): It’s abeautiful Peter, what a lovely metaphor.

Peter (16m 3s): I can’t claim ownership of that one either for what I’ve heard it. And I like it. And I wonder, I wonder when you think about that bigger picture, what, what, what do you see that looking like now at paying attention to where we are now with the systems that are emerging from our current context and the challenges that are before us?

Jane (16m 26s): Well, you know, a beautiful thing I read from the lady at Stanford, she was on the board. You might remember her name, the Stanford University. She writes for a journal there and she mentioned something that was so beautiful and shocking to me talk about an emerging system, that New Zealand, which was the first country, by the way, to invite women to vote. I thought that was amazing. I didn’t know that is also a country where there Congress, whatever that is, whatever their legislature is, has created a budget and they call it the well-being budget.

And I wonder if, when you’re walking, accompanying people home, I love that image dear. What you do is consider what is home? Home is a place of well being. And suppose we said, well, Vermont, North Carolina is a place of wellbeing for everyone universal wellbeing. How about that? And I see that, you know, it’s lovely to, I can’t think of the young lady. You may know who I’m referring to, but one time I talked with all of you and they were all the teachers.

So I was talking to the group and we were, the theme was joy is the measure that lovely Axiom. And I had set the task, the Learning task to the group and go in pairs and tell a story. When you saw manifest joy in the learners and you felt it in yourself and one woman used this wonderful phrase, I love it. And I wish I could remember her name, but she said, well, I was just teaching in someplace, Texas someplace. And she said, after the group did their practice teaching, they were all giddy.

I love that. They were all giddy. It worked, it worked. Look what I just did. Look what I just did. And I called that well-being. There are signs of well-being. Laughter is a sign of well-being. Nice. Well, so many signs of well-being for sure. And we can name them and celebrate them.

Meg (19m 6s): Absolutely. And Jane, it’s not lost on me that the, the vision statement for Global Learning Partners is, we envision a world in which deep learning drives our collective well-being.

Jane (19m 18s): Yes, of course. There! It is right there and New Zealand might have read that, but really well-meaning is so important. You know, we’re partners in this Creation and it’s an ongoing creation of a world of universal well-being. Oh yeah, sure.

Meg (19m 39s): Jane, and I wonder if you could share your thoughts on how you see deep learning and this learning centered approach and Dialogue Education how do you see that contributing to our collective well-being?

Jane (19m 52s): Well, look at the whole idea of deep learning. I think it is my little granddaughter. She wrote her name in pre-school. That’s deep learning for her at that moment. My Learning when I was able to reflect upon my experience and come up with that at graduate school was deep learning. And that’s the question, Meg, I think we want to ask not so much what is deep learning, but how do we make it happen?

What’s the context that’s called for it. I think we know that safety, respect, laughter tasks, you know, Oh, we know those things and we know that’s how we create the conditions. It’s like a gain raising roses, you got to have the conditions, right. And that’s what we do when we say designed. That’s another piece, if I may at an interesting shift in an interesting inflection moment was when I realized that the seven steps of planning, I tried them.

I use them, but very often that’s not what the plan did. It just didn’t work. And I thought something’s wrong here. And I started to use the word design, we design the context. And I think what words you choose again, are terribly important just as you are you beautiful statement for what Global Learning Partners hopes to do.

Meg (21m 49s): Could not agree with you more there yet. And I think we used the word design in a, in a slightly different way than a lot of people do, but I’ve come to, to really love that. Yeah. This is the way that we are designing a learning experience.

Jane (22m 2s): Wow. And it’s a learning experience for both the teacher, the presenter, the facilitator, and the learners and the, you know, we’re all learners among learners. Dialogue among learners. I wanted to choose and use words carefully. My wonderful teacher, Walter Brueggemann, who is a, a great scripture scholar has given me just this past week or so a beautiful phrase, speech leads reality.

Peter (22m 39s): Wow.

Jane (22m 42s): So the reality that we’re trying to develop is the learning of the experience and the words we choose are so important. Speech leads reality, I just love that phrase. Peter, you we’re going to say something before, when we took this inflection and we took this move. What do you remember?

Peter (23m 11s): No, we’ve been down so many interesting past together. If we missed a turn off somewhere, I forgotten it.

Jane (23m 19s): Well, I’m sure you’ve been there. I’m sure you’ve been there. It’s always familiar. What’s that line Eliot.. T S Eliot says to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time, for the first time. And that’s the deep learning. You see this beautiful. And implies a huge experience in the journey. And boy, I, I can attest to that.

Peter (23m 49s): Jane thank you so much for joining today. It’s been just such a pleasure to talk again and to share perspectives and ideas and experiences. It just warms my heart. I wonder after having, you know, reflecting on the conversation that we’ve had today, just a little bit of Praxis, what message would you like to leave our listeners with today?

Jane (24m 12s): Immediately comes to mind and I grabbed what comes immediate because that comes from the unconscious. You know, I didn’t think about it. And when it comes to me is I’m looking at Peter, looking at Meg. I’m thinking of all the teams all over the world, Peter, all over the world, who would do trying this, doing this one way or another affecting education in general. And I’m very aware. There is hope. And I love it because what we just did today was a little bit of a walk down memory lane in some ways.

And I love the phrase. I can’t think it’s a philosopher and I don’t know his name, but he says something to me that’s very helpful. Hope is a memory of the future. Hmm. Lovely. Isn’t that lovely. I wish I could think of that. Fellow’s name. Maybe I’ll find it sometime. If I do. I promise I’ll come back to you because somebody we know, but I love that. And that’s it. And here’s something that, again, my dear Walter Brueggemann has taught me, memory doesn’t work by itself.

What we do. I’m going to cry here, what we do when you teach design, reach people, make a podcast. What we do is we enact the memory. And without that enactment memory is nice. It sits on the shelf. It’s like a book you never get to read, but enacting it. Wow. And that brings it to the new creation.

Cause when you enact it, you say it’s like that, that group with our friend, you get giddy. They learned, Oh, I have one story from, and it’s from my dear friend. And it relates to this directly. Dear Peter, it is a Joy Norris. She teaches literacy groups. And she was once at a, with new neo literate people that are just learning to read and write. There were two people on the stage with a PowerPoint and they are going on and on and on. And joy happened to be sitting next to a young woman who had just graduated with her GED.

You know, she got her, her, so she was clearly literate and ready to go on. And she reached over this young woman and whispered to Joy, “they don’t know who we are”. So perhaps the one thing that is striking me deeply, Peter, is we’ve got to know not only what works, but what doesn’t work and be courageous to name it. So those two blokes on the stage, I don’t know what they were paying them, but they didn’t get their money’s worth. And the people in those chairs were being insulted.

That’s domination. We write right back to the Shift of Power.a shift the Power beautiful, beautiful title dear. And as you know, I’m big on titles.

Peter (27m 57s): Well, I think we need to wrap up our time together. Jane yeah, we can go on ahead and we will go on, we’ll tell stories and we’ll recall, and we’ll hear the pinging of the insights from one generation to another.

Jane (28m 12s): Exactly. Exactly.

Meg (28m 14s): Thank you so much again, Jane, for joining us today, always a pleasure to talk to you and we’re of course, looking forward to welcoming you back in a few episodes later on in this season.

Peter (28m 25s): So, but now to our listeners, we want to leave you with a question. What insights that Jane shared today do you see will Shift the Power in the next months and years. That’s our question for you.

Jane (28m 42s): Wonderful.

Meg (28m 52s): Thank you for tuning in to another episode of “Shift the Power: A Learning-Centered Podcast”. This podcast is produced by Global Learning Partners and Greg Tilton with music by Una Walkenhorst. To find out more about Global Learning Partners, whether it be our course offerings, consulting services, free resources or blogs, 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. If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving us a review on Apple podcasts or your preferred podcast player.