"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella
Women, Infant, Children (WIC) is a federally-funded health and nutrition program for women, infants, and children. WIC helps families by providing checks for buying healthy supplemental foods from WIC-authorized vendors, nutrition education, and help finding healthcare and other community services. In California (CA), 82 WIC agencies provide services locally to over 1.4 million women, infants and children each month at over 600 sites throughout the State www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/wicworks/Pages/default.aspx .
Early in 2001, a brilliant and devoted staff member of CA WIC read Jane Vella’s book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach and it spoke to him, loudly. He gathered colleagues together and invited Global Learning Partners, Inc. (GLP) to come talk with them about the learning- centered approach and what it could do for their organization. What emerged from that initial meeting has now transformed CA WIC’s extensive nutrition education efforts.
To begin, GLP led several courses with senior staff of CA WIC’s State offices. Leaders from that initial group worked with GLP to spread the approach to local agencies, as well as to many more teams of State-based staff. To deeply understand the reality of our client – and its own customers – the GLP team conducted an in-depth learning needs and resource assessment. We faithfully used GLP’s Ask-Study-Observe model: we read data about WIC’s successes, challenges, and innovations; we spoke with staff in all sorts of roles; and, we observed counseling and group education sessions. Some of us actually had the experience of receiving WIC – and “felt” the struggles and joys of working through the process at the supermarket. We did all we could to live the WIC experience.
GLP crafted a CA WIC version of each of our core courses. Over the decade, over 1000 staff participated in 50 tailored courses (based on the book, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach). Many of these graduates went on to complete Advanced Learning Design. We developed additional courses, such as Design Reinforcement Seminar to satisfy staff who were eager for ongoing and greater learning. And, we drafted the launch version of a brand new course, SURE-Fire Meetings. GLP teamed with seasoned educators within CA WIC to create general guidelines for organizational use, and conducted reviews of designs created by local agencies.
Over the initial years, hundreds of staff began bringing the principles of dialogue-based learning into their work in a myriad of ways. Front line staff – those who worked with WIC parents and children on a daily basis – were also keen to build their understanding and skills. CA WIC invited GLP to work with them to create a new program designed especially for these front line staff. With CA WIC staff in the forefront once again, we designed a course called Finding the Teacher Within (FTW) which extracted the essence of a learning-centered approach and gave staff a chance to apply the approach to their regular interactions with clients. Selected local agencies engaged fully in the FTW program, and became sites for a formal evaluation comparing the learning-centered approach with the traditional approach. The results of the evaluation are intriguing.
After a decade of positive collaborations, CA WIC is now breaking new ground, creating their own training opportunities and materials on participant-centered education (PCE). We salute them!