"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Posts tagged with "Dialogue"

Team Building, It Doesn't Have to be an Add On

In the International Budget Partnership (IBP), we have been working hard to embrace the principles and practice of Dialogue Education in all our meetings and learning events. Recently though, we have had to think about teambuilding or creating a network-dynamic through these events. At first, that felt overwhelming. Then, I realized: by embracing learning-centered principles and practices we are actually already working on teambuilding in our workshops and learning events without it being an “add-on.” Great!

Here are some aspects of design and facilitation we keep in mind to deepen the learning of the priority content we teach as well as working on building connections and a sense of team. Yup, double-dipping we can all love!


  1. Invite small group and pair work. By inviting participants to share with just a few people, all voices are raised, and meaningful and purposeful dialogue is shared.             
  2. Invite story sharing. By sharing our personal stories in the context of learning, we are also sharing part of ourselves. This is powerful and helps connect us.
  3. Sample personal action plans. We often have time at the end to reflect on our learning and decide what we want to move forward in our work. Hearing colleagues’ plans is interesting and helpful.
  4. Mix the groups throughout the day(s). It is human nature to want to stay sitting with the same people, even in an all-day learning session. Invitations to move to other tables is sometimes all we need to sit with people we don’t know as well.
  5. Mix the size of groups. Shifting from pair work to small group work to large group work keeps the energy up and helps deepen our relationships.



  1. Check in at the beginning. Most individuals are not ready to learn the minute they step in the workshop room. Opening the space for personal sharing before launching into the day can be extremely helpful to some.
  2. Use “we” language when possible. Language usage is important and can help minimize the sense of us/them or you/me. Using “we” while facilitating reminds everyone that we are part of the same team.
  3. Minimize "the single story." We never want to pretend to know someone else’s story or to speak for them. Reference specific stories and experienced already shared in the room, and refrain from generalizations.
  4. Offer tons of affirmation. Resistance can be experienced for a diversity of (valid) reasons: I don’t feel ready for what you are saying; I feel excluded from the group; I am confused and don’t know what we are doing; or, I don’t know why I am here. Affirmation helps minimize resistance.
  5. Co-create guidelines. When they are created by the group and agreed to by them, you can use it as a tool for ensuring safety and respect for your event.

At IBP, these tips continue to strengthen our skills as well as our sense of team. And, the good news: we don’t need special workshops on teambuilding!


How have you seen teambuilding naturally happen as a result of using Dialogue Education principles and practices?


Aideen Gilmore (agilmore@internationalbudget.org) is Senior Program Officer with the Training, Technical Assistance and Networking team in the International Budget Partnership. In this role, she works to build civil society organizations (CSOs) capacity to perform analysis of and advocacy on public finance and fiscal justice issues. 

Quick Checklist of 5 Tips for Engaging Webinars

What do you do when you have 50 minutes to teach a topic and your only access to the learners is a chat box?  Before you press send on your slide deck, check out this quick checklist that might spark a little extra engagement for the participants of your next webinar.  If you want a more thorough look at a learning-centered approach for developing a webinar, check out this post from Dwayne Hodgson Certified Dialogue Education Teacher.

1.  There are engagement activities scheduled before, during and after the webinar.

A participant packet sent out ahead of time can include a pre-webinar reflection on the topic, space for writing during the webinar, and a post-webinar suggested activity such as planning to talk to a colleague about what was learned.

Tip: Remind participants at the beginning of the webinar to print the packet and write on it if they haven’t already.

2.  Your webinar agenda slide lists what the participants will do during the webinar.

It is sometimes easier (or a habit) to start with a list of the items you want to cover. Writing down what you want people to do after the webinar can help you decide what they will need to do during it.  It can also help you eliminate unnecessary content when you have a short time with busy people.

Example webinar goal: Participants will use a new resource guide during the month following the webinar.

Agenda:  During this hour, you will

  • Examine how the guide can help you in your daily work
  • Discover how each resource in the guide can aid your daily process
  • Take a first step in improving your daily process

3.  Engagement activities help learners connect with what they already know about the topic, introduce new content, and apply it to their situation. 

The Global Learning Partners 4-A model (Anchor, Add, Apply, Away) is a foolproof tool for learning that lasts.


  • Share in the chat box. What good practices do you already do that have the most impact on improving your daily process? (prior knowledge)
  • Answer the webinar poll on your screen: Which of the tools in the guide are you most interested in learning about. (new content)
  • Share in the Q&A Box.  What is a next step that would have the most impact for your work in improving your daily process? (action or next step)

4.  Your slide deck includes graphs and limited text in plain language.

The adage “Less is more” was never truer than for webinar slides.  A quick search of “death by PowerPoint” can yield some good ideas on getting your message across with the least amount of text or with graphics.  Just keep going through your slides and striking out unnecessary words. Speak conversationally to your audience using “you” (see examples in #3 above).

Tip:  More in-depth content can be shared in a separate document; your webinar platform may be able to have it right there ready to download.

5.  Your reflection questions or engagement questions use powerful or appreciative open questions for critical thinking and deeper connection.

Appreciative inquiry deliberately asks positive questions to ignite constructive dialogue and inspired action. Small tweaks can add an appreciative approach to your engagement questions.   You may need to leave a few extra seconds of quiet time for participants to think before moving forward.


Open question:  Share in the chat box:  What do you already do to improve your daily process?

Appreciative open question: Share in the chat box.  What good practices do you already have that make the most impact on improving your daily process?

You can learn more about a learning-centered approach in your online learning activities in Global Learning Partners courses and our extensive collection of blog posts from our international network of practitioners, teachers and other experts in similar fields.


Rachel Nicolosi is a member of the GLP core consulting team and recently completed several client projects which required webinars to spread good ideas within a state and across several states looking to adopt best practices and learn from each other.  She says that having a practitioner on the webinar who has had experience using the content being shared is one of the best options for getting participants what they need to know to help them take the next step in applying the content.

Active Learning Held in High Esteem at One of Nation's Top Medical Colleges

The University of Vermont College of Medicine set a goal to fully embrace “active learning” by the year 2019 – and they are succeeding!

When the College received a generous alumni gift, they wanted to make sure to invest it in the most impactful ways. Their research showed that, in order to become the best medical school in the nation, they would need to replace their traditional teacher-centered approach with an evidence-based learning-centered approach. They are now a model for engaged, active learning. You can see it in their curricula, their space, and their overall culture of teaching.

Visit this site to take a closer look at HOW the College of Medicine is undergoing a transformation. Here you’ll find 1) a description of active learning; 2) reasons WHY the school is committed to it; 3) WHAT methods are replacing lectures; and 4) a video on the learning environment. As one of the nation’s oldest medical schools, facilities were built for a much more “teacher-centered” approach – but this video illustrates how they repurposed space and used technology to be more student and learning-centered. This is awesome!

We also recommend taking a moment to enjoy this short NPR Interview  with Dr. William Jeffries, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education at the Robert Larner M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  In the interview, Dr. Jeffries reflects on his own realization that lectures were not the best teaching approach. He offers a beautiful example of how to teach pharmacokinetics using this new approach, while acknowledging that the principles of active learning apply to all topics taught in the medical school.

“We’re finding out a lot from the neuroscience of learning that the brain needs to accumulate the information but then also organize it and create an internal story that makes the knowledge make sense. When you just tell somebody something, the chances of them remembering it diminishes over time. But, when you are required to use that information you are likely to remember it much better.” 

For more insights into the benefits of active learning on learners, teachers and community, contact Dr. Jeffries: (william.b.jeffries@med.uvm.edu). To discover more about what a learning-centered approach might look like in your organization, sign up for a Global Learning Partners course or some one-on-one coaching with a member of our core consulting team.


What does UVM’s experience say about how to elevate active learning in your setting?

* * * * *

Val Uccellani crafted this short blog. Val is a co-owner of GLP, Inc., a member of the Board, and a Senior Partner, as well as coordinator of GLP’s consulting services and certified practitioner network. Needless to say, she’s thrilled to discover places like UVM that are paving the way for a revolution in learning!

Learning about Dialogue in Middle School

I first learned about Global Learning Partners (GLP) and Dialogue Education about ten years ago when I started working for them. Since then I have applied the principles and practices not only in my work life, but also in my personal life. Most recently, I started using it in my role as Student Council Advisor at my local middle school.

Since our staff and consultants work globally, we deeply value any in-person time we get with each other. In 2017, we had one of these valuable face-to-face work sessions in Raleigh, North Carolina. During this trip Dr. Jane Vella invited us to her home for a mini-learning session. There we were asked to participate in a learning task about a concept from her book “On Teaching and Learning.” The concept of resisting vs. suspending immediately resonated with me. I instantly started jotting notes and planning ways I could introduce this concept to my politically diverse family members and to the Student Council I was involved in!

I spent the next few weeks designing a Student Council activity for 7th and 8th graders. Here’s what I did:

  1. I began by having one of the Student Council members read the following excerpt from Jane’s book “On Teaching and Learning.” Then, we discussed it to ensure everyone in the group understood the text.

“When we listen to someone speak, we face a critical choice. If we begin to form an opinion we can do one of two things: we can choose to defend our view and resist theirs. Try to get the other person to understand and accept the “right” way to see things (ours!). OR we can learn to suspend our opinion and the certainty that lies behind it. Suspension means that we neither suppress what we think nor advocate for it.”

     2.  Next the kids brainstormed a list of current “hot topics” they were interested in. Their list included:           

a.      Building a border wall along the United States/Mexico border

b.      School dress code

c.       Is Big Foot real

d.      Should 7th and 8th graders be allowed to have recess.

     3.  I asked two 8th graders to model resisting and suspending using helium balloons. They picked one of the hot topics and began a dialogue. Pulling the helium balloon down in front of your face modeled resisting and lifting the balloon above your head modeled suspending opinion. (See above image.)

          They wrote their position on the hot topic on their balloon. When they modeled resisting, the words were in their face indicating defense of their own view and resistance of the other’s view.

     4.  Then, I asked the kids to write examples of evidence of dialogue on Post-it notes. Some of their examples included:

a.      Hearing what someone says

b.      When people are talking and listening

c.       A conversation.

     5.  Next, we discussed what exactly listening is and what are actions associated with listening. Once again, they jotted their ideas on Post-it notes and took turns presenting their answers to the group.

     6.  Finally, it was time to practice what they learned. The kids split into groups of four (with two teams of two) and picked a hot topic of interest. One person in each team held the balloon and the other person engaged in dialogue. If the kids engaging in the dialogue started to show signs of resisting, the balloon holder would pull the balloon down as a reminder that they weren’t suspending or truly listening to the other person. The student would then work harder to practice modeling suspending.

I was so happy to see the Student Council kids truly engaged in this activity from start to finish! The learning was powerful and impactful. Days later, I had teachers approach me to let me know that kids were still talking about resisting and suspending in their classrooms.

I’m excited to continue using the principles and practices of Dialogue Education to enrich the work and learning of Student Council this year!

How do you engage young people in their own learning?


Rebecca Kerin-Hutchins (rebecca@globallearningpartners.com) is a co-owner and Finance & Contracts Manager for Global Learning Partners. She is also the Student Council Advisor at Barre Town Middle & Elementary School. She resides in Vermont with her husband and four children.

Digital Training – Enabling Better Discussion? (Part III of V)

One participant came to speak to me about how the training session had been for her. At this early stage as a trainer, I had thought it had been good, but I listened. I had engaged participants with the content and had facilitated good discussion, either in small groups within the class or sometimes as a whole class.

“I am an introvert…” she said, “and I find it really hard to go from learning about a topic to talking about it almost right away with other people, even in small groups. I need time to reflect before I talk to others.”

Since then I have sought to give more reflection time in classroom sessions but this always has limits. It is hard to balance reflective time with time for participants to speak in class, either sharing their experience or asking thought-provoking questions. Facilitation inevitably involves keeping an eye on the clock. Keeping time for coffee break conversation is also important for learning!

How can digital learning do better? There are two ways I see that digital can help; one is fairly familiar and to be expected; the other perhaps less so. First of all, the familiar one…

Discussion forums are commonly used within digital training. This means that as well as synchronous discussion, with comments interconnecting as in a classroom, it is also possible to have asynchronous discussion, where comments are posted on a forum to be viewed or responded to after they are made. This helps not only introverts, but also others who wish to reflect further before posting, and helps lead to a richer discussion. There is a place for both synchronous and asynchronous discussion, and digital enables both. Each has different strengths, asynchronous for reflective discussion and synchronous for high energy to stimulate exploratory discussions or brainstorming or motivating those on the margins.

But there are also other advantages to discussion forums. Sometimes in a classroom, a fruitful conversation can occur informally after a class between a staff member and a student. I have seen and experienced this personally. But if it is face-to-face, the benefit to everyone else is lost unless summarised and shared widely with others later. Conversely, I have been in tutorial groups where a topic discussed is not relevant to me, yet there is no easy escape! Digital forums display each conversation to be selected as desired. It is thus possible to choose which ones to join and contribute to, and equally, which to ignore. One big advantage to discussion forums is in connecting learners who are drawn to the most appropriate topics, both to learn from and to contribute to.

The other way that digital enables reflective conversation is with digital documents. Digital significantly changes the nature of documents beyond convenience. With comments from readers enabled, the nature of a document changes significantly in at least two ways when made digital. For example, I found a recipe for Irish soda bread online but I not only read the recipe but also the comments below. Contributors suggested maybe more of one ingredient or less of another. Some readers added a surprise ingredient and told of subsequent results! This made the recipe no longer static, as it would be in a book, but that it was made alive by the community of contributors. A second change with digital is that while the authority of a book typically comes from the writer or publisher (such as a Delia Smith recipe in the UK!), with digital it comes from the acceptance of its readers.

Thus, digital forums and comments on online documents are both ways to enable asynchronous discussion among learners. This will result in a more reflective and so, more rewarding conversation.

How can digital enable better opportunities for discussion for your learners?


Read more blog posts by Peter Tate:

Peter Tate designs and delivers interfaith and cross-cultural training in both classroom and digital formats at the King’s Centre Southall, London. This is alongside his studies for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University on how to implement a Dialogue Education (DE) approach in online environments. He previously provided training consultancy as Brainy Training Solutions for various charities, including financial management training for the WaterAid charity. Before that, he delivered DE-type training for UK based charities Hope Consultants (developing digital training to make use of DE) and Wycliffe UK (training trainers to implement DE within their adult learning programmes).


Digital Training – Inevitable yet Inferior? (Part I of V)

One of my great passions in life is using adult education theory to create learning-centered training – working out how learners can best learn so they then go on to flourish. A significant addition to this in recent years is digital education, to which there are mixed reactions among facilitators and learners. For facilitators, there can be a sense of loss around diminished (or maybe even non-existent) face-to-face contact with learners, with loss of visual cues for assessing levels of engagement and comprehension. There may also be a feeling of reduced sense of community with digital learning. This sense of loss will be increased if the motivation for digital is extrinsic, maybe to try to cut costs or to make the training available to a wider reach of people. It could also be an attempt to make it appealing to ‘digital natives,’ those who have grown up not knowing anything other than being surrounded by technology. These factors can easily leave facilitators (and learners) feeling that digital is inevitable yet inferior.

Is this a fair conclusion?

Comparing classroom with digital like this can be like comparing apples with oranges, and concluding that oranges are inferior to apples because they lack certain apple-like qualities. Yet this is not a fair comparison since it overlooks unique intrinsic qualities of the orange. Equally, qualities of digital can be overlooked even though they have the potential to implement a learning approach that addresses longstanding issues in adult educational. Of course, unlike apples and oranges, classroom and digital is a spectrum, from fully classroom, through to classroom with a digital wraparound, to digital with residential components and finally on to fully digital. Strictly speaking, even a classroom course using PowerPoint presentations is partly digital education. The challenge is to see how a learning-centered approach can be implemented and even enhanced in each of these contexts.

But, should we be talking about digital education at all?

Recently I heard a debate on BBC Radio UK about this with the argument being that in classroom contexts we don’t talk of learners experiencing ‘pen learning.’ This is a valid point. Ultimately, it’s about learning and both digital and pen are ways in which to achieve this. However, since the digital component has a significant effect on how we answer our key design questions when developing training, I will continue to use the term in future posts in order to indicate its presence. It may be though that if a digital component becomes expected in future learning solutions then the ‘digital education’ term will indeed no longer be needed.


How do you primarily think of digital in the context of training – a sense of loss or a sense of gain?


Peter Tate is self-employed as an adult education consultant for Brainy Training Solutions and recently finished designing Financial Management training for the WaterAid charity. Previously he worked as a training designer for Hope Consultants, a UK-based international development organisation, where he created Dialogue Education-type training from existing video monologue content, and then prepared it for digital format. This was alongside study for a Masters in Digital Education with Edinburgh University, learning how to implement a Dialogue Education approach in online environments.

Participatory Decision-Making* : Dot-mocracy

Often when you are faced with a number of good ideas in a meeting, it is impossible or even undesirable to choose just one from a list of brainstormed options. Multi-voting is one way to poll the support that group members have for multiple options. To facilitate it, do the following:

  1. List the various choices on separate wall charts.
  2. Ask people to express their relative preferences by placing stickers or dots (hence “Dot-ocracy”) next to their preferred choices. Each person can choose to put all of their votes on one option or spread their votes over several options.
  3. Tally the number of dots that each option received to get a sense of the group’s combined preferences.

Multi-voting is good for taking a “quick read” of where the group is at, but take care to provide enough time for discussion in situations where understanding differences of opinion is important. Two further cautions:

  • Pay careful attention to how many votes each person gets. Generally, the number of votes per person can be calculated by dividing the number of choices by 3 (n/3).
  • Be careful not to assume that the “winning” option is automatically the group’s preference since the difference between two competing options may not be statistically significant. For example, if Option A received 39 votes, and Option B received 37, for all intents and purposes, it is a tie and the group would do well to acknowledge that choosing one over the other is really only meeting the preference of about half of the group.


Where/when may this tool be helpful?


Jeanette Romkema is a Global Learning Partners (GLP) co-owner and Managing Partner of Communications and Marketing, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

Enliven Your Museum Experience: Strategies for Engaging and Interacting with Art

Every work of art can be seen as a complementary part of an undefined, unified whole of past human experience—a trail that leads to our doorstep and continues on with any of us open to exploring and continuing the conversation. Let’s invite the conversation!

Use the following questions and activities to explore artwork. Whether in a museum, in front of an apartment building, in a park, or in your home, artwork invites dialogue. Art has something to say.

Open questions can be provocative, personal, and powerful. Open questions are a tool to engage and interact with art.

Before Your Museum Visit

In preparation for your museum visit, go to the website and preview the collections available. Select three or four works of art that you would like to explore more deeply during your visit. If this is challenging to do in advance, at least decide which collection you would like to explore more intentionally. You can decide which artwork to spend quality time with once you are in that collection.    

Consider bringing a journal or notebook with you to record your thoughts and ideas, and to draw or doddle. If you are new to this tool for engagement, try it out with a few works of art and see how it feels. You may be surprised!

Photocopy or transcribe the below questions to take with you. Although you may not want to work through all the questions, having them at hand can be helpful. 

Lastly, give yourself plenty of time—each artwork offers a world to reflect on, appreciate and learning from.

First Impressions  

When answering these questions, look only at the title of the artwork and the name of the artist. 

  •  What is the first thing you notice about this artwork?
  •   What words or ideas come to mind?
  •   How does this artwork make you feel? Why might this be?
  •   What is going on in this artwork?
  •   What else do you notice?

Going Deeper

  • What do you know about this artwork or the objects in it? What is familiar/unfamiliar?
  • What more can you say about the different characters/elements of the artwork?
  • What more can you say about where and when this is happening? Consider factors such as era, season, time of day, or moment of action.
  • Where was the artist standing in order to create this artwork? Why may this be?
  • What colours, textures, types of lines and shapes are used to communicate? Why may this be?

About the Artist

As we consider the artist’s perspective, read the information on the wall about the artist and the particular piece you are looking at.

  • What do you think interested the artist in this subject?
  • What may be different had the artist created this artwork today? In your city?
  • What would you like to ask the artist if she/he was here?
  • What may the artist say about this artwork?
  • What style or techniques did the artist use? Why may this be?

It’s Time to Draw

Take a closer look at the lines, colors, textures, patterns and shapes that you see in the artwork. Select a portion of the artwork that interests you and draw/re-create it in a 6” x 6” square. Use your impression and interpretation of the artwork. Be creative!

  • What do you notice about your drawing?
  • How would the feeling of the artwork change from the original, if you drew the entire piece in this way?

Stimulate Your Senses

  • How could you animate this artwork to show movement?
  • What music does this artwork evoke for you?
  • Place yourself in the artwork. What do you see, hear, feel, do, smell, or taste? Who are you in relation to the overall theme or topic in the artwork?
  • What may have happened before or after what is depicted in the artwork? What suggests this to you?

Sum It Up

  • What is the principal theme in this artwork, for you? What would you change or add to the artwork to have it be more related to this principal theme? 
  • What important message(s) does this artwork offer for you today?


So, which museum are you going to visit next? Which 2-3 questions do you know you want to take with you to deepen the dialogue and learning?


Mary Jane Oliveri loves visiting museums and art. Presently, MJ lives and works for several non-profit associations in Paris, France.

Shared Power: Differences in Dialogue with Children and Adults

“Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children?”​

I heard this question many times as a graduate student, but never thought I would have to answer it myself. I had no idea I would soon be working as an Afterschool Teacher with a diverse group of eighteen 4th and 5th grade students. This job forced me to reevaluate the lessons I learned as a student and practitioner of Dialogue Education and a learning-centered approach. Every day, amidst the chaos of my classroom, I thought to myself:  “Dialogue Education sounds great, but what does it look like with children—especially these kids?”

By daily asking this question, I began to live my way into an answer; an answer that has fundamentally changed my understanding of dialogue, and my understanding of power.

When I first encountered Dialogue Education, I thought it was all about letting go of power. The teacher, forsaking professorial domination in pursuit of real dialogue, becomes a co-learner and creates space for learners to discover their own power. Then the teacher “gets out of the way,” relinquishing power to learners until the process is complete in an event called “the death of the professor.” In my mind, Dialogue Education invited me to let go of power as a teacher for the sake of learners and their learning, as an act of love.

Then, at my new job, I received the opposite advice: I was instructed to hold on to control as much as I could. “These kids are tough,” more experienced teachers told me. “They will push you around if you let them, so they need to know you are in control.” As much as I cringed at this advice, these teachers knew what they were talking about. The more power I let go of, the more my students took advantage of it. When I didn’t hold on to control, students would cause problems for each other and someone would get hurt. When I held on to as much control as I could, I protected students from each other, and from themselves. This, too, was an act of love.

And yet I was not content to dictate classroom dynamics, even if it led to increased order and productivity. I still believed in dialogue as well as a learning-centered approach to teaching. So I did not forsake Dialogue Education, but wrestled to re-contextualize the principles and practices for a rowdy crowd of elementary students. In doing so, I realized how Dialogue Education is not mainly about letting go of power, nor is it about holding on to control: it is about using power well so that it can be shared, which may mean letting go of power or holding on to control, depending on the situation.

This has changed the way I employ the principles and practices of Dialogue Education as taught by Global Learning Partners. Take the principle of “Safety,” for example. Sometimes, safety requires “getting out of the way” to allow softer voices to be heard. Other times, safety requires “getting in the way” to prevent louder voices from dominating. Or take the principle of  “Respect.” Sometimes, respect means allowing learners to make their own decisions. Other times, respect requires taking away this privilege when they are actively disrespecting one another with harmful words and actions. In my own class, I learned that cultivating safety and respect does not only require a soft heart; it also requires thick skin.

So, what does Dialogue Education look like with children?

It still looks like applying the principles and practices, only with younger learners who often require power to be used differently for dialogue to emerge. Ultimately, this points to the necessity of a learning needs and resources assessment, and the importance of the “WHO” in every learning situation. Before we can say what Dialogue Education looks like with children, we must ask, “Which children?”

With the children in my class, I first had to close the space so that learners could safely and respectfully engage without yelling and flying objects getting in the way. Only then could dialogue emerge. In other words, I had to use my power in such a way that this specific group of learners could use theirs. On the occasions when I succeeded, the result was an environment of giving and receiving what one another had to offer—a power that was shared, even enjoyed.

As teachers, we need to ask ourselves what will maximize learning in each situation. My goal now is not always letting go of my power, nor is it holding on to control—it is to use my power well, for and with the specific learners in the room. The principles and practices of Dialogue Education call us to use our power well and intentionally so that others can use theirs, until the power of every learner can be shared in love.

What other learning-centered principles and practices have you found to be effective with children?

How may this be different or the same when working with youth?


Drew Boa works at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. He is in the process of publishing a curriculum for youth about sexual health and wellness, which he began designing while taking "Advanced Learning Design" with Global Learning Partners. He loves Dialogue Education and is a daily practitioner!

The Praxis of Dialogue

One of my favorite axioms is: There are three things that make effective learning happen, in this order: time, time and time.

While the wry humor in that axiom always gets a belated laugh, the significance and meaning it offers is not at all trivial. I discovered the biology behind my simple axiom as I reread, with delight, Norman Doidge’s amazing book The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

Consider the implications of this paragraph from p 24:

Traditional rehabilitation exercises typically ended after a few weeks, when a patient stopped improving, or “plateaued,” and doctors lost the motivation to continue. But Bach-y-Rita, based on his knowledge of nerve growth, began to argue that these learning plateaus were temporary —part of a plasticity -based learning cycle— in which stages of learning are followed by periods of consolidation . Though there was no apparent progress in the consolidation stage, biological changes were happening internally, as new skills became more automatic and refined.

In our present school system we rush students from one 45 minute session to another, without any reflection time or periods of consolidation.  This lovely story of a dinner table conversation between a father and his six year old son captures this principle:

Dad: What was the best thing that happened at school today, Tim?

Tim:  Recess! We went out into the garden!

I see that Tim knew he needed a period of consolidation; he wanted to learn! He knew praxis: action with reflection long before he took the Foundations of Dialogue Education course!

How can we re-design our courses, webinars, or learning tasks to include what the brain is telling us it needs: a quiet time, a period of consolidation, the opportunity to reflect on the new information or skill or attitude we just met?

In Johannesburg, South Africa years ago, I was doing a course on Dialogue Education with law professors from the university.  My friend Tricia, whom I met at a Quaker meeting, sat in on the course to observe the process. I shall never forget her comment at the end of the first day: “That is amazing, Jane. Have you ever thought of using quiet?”  Tricia challenged me then to consider The Praxis of Dialogue.  Norman Doidge offered me today the biology behind it.  

  • When have you used quiet to enhance learning in a course or workshop? 
  • When have you given yourself a period of consolidation to ensure your own learning?

How to Stop Dialogue and How to Make Dialogue Thrive

We know from biology that fear incites the amygdala in the brain to pour adrenalin into the bloodstream, to give us the sudden energy that gets us out of a burning building. We know that while the amygdala is working, synapses in the brain are inhibited so we can focus on the danger at hand. No new dendrites grow in an adrenaline-soaked brain!

Thank you James E Zull and “The Art of Changing the Brain”.  So fear is a sure way to stop dialogue. “You stupid child!  You’re going to get it!’  Fear, scolding, laughing at a learner, shaming of any kind inhibits movement towards the frontal cortex and stops learning.  It is all biology, baby!   #1 Dialogue Killer: Fear 

My dear friend Paula and I sat by the fire one cold winter evening and considered what else inhibits those synapses, stopping learning, cutting off dialogue.

How about “BUT”? I offer an insight or a suggestion and someone in the group says BUT…dismissing my idea, giving 19 reasons why it would never work, kicking the amygdala into action.  Dialogue dies.  #2 Dialogue Killer: BUT…

How about what I irreverently call dialogue interruptus.  You are speaking and I speak right over your voice, interrupting any listening or possible responses to your contribution. #3 Dialogue Killer: Interrupting

How about “just”?  This is often a self-inflicted killer: When I offer my idea I say: ‘This is just an idea…”  “Hello, it is just me.” I have dismissed my own ideas and my own self!  # 4 Dialogue Killer: Just

How about “I”?  When Mary offers an idea, John immediately says: “I tried that once and it was a mess!”  Or “I did this and that” or “I can see how that would be difficult in MY situation…”  I, I, I.  Mary’s offering is dismissed by what Paula and I called the Greedy Grabbing Eye.  #5 Dialogue Killer: The Greedy Grabbing “I”

Dialogue is a gentle, loving, productive art and is both susceptible and vulnerable. It needs attention!  It needs a quiet amygdala (safety), throughout the room. It needs our preparatory work through the LNRA so we know as much as we can about the learners’ themes and contexts.  It needs some quiet time and always careful listening.

Dialogue thrives when I begin my response to your idea with AND, not BUT. 

Dialogue thrives when I let you complete your thought and never interrupt you. 

Dialogue thrives when I do not put myself or my ideas down.  Instead of “It is just me…”, “Hello, it is Jane!”

“This is what I think.” Instead of “’I’ just thought perhaps we could…”

Dialogue thrives when I avoid an immediate reference to my situation, beginning my response with YOU instead of I. “You must have felt frightened in that situation”, instead of, “I had a close call on the highway just last week…”

What other Dialogue Killers do you notice?  And what are the opposite behaviors that can make dialogue thrive?

Meta–Culture: Talking for Understanding, Listening for Change

(Note from GLP:  We hope you enjoy learning a bit about our friends at Meta-Culture in India!)

How do you get people to listen to each other’s side of the story when, because of a number of social, cultural, and historic reasons, different groups have been more averse to fighting each other than understanding? For the past 9 years, Meta–Culture has been doing just that—and succeeding. Founded in 2005 by University of Massachusetts-Boston alumnus, Ashok Panikkar, and based in Bangalore, India, Meta–Culture is South Asia’s first specialized organization dedicated to the field and practice of conflict resolution, consensus building, relationship management, and dialogue.

Although establishing the field in India has been fraught with challenges, Meta–Culture is steadfast in its endeavor to fulfill its mission: build sustainable communities by changing how people address conflict and make decisions. Its aim is to assist conflicting stakeholders first understand and respect each other’s perspectives, and then apply their diverse thinking to joint problem solving. The result is better decision–making, more sustainable agreements, smarter policies, and stronger and more peaceable communities. This is done, in part, through creating more robust processes for dialogue throughout India, South Asia, and beyond in order to fundamentally change both society as well as how it addresses conflict.

Dialogue is not just any conversation. It is an uncommon conversation!

Dialogue is a methodology that focuses on the skill and process of having critical conversations, and is used to help individuals or groups with differing views and beliefs to engage in focused and productive conversation so that they deepen their understanding of each other. Dialogue is not debate! With the help of an impartial “third party” facilitator, participants in a dialogue process agree to cease rhetoric and argument, and instead strive to communicate respectfully, listen to each other, and ask questions to improve their understanding. They talk about their experiences and values, and the why behind what they believe. Perhaps most important, dialogue challenges participants to suspend judgment of their counterparts, dispel stereotypes, and enable openness to perspectives different from their own.

The goal of dialogue is not to solve problems or create agreements. Although dialogue may lead to opportunities for collaborative action, the process aims to help people learn about each other and discover common concerns. Dialogue is also a necessary process for creating and enhancing participatory democracy in society. Dialogue is, in part, at the core of participatory mechanisms, and when coupled with civic engagement, makes for vibrant and peaceable communities.

In the mid–1900s, the Russian philosopher and semiotician, Mikhail Bakhtin, developed a theory of “dialogue” that highlighted the power of discourse to enhance individuals’ understanding of multiple perspectives and create a range of synergistic possibilities. Later, David Bohm of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a practical form of “dialogue” where, in a conversation facilitated by an impartial third party, groups explore their assumptions and the social effects of these assumptions. In Bohm’s dialogue, participants agree to cease debate and persuasion. Instead, they speak from their own experience on topics presented to them by the facilitator and other participants. Through its evolution as a form of dispute transformation, dialogue has come to be recognized as a structured process for helping groups share perspectives, resolve conflicts, and achieve sustainable change.

An effective dialogue process requires the skilled facilitation of an impartial “third party,” someone with no direct stake in the issues or any bias towards any of the participating stakeholders. The role of a dialogue facilitator differs from that of a moderator, whose aim it is merely to organize discussion and ensure that those who wish to speak get a chance to do so. In contrast, the role of the dialogue facilitator is to:

  • Plan and structure the process with an awareness of participants’ desires and concerns;
  • Create a safe space for discussion by ensuring and maintaining communication agreements;
  • Design the process so that participants are encouraged to reflect and ask questions;
  • Use effective inquiry so that participants explore their belief systems in the context of their behaviours towards “the other;” and
  • Be aware of and respond to participants’ needs throughout the process.

The Role of Dialogue in India and South Asia

With over 1.25 billion people, and more religious, linguistic, caste, and sub nationalities than Europe, India is a country that desperately needs expanded processes for dialogue. Over the past nine years, Meta–Culture has focused its attention on bringing collaborative processes such as dialogue to areas as diverse as communities, interreligious disputes, and multi–stakeholder disputes.

Community dialogue refers to providing a facilitated platform for residents to voice their concerns and engage with each other. Over a one–year period from June 2008, Meta–Culture organized and facilitated community dialogues open to individuals living and working in the Bangalore metro area. The series, entitled Bengaluru Speaks, created a space for residents of Bangalore to engage in focused and productive conversation about issues that matter to them but which were difficult to address, rarely spoken of in a public setting or have yet to be resolved by Bangalore’s public officials. After five years, it is now being restarted in the summer of 2014.

Meta–Culture’s interreligious dialogue stems from the growing divide between Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and other faith groups. Tensions between these groups have often erupted into inter–religious conflict and rioting, and Meta–Culture is taking a proactive step in helping to address these differences in constructive ways. In 2007, Meta-Culture launched the Inter-Religious Dialogue, a 12–session dialogue process between leaders from the Hindu, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist communities. Later in 2012, Meta–Culture founded the Karnataka Hindu–Christian Inter–faith Dialogues in response to attacks on churches in the city of Mangalore, which is currently in its second year. It involved designing and developing a process to create a safe space for key representatives of both communities to engage in honest discussions about contentious communal issues, build relationships based on understanding, trust and respect and enhance local capacity for peaceful conflict resolution, community building, and consensus building. A project that has now developed, in part, to the success of the Hindu–Christians dialogue, is a new dialogue series between Hindu and Muslim community leaders currently being developed, and started March 22nd, 2014.

Engaging in Multi–stakeholder dialogue is the third key area of Meta–Culture’s work. Two examples of successful projects include the Bangladesh Brick Manufacturing Stakeholder Dialogue and the Garment Sector Roundtable. Held in 2013, the primary issue of focus of the Brick Manufacturing Stakeholder dialogue was the increasing pollution caused by the brick kilns in Bangladesh and the consequences of this on public health. The participants included representatives of government agencies, brick kiln owners, brick dealers, international funding agencies, academic institutions, and non–governmental organizations. This was the first time that a multi–stakeholder dialogue of this kind had been conducted in Bangladesh. Stakeholders who were unable to communicate with each other earlier came together to brainstorm issues of common concerns and agree on a set of issues to be of collective priority.

The Garment Sector Roundtable was a two and a half year dialogue process that brought together various stakeholders in the garment sector with historically competing interests and adversarial relationships. Launched in 2011, Meta–Culture acted as a third–party convener and facilitator of this process in order to create a multi–stakeholder group capable of discussing differences, identify common interests and taking collaborative action to initiate systemic changes within the industry. Stakeholders acknowledged that, in the absence of this dialogue process, primary operations in the sector faced the threat of being outsourced to other regions in South Asia. The stakeholders included multi–national brands, domestic manufacturers, industry associations, government, trade unions, NGOs (international and domestic), and research institutions. Over a period of two and a half years, the Roundtable participants dealt in depth with three key issues of the garment sector through, collaborative brainstorming, and consensus building. Also, two work groups were formed to conduct primary research and take outcome–oriented actions on specific issues, both of which are ongoing projects. Learn more about the GSR in these videos and case study.

Facilitating Dialogue: Internationally and Beyond

Meta–Culture’s experience with dialogue extends beyond borders and processes. For instance, Meta–Culture was asked in early 2013 by Mediators Beyond Borders–International to assist with a dialogue initiative to design, organize, and conduct dialogues to address migration issues in Athens, Greece. The increasing numbers of migrants to Greece who come in search of better opportunities has led to violence, hatred and political turmoil, fracturing communities in the country. This dialogue initiative aimed to address this sensitive issue by engaging key stakeholders in structured dialogue sessions. The participants included representatives of migrant organizations and communities, government officials, political and community leaders, religious organizations and police officials.

Aside from this, Meta-Culture hosts a 4–day residential workshop called Ah!Wake to learn creative and effective mechanisms to manage complexity, diversity, conflict, and change. This experiential and unique program is, in equal measure, philosophy, critical thinking, creative problem solving, self–reflection, and skill building. Participants emerge with a wholly unique way of understanding themselves, others, community building, participative democracy, and what it takes to manage differences through dialogue and collaborative problem solving.

Lastly, Meta–Culture recently launched the Public Intelligence Project—an initiative that seeks to better manage diversity and reduce conflict through more effective participatory democratic methods, and by giving voice to the voiceless. Established in 2013, the Public Intelligence Project is an independent, non–partisan, not–for–profit organization that seeks to promote more proactive ways to manage diversity, mainly by advocating for better methods of addressing public differences and empowering silenced voices. We believe that by creating a “culture of democracy”—a social and political environment that is marked by strong civic and community engagement and public participation in the decision–making processes—governance can be significantly improved, and conflict can be prevented. The foundations of that culture are built on dialogue, critical thinking, diversity of thought, perspective, and opinion, and freedom of expression and dissent, and the Project seeks to develop these capabilities through research, education, and advocacy.

To find our more about Meta–Culture’s work, check out our case studies, watch the videos on our YouTube Channel, or e–mail us at: info@meta-culture.in!

In recognition of Meta–Culture’s efforts in India and the region, Meta–Culture was the 2010 recipient of the Outstanding Leadership Award of the International Committee of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR).

Guest blogger Michael Oghia is Research and Advocacy Consultant for Meta-Culture.


Upping the Ante on Brainstorming: 5 tips to increase group creativity and productivity

Next time I’m planning an idea-generating session, I’ll consider suggesting that we invite a few new people to the group who can offer a novel take. Maybe I’ll even throw a rubber chicken into the circle when things are running along a predictable path! ~ Michael Culliton

For years I have used “brainstorming” to help groups generate creative responses to important and challenging situations. Recently, I’ve run across several things that have led me to realize that if I really want to help groups cultivate and amplify creativity, then I need to do some things differently.

The journey began with reading James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain as preparation for Dr. Jane Vella’s plenary session, “The Biology of Learning,” at the October 2013 International Dialogue Education Institute. This has heightened my curiosity about learning, creativity and the brain and led me to, among other things, a fascinating interview with Rex Jung, a professor of neurosurgery and a clinical neuropsychologist talking about creativity and the everyday brain.

It was in the interview with Dr. Jung that I heard the bad news:  my beloved brainstorming was not a healthy host for creativity. The studies supporting this conclusion are presented in a New Yorker article by Jonah Lehrer, “Groupthink: the brainstorming myth.” (If you are interested in a thorough and nuanced explanation of the research mentioned below, I highly recommend the article.)

Based on the research presented in the article, here are five things I plan to do differently.

  1. STOP using the term “brainstorming.” As far back as 1958, a study at Yale University showed that the process doesn’t yield the best results within a group. So, I think it’s time to give it up. I’m not sure what to call the revised process of creative idea generation just yet (any ideas?).
  2. Ask people to engage in “solo” idea-generation first.  Subsequent research at Northwestern University confirmed the Yale study and also showed that a group produces a greater number and better quality of ideas when people generate a solo list of ideas first and then bring them to the group. (Sorry fellow extroverts!)
  3. When the solo ideas are brought to large group, introduce a “debate condition.” Studies done in 2003 at Berkeley found that ideas and actions are more effective when they are vetted via a process that allows for questioning and challenge. (Farewell my sweet brainstorming guideline of “No judging, analyzing, or evaluating of ideas!”) Given the principle of “safety,” as a Dialogue Education practitioner I’ll need to experiment with structures that allow ideas to be vetted while honoring this important principle.
  4. In group idea-generating conversations, experiment with ways to interject “errant responses” that have the potential to interrupt predictability and foster “aha’s.” The same Berkeley researcher mentioned above found that “unfamiliar perspectives,” as well as “unexpected” – even wacky – responses, can help groups think their way off of well-worn paths. Next time I’m planning an idea-generating session, I’ll consider suggesting that we invite a few new people to the group who can offer a novel take. Maybe I’ll even throw a rubber chicken into the circle when things are running along a predictable path!
  5. Structure meeting and break-times in ways that foster more mixing and happenstance. Recent studies at Harvard University suggest that physical proximity and spontaneous interactions foster creativity. This has led me to wonder how I as a Dialogue Education practitioner can better structure meeting and break-time environments to increase the opportunity for people to interact with a greater number and variety of people. For starters, in designing meeting processes, perhaps I’ll make greater use of tasks that invite people to share “cocktail party style” or “speed-dating fashion.” Maybe I’ll put the beverages at one end of the room and the snacks at the other.

I’m looking forward to playing with these changes in the idea-generation process and to discovering how these revised practices help me and the groups of which I am a part to be even more creative and productive.

What ideas come to mind for you?

What might a Dialogue Education-based idea-generation process, one that puts the research outlined above into practice, look like?

How might a Dialogue Educator introduce such a practice to a group or in meeting?


Michael Culliton, GLP Partner, is co-facilitating a session entitled Educational Jujitsu for the 21st Century: Applying User Research and Design in Learning at the Learning & Change International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013 in Baltimore, MD, USA, where he's also offering one-on-one private consultations.

You can also work with Michael is an upcoming workshop:  Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach   |   October 1-4, 2013   |   San Diego, California

The Value of Design: A Student and Instructor Reflect on Why It Matters

By Dan Haase and Kyle Tennant

 Dan Haase, left, talks with his student, Kyle Tennant.

“The design bears the burden.” This is one of our favorite axioms of Jane Vella’s. Our experience with this truth came through a college graduate course entitled “Teaching for Transformation.” Before the class began, we realized we had a major problem with the WHEN. Due to an unalterable work schedule, Kyle Tennant (the student) was not able to make the weekly required course during its slotted timeframe. The eight steps were completed. All of the WHAT, the WHAT FOR, and the HOW were written. Dan (the instructor) began to wonder . . . could the design truly bear the burden? Could Kyle still experience deep learning without actually attending the class? Fortunately, another student had the same scheduling conflict. Putting confidence in the design, and with an experimental spirit, Dan offered the course as an independent study wherein Kyle and the other student would gather weekly to work through the prepared learning tasks.

This is Dan and Kyle's conversation about the outcome.

Dan:  What was your initial response to our course?

Kyle:  I think I felt both excitement and trepidation. I was absolutely thrilled to be gaining more tools for my teaching toolbox, yet taking in all of the information was certainly challenging! While I was given everything I needed to engage with the content in terms of What, What For, and How, the documents were intimidating. A learner who is new to Dialogue Education (DE) will be confused by a single learning task; imagine getting a document with over 70 on the first day of class! But you made yourself available to me via email and telephone, which resulted in an increase in excitement and courage, and a decrease in trepidation.

Dan:  I know for me, I wondered how this independent study would work since you were not physically in the class where I was facilitating the tasks. It was good that you had a classmate to walk with through the tasks and without this I don’t think the course would have worked at all, due to the amount of interaction that took place in groups. What challenges did you face as the course progressed?

Kyle:  The challenge for us was to do the extra work of synthesizing the learning tasks on the paper into a cohesive unit of our own understanding. With in-person learning, the facilitator transitions learners between tasks, and ultimately synthesizes them into a cohesive unit. In Dan’s absence, we were forced to link the sequence of tasks on our own—we had to work to see the connection between each piece of new content and each task. This process was frequently awkward and stilted, but in the end it made for a deep appreciation for facilitators in the design process.

Dan:  How would you describe the role that design played in your learning, transfer and impact?

Kyle:  The axiom we mentioned  earlier – “the design bears the burden” – was proved true in that learning, transfer and impact occurred despite our facilitator’s absence. As we worked to turn these documents into cohesive pieces of understanding, we found ourselves “getting it.” Transfer happened intuitively:  as a pastor working with adolescents, I began to use DE in our weekly meetings, taking what I had just worked through earlier in the week and implementing it a only a few days later. Impact came when I asked students to prepare mini-sessions on a given subject, and they had me and my volunteer staff drawing, acting out, journaling, and singing about the given content.

Dan:  What suggestions or conclusions would you offer to those writing learning tasks when they will not be present to help facilitate?

Kyle:  A few ideas come to mind. First, do as Dan did:  be extremely available to your learners via email and phone. The lines of communication were always open, and we met with Dan frequently. Second, be sure to provide those learners in your absence with all the necessary materials—we received the handouts listed in the HOW at the beginning of each week, so we were able to keep up with the learning. Third, remember the power of a “tough verb” and a clear task. If your verbs aren’t tough, and your tasks aren’t clear, your learners can’t learn. A tough verb and a clear task needs no explanation! Lastly, trust your design and your learners. If the design is good, and your learners are willing, learning will happen!

What do YOU think about Dan and Kyle's experiment? What's your experience with "the design bears the burden?"

Dan Haase, a GLP Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner, is Adjunct Faculty and Internship Coordinator at Wheaton College.

Kyle Tennant is a graduate student at Wheaton College.

What Do You Think Causes Malaria? Asking Questions Appropriately

The other day I had a conversation with an international DE practitioner who really got me thinking. She said: 

The GLP approach is great -- I believe in dialogue and open questions to make dialogue happen. But, people also need information! Especially in the fields of public health and financial literacy, there are right and wrong answers to questions. The dialogue approach I've seen poses questions to which any answer is correct and that's just not always the case. It's not useful to ask "what do you think causes malaria?" The people in our groups are busy trying to make ends meet -- they want to talk but they also came to learn something -- not just talk. I'm not sure the dialogue approach is right for that.

Well, I agree with her wholeheartedly -- and not at all.

Over the years, I've also seen many practitioners needlessly pose questions to which there is a correct answer. I think people understand that engaging learning involves asking questions and as a result they can become so intent on asking instead of telling that they can go too far and ask what could more easily be told. For instance:

  1. How does the pill work to prevent pregnancy?
  2. How do companies calculate credit score?
  3. What is official poverty rate in your city?

Any one of us could generate a zillion and one questions to which there is indeed a correct answer. But these are typically not the questions we want to pose to learners (unless, of course, our learners are taking a test to pass an exam as a public health nurse, a financial advisor, or a worker for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

Dialogue Education practitioners need not feel shy about telling instead of asking. The trick – as described years ago by our very own Dr. Jane Vella – is this:

Don't tell what you can ask. Don't ask if you know the answer - tell in dialogue.

That's always been a tough axiom for folks to grasp in our introductory course. And, I dare say, it's a hard one for even some seasoned Dialogue Education practitioners to fully internalize. 

Here's how I might transform the three questions above from simple asking to telling in dialogue, with this axiom in mind.

  1. Watch this video clip that shows the action of a pill to prevent pregnancy. How does this alter your perspective about when life begins?
  2. Study this pie graphic showing six factors that contribute to credit score. Which of these factors do you imagine has most influenced your personal credit score?
  3. Examine this chart comparing poverty rates in 5 U.S. cities (adjusted for differences in the definition of poverty). What surprises or alarms you?

This was fun! It's much more rich, as a designer, to provoke dialogue around facts than to try and "fish" for information from people who came to you to learn that very information.

How might you transform the question "What Causes Malaria?" into a rich dialogue?


Valerie Uccellani is a Senior Partner with Global Learning Partners.

Manage Your Power in the World - Dialogue Education and Parenting?

Usually we’re talking about workshops or courses or change initiatives when we talk about Dialogue Education, and the fact is, for as much as Dialogue Education is about learning, its roots in Paulo Freire’s theories of “liberation education” mean it’s also about managing our power in the world. Will we make decisions based on fear (be dominant or subservient), or based on dialogue and mutual-respect?

There’s no greater opportunity to gain insights into how we use our power than to notice how we parent:  like during those times when we try to force our will or mold our children, claiming it’s for their own good or safety; or the times we devalue or undermine their decision-making in an attempt to force them into behaving the way we believe they “should.” I believe these are red flags that indicate we have our own personal development work to do. Of course, it’s appropriate for parents to scream NO as a toddler runs out into the street, or set developmentally appropriate and mutually-respectful boundaries. But it’s inappropriate to use shame to try to control our teen’s behavior, like when we say “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” or when we interrupt, yet take our child to task when he or she interrupts.

Slow Parenting Teens:  How to Create a Positive, Respectful and Fun Relationship with Your Teenager, is a new book for parents who are seeking a meaningful, positive relationship with their teens. Authors Molly Wingate and Marti Woodward do a brilliant job of helping parents to recognize those attitudes and actions that either cultivate or undermine healthy relationships.

Slow parenting teens is not about raising kids without problems, struggles, or even physiological challenges. It’s about building and maintaining a relationship with your teen so you can move through “trouble” together and not as enemies. You become your teenager’s role model for owning tough feelings and choices. You demonstrate self-care, and compassion. (p122)

Wingate and Woodward offer five attitudes for creating enlivening, trusting and safe relationships with our children. Each chapter ends with numerous suggestions for improving our relationships through the gradual adoption of each attitude.

  1. Steward your teens
  2. Respect their personalities
  3. Catch them doing it right
  4. Listening is effective
  5. Parent every day

...All aspects of parenting are opportunities to build a sustainable, fun, and respectful relationship with your teenager. Even the most difficult, unpleasant aspects of parenting teens can build the relationship you want if you use the five attitudes… (p88)

Here are some of the outcomes you can expect:

Stewarding teens not only pays off in terms of energy but also in relationship quality. Teens feel cared for, but not controlled, and they’re paid attention to, not judged. Teenagers gain self-confidence and learn to trust their independent judgment. Stewardship allows them to develop judgment and discernment with your support. Your teens are more likely to turn to you for support when you foster a positive relationship…(p34)

One of the things I appreciate greatly in this book are the examples in each chapter of dialogue between parents and teens, and how they differ when we “slow parent” or “fast-parent.”

Here’s an example of how to “slow parent” (be a more effective listener):

Listening, the way we refer to it, means your teenager’s story is more important than your story. You want to hear her process, conclusions, questions, logic, and confusion. Then you’ll ask for more of her thoughts at least two times before you even venture a remark, much less an opinion… (p63)

As one who’s used Dialogue Education in my work for many years, I found these authors to be kindred spirits focused on familiar principles and practices. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’d like to have a better relationship with teens (or adults for that matter)! Not surprisingly, Slow Parenting Teens is also recommended by teens.

Darlene Goetzman, Dialogue Education Coach, is author of Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events. She is teaching a course by the same name that begins Feb 4.

4 Steps for Learning that Lasts

When you’re designing any kind of learning event – a workshop, seminar, class, meeting – one of the most important components of your design is your learning tasks, those elements of the event in which the learners do something with the content they've set out to learn. For learning that lasts, use the 4-A Model, a foolproof tool.

(What follows is excerpted from Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events, by Darlene M. Goetzman.)

The 4-A Model - ANCHOR  |  ADD  |  APPLY  |  AWAY

  • ANCHOR the content within the learner’s experience;
  • ADD new information;
  • Invite the learner to APPLY the content in a new way or situation;
  • Ask the learner to decide how or what he or she will take AWAY and use this learning in the future.

To design your learning tasks, it’s helpful to use the model in the order laid out above. It’s also helpful to view the 4As as though each ‘A’ is one of four components in a single learning task; these four parts – ANCHOR, ADD, APPLY and AWAY – complete a single learning cycle.


The ANCHOR part of the 4-A Model connects the topic you’re teaching to the learner’s experience. This component of a learning task ensures relevancy for your particular group of individuals and begins to indicate to them why this information is important to them right now. Through a well-crafted anchor question learners will be telling you and others in what way the content is relevant or connected to their experience.

The newest research on how the brain creates and stores information (creating memories) indicates that relevance, especially an affective (emotional) connection, enhances the likelihood of knowledge retention and of learners being more open to new learning.


In the ADD task, the emphasis is on adding new and vital information, and on inviting learners to do something with the new material to make it their own. One way to increase attention to important dimensions of the material is to preface a presentation with an instruction, such as:

  • As you watch this video clip, decide which features might be challenging and which may be easiest to implement at your site.
  • As you listen to the reader, circle what you see in the text box as most important for your work.
  • As you watch, decide which feature might be most useful to your clients.
  • As you study the diagram, write your questions about . . .

This provides a clear focus for the learners, makes them an active participant in the task, and reminds them of a meaningful reason for participating in this activity. (Notice that meaningful reasons come from what the learners decide in each of the above examples.)


Depending upon the content, the amount of time you have, and the level of proficiency the learners and you are aiming for, a variety of ways in which the learner works with the content are necessary for learning that sticks.

In the APPLY part of the 4-A Model you will create an additional meaningful opportunity for the learner to decide and do something with the content in order to cement his or her learning. Here are three APPLY examples:

  • Create a visual graphic of your responses to the questions; we’ll hear and consider these ideas.
  • At your table, share what you circled as important; together create a three-column poster, naming the important items, why you see each as important, and one way you could integrate this content into your daily schedule.
  • With your co-teacher, design a thirty-minute session that incorporates and reflects all you have learned about this topic while your taught it.


Research indicates that when learners make verbal and written commitments to new behaviors or practices, the likelihood that they will follow through on these commitments increases. What will help learners make their own unique decision to do something different or new later?  An ideal AWAY provides learners with an opportunity to:

  • Select a new behavior or practice;
  • Commit to it; and
  • Create a reminder that will hold them accountable to their commitment.

In others words, an AWAY task sets learners up to be more successful at practicing their learning when they’re back at home or at work. In reality, not every learning task has or even needs an AWAY, but every great design for a learning event has at least one! It is good practice for you to get into the habit of including an AWAY so that you are always considering what it is you hope the learner will do differently because of engaging with the content through the learning task you created.

How have you used the 4As in your work?

This is just an overview of the 4As. If you’d like to get into more depth, here are a couple of options:

  1. Purchase a copy of Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide for Designing Exceptional Learning Events and read Chapter 11.
  2. Sign up for Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design. (No travel involved; work on your own from home and with other participants by phone in teleconferences - starts Oct 8, so register today!!)

Goodbye TMI, Hello LIM (Less is More)


Too much information (TMI), or information overload, is a spot many curriculum designers find themselves in when preparing for a new workshop or course; even the most experienced person can hit TMI when he or she is taking on a new teaching topic. Sometimes before we are ready and able to narrow down the content we're using in a learning event, we need to gestate. And, there comes a time where we must make a decision, as painful as this can be; we must choose which content will stay and which will go.

If you have taken enough time to gestate, and are feeling stuck or overwhelmed by the amount of content you're facing, here is a strategy* to move on to the next step of streamlining your content.

  1. Number a page from 1 to 100, leaving room for a word or phrase next to each number.
  2. Title your page: What content is needed for ____________________? (Fill in the blank with the title of your workshop or course).
  3. Now, as quickly as possible, without thinking, list every piece of content (word, phrase or sentence) that is needed for this learning event. Do not stop until you have reached 100 (this is very important). Do repeat any item as often as needed to keep writing. This usually takes from 20 to 30 minutes, depending upon how fast you write.
  4. When you have finished your list of 100, read through and group your entries into categories or themes (you will usually find 4 to 7). A tip for categorizing: use abbreviations for the categories so that you can mark each entry easily.
  5. Now count the number of entries to determine how many pieces of content are within each theme. Calculate the percentage of each theme to the total, which gives you an idea of the percentage of time you'll need to spend on each theme. The entries themselves provide the sub-topics within each theme.
  6. A great way to wrap up your work is to take just five minutes and quickly write a summary paragraph that names what you noticed in completing this process.

Say goodbye to TMI and hello to LIM (Less is more!) Enjoy!

I would LOVE to hear what strategies you use when you are feeling stuck selecting the "right" content. How do you narrow down your content to avoid TMI


Darlene Goetzman is the author of the new book, Dialogue Education Step by Step:  A Guide to Designing Exceptional Learning Events. You can download a sample chapter here. She's also teaching a 6 week course that starts on October 8, 2012:  Dialogue Education Step by Step: An Introduction (or Refresher) in Learning Design.


*This strategy is a variation of  "Lists of 100", one of eighteen different techniques taught in Journal to the Self workshops: a journal writing workshop based on the work of Kathleen Adams. www.journaltherapy.com. Darlene is a Certified Instructor.

10 Ways to Get Some Quick Feedback

As a facilitator, it is important to get feedback from the group you’re working with to hear what they think of both the content they are learning and how they are learning it. Here are some ideas for gathering feedback that don’t take much time. For each of these, you only need to hear a sampling of responses. Of course it’s just as important that you are prepared to act on the responses, should something important need to be addressed. Check out GLP’s myriad downloadable resources for more information on facilitation.

  1. How I Feel  |  “Take a minute on your own to think about how you feel right now…. In the large group, call out the word or phrase that expresses how you feel about the session today.”
  2. What was New  |  “In the large group, let’s take a minute to hear one thing that was new for you today.”
  3. What Worries You  |  “In the large group, let’s take a minute to hear one thing that worries you about what you heard today.”
  4. What Surprises You  |  “In the large group, let’s take a minute to hear one thing that was surprising to you today.”
  5. Your Questions  |  “At this point in our program, what one question do you hope gets answered before we finish?”
  6. What Bothers You  |  “After all we learned today, what do you think is most misunderstood about the topic we’ve been studying?”
  7. I Want More  |  “After today’s session, what do you want to learn more about?”
  8. Your Session  |  “What went well for you today for you?” and,“What suggestions to you have to our next session that would help your learning?”
  9. Check Energy  |  “Let’s rate our energy at this point in time by indicating it on our fingers:  from 1-10, with 10 being the highest, what is your energy?” (All at the same time, everyone should hold up their hands to show their number.)
  10. Checking in Privately  |  Sometimes it is wise to check in on someone who is concerning you (whether you are wondering about interest, engagement, relevance, or something else). During a break, just ask, “How is the course working for you so far?” or “You seem to still have some questions or concerns about what we were doing. I’d love to hear what they are if you have a minute.”

What methods do you employ to gather some quick feedback during your learning events? What advice do you have for facilitating the responses to any of these 10 tips?

If you’d like to learn more, check out GLP’s Professional Development Opportunities – we’ve got a great slate of learning events coming up soon!