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

Posts tagged with "Facilitation"

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!

Oh No, They Wrecked My Beautiful Design!

“Training – that’s easy. We know the stuff.  We just wing it.” Sound familiar?

Those of us who adhere to principles of Dialogue Education™ and who respect and appreciate adult learners don’t buy that perspective. Whether we’re planning a workshop for personal growth, community education or workplace performance, we design carefully. We have our Steps of Design, we think about what Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes will be learned during the workshop, and we make sure we do not have too much “what” for the “when.” If we can, we connect with some of the learners before the workshop to assess their Learning Needs and Resources. We NEVER wing it!

Usually, we and the learners are delighted by the result, even if they don’t know the time and effort that went into the design. They often mention that they appreciated the tight organization, that they felt listened to, and that they enjoyed the interaction with others in the group. During the course of the workshop, we take time and effort to listen in, to be sure that the energy for learning stays high, and that directions for learning tasks are clear. When it’s all not humming along smoothly, we can and do make adjustments, building on the key principles that guide us.

Last October, I had the pleasure of crafting and critiquing beautiful designs with a group of fellow educators and trainers at the Advanced Learning Design and Evaluation Retreat in Vermont.

But, a thought…what happens when we create the design and someone else is facilitating?  How do we know these facilitators will share our level of commitment and fidelity to the design? While I know that I can be a little obsessive, I also know that learners should be able to trust that the learning objectives will be achieved. Without strict adherence to the design, we cannot know that learners’ knowledge, skills and attitudes were affected by a particular learning event, and cannot justify the resources expended on the event.

Back home, the retreat participants shared stories of how we had applied our learning from Vermont. It turned out that several of us were vexed by the implementation of training (carefully designed by us but facilitated by others). Here are five examples:

SITUATION #1: Workshops on opiate addiction, offered throughout the state to community groups.

Facilitators wanted to use different resource materials than those offered in the design, including videos, with the groups they were leading.

SITUATION #2: A day focused on quality improvement for medical residents.

The facilitators were experienced medical professionals who wanted to keep providing lectures to the residents, as they had done for years. Unfortunately, the lectures were not targeted to the learners, and contained too much “what” for the “when” and the “who.”

SITUATION #3: A county-wide, ten-week program for parents, offering peer-to-peer support and education on topics of children’s emotional and behavioral health.

The program utilized facilitators with minimal experience in leading groups, and whose expertise was grounded mostly in their own experience as parents, and not in knowledge of the principles of children’s health and development. They valued open group sharing more than focused learning activities.

SITUATION #4: Workshops for participants from international budget civil society organizations, aiming to equip them with skills to advocate on budgets to their governments.

Facilitators received the workshop design and went in one of two directions – neither of which achieved the desired outcomes of the workshops. Some facilitators were very free with the design, allowing discussions to go down paths that did not stay focused on the outcomes. Other facilitators, feeling constricted by using a design they had not created, would not deviate from it at all, producing a rigid, non-empowering workshop for participants.

SITUATION #5: Two different projects of professional development for early childhood educators (ECE): statewide in-person training engaging 50 trainers, and the production of 40 printed guides with training activities to be selected as needed by managers and supervisors in over 2000 individual ECE settings across the country.

           Designers had no control over how facilitators used the materials.

My four colleagues and I shared our worries, frustrations and eventually our insights into how to develop training that has a high likelihood of being facilitated as designed, with the ultimate goal of meeting the needs of the learning and the learners.

We started with the recognition that the facilitators are really part of the “who” we consider in our Eight Steps of Design. Sometimes we were so focused on the ultimate learner that we simply ignored the facilitator and handed over the plan. We realized that we need to think just as clearly about the people who are on the front lines of the training. So, we will now do the following:

  • Share the information from the Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA) with the facilitators. That will help them to see that we have a reason – based in what the learners needed – for including specific learning activities and audio-visual materials. 
  • Respect the expertise of the facilitators. Whether they are medical professionals with many years of formal education, or parents who are venturing into their first facilitation role, they have their own pride in their knowledge and skills, and their own fears about appearing competent to the trainees. Increasing communication with the facilitators – and if possible, conducting a thorough Training of Trainers (TOT) goes a long way toward assuring that the design is well-understood, and, therefore, followed.
  • Build in flexibility. Be clear on the learning objectives, so that facilitators can make some adjustments in their style of facilitation, and respond to their participant groups, without losing the essential elements of the learning tasks. In one of the ECE projects, the designers asked that facilitators make changes only if they believed the change was needed to support one of the six principles of adult learning: Safety, Respect, Inclusion, Engagement, Relevance or Immediacy.

We recognized that it would be useful to collect data. With two of our projects we created feedback forms so that facilitators could make note of where they made a change in the design.  With those forms returned to us, we could see what needs the facilitators saw within their participant group that required a change, or if there was a design flaw: something unclear, an activity that ran too long or fell flat, etc.

Finally, we gave some thought to publications. We considered how we could provide facilitators’ manuals that give clear information on what is essential information (through use of an icon, perhaps) and when an anecdote from the facilitator’s experience is appropriate.

With the national ECE guides, we offered a variety of learning activities within each module, so that facilitators could choose the ones that best met their situation, and yet achieved the objectives of the module. For the medical education program, we created a “Faculty Guide” that covered the elements that were essential for learners, some ideas for modifications where appropriate, and ideas for further coaching or exploration on a topic. 

In the end, no one wrecked our designs. They gave us the opportunity to make them better.  There may have been some tense moments when the design wasn’t followed: in one situation the designer commented that “…the silence in the room spoke volumes to the lack of appropriateness of her presentation….” Stepping up our efforts to work with facilitators, publish helpful guides and collect data on needed changes will lead to more effective and enjoyable training as we go forward – while we still adhere to all the principles of excellent design.

Other resources of interest include:

  1. A Great Learning Design is Only 50% of the Work – a tip sheet 
  2. A Dialogue Approach Transforms Corporate Training: A Spectacular Example – a blog


What do you do to bridge the gap between the designer and the facilitator when they are not the same person?

* * * * *

Peggy da Silva, MPH, is a longtime practitioner of adult education in out-of-school settings. She develops public programs and staff training systems, with the overall goal of building and supporting healthy communities. Peggy first discovered Jane Vella’s philosophy and methods over twenty years ago, sharing them with California Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs. The staff training and certification system she and her team developed has been adopted by WIC programs across the country. Peggy often brings creative and learning-centered approaches to organizations that have not historically invested in high quality training, and sees the joy among learners – and positive results for funders – that result from careful design and evaluation. More information about Peggy’s work is available on her website: www.coheco.net .


Aideen Gilmore is Senior Program Officer of Training, Technical Assistance and Networking at International Budget Partnership in Washington, DC.

Bridget Hogan Cole, MPH, is Executive Director at Institute for High Quality Care in Los Angeles, California.

Claudia Marieb is Substance Abuse Prevention Consultant at Vermont Department of Health in Springfield, Vermont.

Jesica Radaelli-Nida, MA, is Early Childhood Program Specialist in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Ways to Ensure Off-site Participation During In-Person Meetings

Increasingly many Boards, committee, working groups, and organizations need to meet in a way that is mixed or hybrid. Often, we have a meeting and want or need to bring in participants from other branch offices, cities or countries. When we do this the people in the room hosting the call have an “advantage” and those not lucky enough, may feel disadvantaged, lacking, or even invisible.

Here are some ideas for maximizing everyone feeling seen, heard and of value.

  1. Confirm that all off-site participants have the documents needed. Especially when these individuals cannot see the visuals being presented or referenced in the room, sending all the visuals and documents in advance is critical. Off-site participants need all the documents that everyone else received in advance of the meetings, as well as those used during the meeting to present content.
  2. Name each document as they are titled before using them. Off-site participants don’t have as many cues as others in the room, and document titles will help ensure speedy and easy engagement for all.
  3. Check equipment in advance. There is nothing worse than failing technology for those who are joining from a distance. For those meeting in-person it can also be frustrating. Check your technology well in advance and with those using it i.e. ask off-site participants to join the meeting at least 15 minutes early. It can also be helpful to check the quality of sound and visuals from time-to-time during long meetings.
  4. Find a way for off-site participants to be engaged with others and with the content. From time-to-time, small group dialogue or work can be especially helpful in a meeting to achieve the pre-set objectives/achievements. If there are individuals participating from a distance, they also want and need to be included in this. Some ways to do this are: move to smaller Skype conversations or another chat room for a period of time. Solo work with a plan to share back with the group can also be helpful, especially for introverts.
  5. Call off-site people by name throughout the meeting. It is always easier for people to participate when they are in a room together. When the technology is challenged or there is power imbalance (age, seniority, cultural, gender, language or other), participants joining virtually can find it even more challenging to participate. Calling people by name to participate will ensure they have a voice, are heard and feel valued.
  6. Involve off-site participants in one aspect of the meeting in a unique way. This will help these participants to feel valued and respected for what they bring to the meeting. It may be helpful to let these individuals know in advance if the contribution you are hoping for is substantial. However, if it is small it should be fine to call them by name when the time is right. Be authentic and make it meaningful for all.
  7. Start with a check-in. This will reduce the distance that is felt when participants are not in the same room and can build a feeling of connectedness despite distance. This is especially helpful when there are many people in one room and just a few participants elsewhere. Solo participants can feel especially isolated. A check-in should vary from meeting-to-meeting and be in response to what you know about these individuals, their situation, or the purpose of the meeting. It does not have to be long but it should be authentic. Here are a few examples:  

    a.       “In a few minutes we are going to be entering our annual budget meeting. This is an important meeting and can sometimes be challenging and long. Before we start, let’s share one lesson you have learned in your own personal finances that may also service us well here today?

    b.       “We haven’t see each other for a few months now, and I’m sure much has happened over the past weeks. Before we start let’s share something we are feeling especially challenged by and one thing we are especially grateful for since we were last together.”

  8. Save time to check-out. It is sometimes helpful to check the pulse of participants at the end of a meeting. Especially if there was tough conversation or participants entered with resistance or if the content want challenging, taking five minutes at the end to share some final thoughts can offer closure or helpful information for future planning. Here are a few examples:  

    a.       “Thank you so much for your openness to consider this new way of working and planning – I know it felt different and maybe sometimes challenging. What one word comes to mind for you at this time after trying this process out?

    b.       “That concludes our meeting on our budget and financial goals for the year. Thank you for your input, focus, questions, and ideas – this has been so valuable. To end our time together, I would like to invite you to consider one thing you are especially grateful for in this meeting today and one thing that surprised you. Turn to someone close to you and share these two things.”

How do you ensure all members in mixed meetings feel included and valued?


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.

Changing Adult Learning… in Meetings!

I took the Foundations of Dialogue Education course with Global Learning Partners (GLP) in October 2017. The most powerful take-away for me was to think about what the learners will be doing with the content rather than what I will be saying or presenting.

Perhaps it is my love of theater and dramatic arts, but I can easily spend hours practicing what I will say for an upcoming presentation. I make my PowerPoint slides colorful, fun, use a lot of pictures, and work hard to keep the energy up. I work as the Forest Pest Education Coordinator with University of Vermont (UVM) Extension and the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry program. In a nutshell, I teach people about invasive forest insects such as the emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle. I enjoy working with youth because I can make my workshops and presentations interactive. When it comes to adults, I feel like everyone is expected to sit in rows of uncomfortable chairs and listen to me “wa, wa, wa” at the front of the room. However, for me as a learner I can’t sit for long and my mind starts to turn to mush after about a half an hour of listening to someone talk.

Using the learning-centered 4A Model (Anchor-Add-Apply-Away) for developing a learning event has been incredibly helpful for transforming these adult workshops (I’ve stopped calling them presentations!) into intentional, dialogue-based, learning events. The results have been extremely positive.

Last month, I decided to take it one step further. We had a big meeting coming up with all our partners in Vermont that help support my work as Forest Pest Education Coordinator. Historically, this meeting has not been exciting. I literally read off the annual report I’d submitted for the grant that supports my position. We usually have one person who “leads” the meeting and there has been some discussion.

This time I suggested to my supervisor that I facilitate the meeting and incorporate some of what I learned during the GLP course I had taken. I took the topics that I was planning to “cover” and turned each one into a learning task or a “share out.” For example, I have hired a company to make a whiteboard animation video that covers the importance of not moving firewood – invasive insects can travel in firewood, so we ask that you buy it where you burn it.) I wanted to get input from the partners at the meeting before talking to the company about the video content. So, in pairs, I asked the group to “create a visual representation on chart paper of what you would like to see in a one-minute video on the importance of buying local firewood.” I was surprised at how well it worked! The pairs were talking, laughing, and drawing on their paper. The ideas they shared were incredibly useful for me and I’ve incorporated their thoughts into the first draft of the whiteboard video’s script.    

Everyone at the meeting had an agenda in front of them that listed each learning task and used learner-centered language. Here are some excerpts:

     From our coming together exercise:

Today is the darkest day of the year and a time for reflection. These short, cold days can stir up a lot of unease. Take a moment to consider what is sustaining you in your work right now and what is draining you.

     From a section on outreach at private campgrounds in Vermont:

Listen to a brief review on private campground outreach from 2017. Take a look at the map example from last summer’s work and the written Best Management Practices. What kind of outreach to private campgrounds will lead us to the change in behavior we are hoping for?

Having the language written right there on the agenda not only helps the learning experience at the meeting, but I also figured it would be a clever way of sharing a more engaging way of meeting and learning with my colleagues. Here they can see how it is done and the simple ways they might change some of the language and structure of their meetings and workshops. Sharing what I learned is really important to me. I have absolutely enjoyed applying the principles of a learning-centered approach to my work, but I’d love to see others try it too.

The next morning after the meeting, I received an email from one of the participants. She wrote, “Just wanted to say how refreshing yesterday’s meeting was. You managed to cover a lot of ground in an hour and a half, and engage a normally reticent group.” I was smiling from ear-to-ear! That was exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping to hear.

What do you do in your meetings to help engage everyone?


Meredith Whitney (Meredith.Whitney@uvm.edu) is the Forest Pest Education Coordinator with UVM Extension. She lives in Moretown, Vermont where she enjoys going for long walks and dreams of having a goat farm.

PHOTO: At the end of the meeting, everyone got their photo taken with an interactive banner that was designed last year for forest pest outreach. Look at those happy Asian long-horned beetles!

A Structure for Effective Check-Ins*

While facilitating a day-long or week-long learning event, setting aside some time for a “check-in” can give participants the pause they need to process and prepare for what’s next. It allows them to reflect, re-energize, and reconnect before jumping back into a challenging sequence of learning tasks or agenda items. Yet too often, check-ins drift away from their intended purpose. One stray comment can derail the dialogue into a series of seemingly endless rabbit trails. This has led some facilitators to abandon the practice of formal check-ins altogether.

The solution is not to stop checking in. We can’t dismiss the importance of taking a moment to re-center in the middle of a long learning event or meeting. An effective check-in invites participants to evaluate how they are doing mentally, emotionally, relationally, and physically, both for their own sake and for the sake of the group. It can help them achieve their maximum level of engagement and learning by freeing them from what may be restricting or hindering them to explore or share fully.

The following is a simple structure you can use to check-in with participants between long learning tasks or agenda items, or at the beginning or end of a difficult day.

  1. Share one word that captures how you are feeling right now. For example: Restless.
  2. Summarize why you chose this word, and what that means for your learning and our time together today. For example: I’ve been exposed to some intriguing ideas today, but I’m anxious to see if they will actually work in my own context. I’m also a little restless due to sitting for so long.
  3. Conclude your update with one of the following statement          

I would like to be encouraged.

I would like to be challenged.

I would like to be encouraged and challenged.

I’ll pass.

  1. Receive encouragements or challenges others have for you.This process creates an environment where each member has an opportunity to self-reflect, share honestly, and invite input from others. Leaders gain valuable feedback, and participants are given permission to speak comforting or uncomfortable truths as needed. This practice also promotes accountability as people follow up on challenges to see if they have been completed. In this way, check-ins can catalyze groups to gain momentum into greater learning.

Effective check-ins are:

  • Safe, not stressful. Fully listen to each person’s check-in. Let your total attention be an act of love and acceptance. Don’t let people give advice during this time.
  • Transparent, but not too long. Authentic sharing takes time. But especially in a large group, check-ins can swallow up the majority of your meeting if left without limits. The structure above provides parameters for purposeful, succinct sharing.
  • Short, but not shallow. If check-ins are kept short, it might be difficult to go below the surface level. Think of the check-in as a summary of emotions and experiences related to your learning process.
  • Encouraging. If the person checking in would like to be encouraged, offer words of affirmation and support. Notice any signs of improvement you have observed. The more specific the encouragement, the better.
  • Challenging. If the person checking in would like to be challenged, offer a challenge. Make sure it’s both measurable and doable, and record it so that you can follow up later if appropriate. Then, give the person permission to accept or reject your challenge.

When you put these principles into practice, you’ll create an environment for learning where participants feel acknowledged, heard, supported, and challenged. You’ll receive real-time information about the emotions and experiences of the learners in the room, both individually and corporately. Ultimately, pausing for a check-in prepares participants and facilitators alike to re-engage more energetically and attentively in the tasks ahead!

What type of check-ins have you found helpful in your work?


Andrew A. Boa (MA, Wheaton College Graduate School) is the author of Redeemed Sexuality (2017). He lives in California with his wife and young daughter.

*Adapted from Redeemed Sexuality by Andrew A. Boa. ©2017. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL, 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com.

Training Wheels for Trainers

“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery - it's the sincerest form of learning.” -George Bernard Shaw

Prakesh handed a worksheet to each trio of participants. Then he directed us all to the poster hanging on the wall behind him, which his teammate had just walked us through, and explained how we could use it as a guide for completing the worksheet. As we got started, he stopped by each group to see how we were doing. Then, he and his two teammates stood attentively off to the side of the room while we worked.

As my group began completing the handout, I couldn’t help but smile.

I smiled because the handout followed the eight steps of design we had taught in the first session of the School for Youth Ministry Trainers (SYMT) and as taught by Global Learning Partners. It was gratifying to see that Prakesh and his team not only remembered the steps but considered this way of working valuable enough to pass on.

I smiled because the handout reflected their local context. For example, we had to mark whether the members of the youth group would be boys, or girls, or both. That wouldn’t appear in a planning worksheet in the United States. But in rural India, a mixed gender group requires special consideration.

But mostly I smiled because of the change in their teaching style was demonstrated by that handout. Six months before, in the first session of the SYMT, these three individuals had designed and lead a module that consisted of three mini-sermons, a few questions, and a brief skit. All three of them are pastors and it showed.

Now, despite the fact that they had received no additional training since SYMT 1, they showed significant progress in their ability to design and facilitate learner-centered training. This transformation from talkers/presenters to facilitators was so remarkable I continue to wonder how it happened.

I discovered four important things about teaching and learning:

  1. Design your training in such a way that if it gets copied, it will reinforce the principles you are teaching
  2. Offer a template or model and an invitation to try it out
  3. Encourage learners to use their new learning soon and often
  4. Organize time to debrief how their application went, celebrate the successes and share the challenges.

One of the great pitfalls of cross-cultural training is passing on a model. This is especially dangerous when the method was designed for a different context and if the learners don’t understand the principles that make it work.

So, instead of teaching specific methods, my husband and I focus on universal principles and then give space for learners to think through how to apply those principles in their context. For example, instead of telling youth leaders to organize an annual camp, we explain that youth benefit from spending concentrated time with their leader and with other youth. A leader in the Philippines may take 300 teens to a hotel at the beach while in India a leader may climb a mountain with three young men.

As a result, we were surprised to see how much the SYMT participants learned by using our curriculum as a template. Because it was designed according to principles of Dialogue Education (a learning-centered approach), using it reinforced their learning of those principles. Like training wheels on a bike, using the template also gave them confidence in their new skills and let them experience the power of “learning by doing”.

Think of a time you copied someone else’s method. What were the benefits? The dangers?

     * * * * * *

Annette Gulick (annettegulick@gmail.com) and her husband Tim have mentored and taught people from 33 countries as they provide resources and training for global youth workers with One Challenge International (www.onechallenge.org). After living ten years in Mexico and five in Argentina, they are currently nomads whose roll-on suitcase is their closet and backpack, their office. If you’re interested in resources in Spanish for working with teens and young adults, check out their web site, www.ParaLideres.org, and its channel on YouTube.

The Art of Co-Facilitating

Learning events that are co-facilitated can pose unique challenges, but the payoff is worth it. Two (or more) facilitators, when they work well together, can bring different styles, varied perspectives and model teamwork.

If you are the ‘senior’ facilitator…

  1. Build the relationship. Even when multiple facilitators are coming together for a single learning event, the opportunity for relationship is critical. Facilitating a learning event is more than coordination and mechanics. Relationship is key in the learning process, including between facilitators where both the senior and junior are free, open and confident with each other. Seniors need to take steps to welcome the junior into whatever level of relationship is appropriate for the process.
  2. Share the stages. The more you work together on all aspects of the learning event, the better your facilitation. Invite your co-facilitator to be involved in every stage of the learning process – the pre-event needs assessment, the event design, communication with the learners and in the post-event evaluation. The more you do together, the more effective your facilitation will be in the event itself.
  3. Pass the mic. We know that in a learning event, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. Resist the temptation, as the senior facilitator, to teach the bulk of the content, leaving your junior on the proverbial bench. Rather, look for opportunities to deploy the junior as much as possible. Invite your junior to facilitate content that they’re comfortable with as well as content where they want/need to be stretched. In the event, invite their contribution and experience, not just their observation.
  4. Invite the ‘jump in.’ Sometimes, in learning events, one facilitator observes things that the other facilitator doesn’t catch: miscommunication, lack of clarity, etc. Extend permission for your (junior) co-facilitator to jump in with clarifying questions and comments, to improve communication and understanding. Encourage your co-facilitator to be fully engaged in the whole learning event, not only during the learning tasks where they are up front. Strive to be seamless as you go back and forth during sessions, extending permissions and words of appreciation.
  5. Debrief, specifically. With your co-facilitator, reflect on the learning event and debrief its aspects. Take good notes during the event, to be able to refer to specific moments and activities. Provide feedback as soon as possible after the learning event, verbally and in writing. If the event is a multi-day event, take time to reflect together at the end of each day. Look for opportunities to provide encouragement during the event as well during breaks.
  6. Share the ‘why.’ Co-facilitating is more than effectively hitting the teaching points or making smooth transitions. Effective co-facilitators are fully versed in the deeper aspects of the learning event. To help your junior grow, help them understand the ‘why’ of the event and the learning tasks. Season your mentoring and feedback with the deeper significance of specific activities. Connect tasks and actions with good, underlying significance. Help them own all aspects of the learning process.
  7. Solicit feedback from learners. Learners experience and make observations about co-facilitators and their efforts to work together. In private, ask select learners for feedback – on the event, co-facilitation, and on your junior colleague. Ask specific questions about aspects of your junior’s facilitation. Their perspective will be helpful.

If you are the ‘junior’ facilitator…

     8.  Ask for feedback. And ask for it again. Go into a learning event knowing where you want to stretch and grow, and ask for input in those areas. Ask your senior co-facilitator about specific instances in the event, ones that you were facilitating and ones conducted by them. Take notes from the feedback you receive, and turn them into action points for your future development.

     9.  Make it your own. As you observe, learn and grow, recognize that your style and facilitation strengths will be different from others. Don’t focus on reproducing what your colleague does or the way they do it. Rather, concentrate on your strengths. Bring yourself to your facilitation – your expertise, your personality, your experiences, your character and your type of energy. Make the content fit in a way that feels natural and authentic.

And finally…

     10.  Celebrate together! After an event, project or activity, we tend to focus on what could have been better or different. Wait! Before entertaining such a question, celebrate! Take time to mark the moment, to commemorate the completion of good work, to affirm one another and to revel in your accomplishment. Have fun, rejoice in what you’ve done together and express gratitude for a job well done. Not to worry, those ‘improvement’ questions will sit and wait patiently for you.

What other tips do you have for co-facilitating learning events?  

* * * * * * *

David Bulger (davidbulger@oci.org) is Leadership Development Strategist with One Challenge International, a mission organization based in Colorado, USA. He provides teaching, training, consulting and leadership development for churches and ministry organizations globally.

Tips for Successful Community Engagement for Social Transformation, in Illiterate Communities

Social change is a complex process and does not follow linear steps or procedures. And, it is not usually fast.

Recently, I met some community members in rural areas of Ethiopia where many international and local NGOs have worked for a long time. I asked the community members to tell me the positive change they have experienced as a result of working with these groups. Their response was, “We have been receiving different kinds of support for many years, but we are still the same. Our community still needs support.”

It begs the question: Is our work really helping?

Most of the changes we need to see in poor rural communities can happen if and only if our approaches towards community development change. The following are a few tips for helping rural development practitioners lead communities on the road towards empowerment and positive change.

  1. Monitor your attitude and behaviour. To work with communities in rural areas we need to have the right attitude. We need to know that most of these people are comfortably living their lives the way they do and will continue to live that way in our absence. We need to remember that it is their life, and they know what is best for themselves. Even in the poorest parts of the world, change is possible. The reason this change has not yet happened is due to lack of opportunity, not because of weakness or lack of intelligence. We may be able to walk along side to help enable change, but the change is about them and not us.
  2. Creating a good environment. Depending on the culture and traditions, meetings are usually opened with prayer or by an elder’s blessing. The opening process can easily determine the outcome of the meeting. Moreover, in rural areas, people sit on the ground or on small stools. Inviting people to sit in a circle can help create a sense of equal status among the participants. The facilitator should also sit in the circle and on the same type of chair, as an equal to everyone else.
  3. Set ground rules to address status-quo. In communities where reading and writing is not present we cannot ask the participants to write their ideas on Post-it notes or paper and paste them on a wall. We can however, listen to what they contribute orally. Ideally, it is preferable to have women groups, youth groups, and elderly or local leaders in separate groups. However, this is not always possible. The culture may allow elders and religious leaders to speak first and then the other group members may not have the courage to disagree with what was shared. To avoid this, we need to carefully invite people with higher status to “take off their position” while in that group. This process can create a more democratic space for all people to speak and interact freely. These processes empower the people who consider themselves inferior (or less important) in the community, and give them a voice.
  4. Number of people in a group. It is important to limit the number of people in a group to 30 or less. Having a small group ensures each participant has a voice in the group. Safety and respect need to be modeled and intentionally worked on. They are not only needed for honest and authentic dialogue during the initial learning event or gathering, but are also critical for using what they learned, implementation of their plans, and further discussions about action or adjustments.
  5. Be patient and listen. The common mistake we make as a development professional is going into a community with preconceived ideas. Too often we consider ourselves better than those we are working with and suggest solutions for a problem we think exists before any sort of deep discovery process or consultation. We need patience and practice in listening. Having skills in Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) tools as well as a dialogue-based approach are also important. Humility is key. Once the community has decided what they want to do, we can help to develop a community action plan with responsibilities for each group member. We are invited to facilitate the process, but not determine the outcome of it.
  6. Represent the idea visually. Graphic representation of ideas using symbols that can clearly represent the issues being discussed can be extremely helpful. This can allow for some record-keeping of what is decided and it may also inspire some participants to explore more literacy methods.
  7. Invite reflection and dialogue. To bring social transformation, creating a space for people to enter and feel safe enough for meaningful dialogue and idea sharing is essential. People need to critically consider their experiences and feel free enough to challenge existing practices. In one community in which I work, people call this process “a life mirror” because they look at their life and identify spots that need to change. By creating a safe, respectful and open space for reflection, introspection and dialogue, change is more possible.
  8. Community action plan. The ultimate objective is to help communities to assess their own situation, come up with possible solutions and decide on an action plan for positive change. During the development of their action plan support will be needed. There might be issues that they can handle by themselves but also ones that need to be supported by external individuals or agencies. Careful discernment will be needed about who should step in to support their work, when, why and for how long.
  9. Monitor change and celebrate success. Setting goals and objectives with success indicators is very helpful for monitoring achievements. Once results are achieved, it is important to celebrate and recognize the individual and team efforts. This helps the group to strive for a higher level of achievement, pushing them forward in their transformation.

The process of community engagement requires flexible and adaptive thinking. No two groups or situations are the same. We need to start by ensuring we have deep understanding of the people we are working with, their situation, and the desired change they are looking for (if they know that already). Social transformation is possible in any and every community. As facilitators of community engagement, we need to get out of the way, and learn to more effectively invite community members in to processes of discernment and decision-making.

What helpful tip do you practice or have you seen for community engagement?

* * * * * *

Yeshitila Alemu (yeshal2003@yahoo.com; yalemu@canadianfeedthechildren.ca) is a Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ethiopia. He has a B.Sc. in Agricultural Extension and M.Sc. in Rural Development and Agricultural Economics. He also has over 16 years of experience working with rural poor communities and urban slum areas in Ethiopia.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

I could have titled this blog post “The Travelling Consultant’s Nightmare” but I’ve opted for “Turning Lemons into Lemonade.” This is a story of turning a bad story into a good one!

When you were a child, did you ever hear the riddle: What’s the most important thing to have at a party? Common answers included:  food, party games, balloons… but, the right answer was fun! The moral of this riddle has stayed with me all these years:  when planning something you care about, don’t get so lost in the details that you forget what’s most important.

Global Learning Partners, Inc. (GLP) was invited by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) to develop a learning program for INESC – a renowned organization in Brazil devoted to human rights and social transformation. The planning started about six months in advance and dates were protected in everyone’s calendars for a three-day intensive course which I would facilitate in Brazil.

We conducted a learning assessment, adapted a course on dialogue-based learning to fit their unique context, and had all the course materials and visuals translated into Portuguese. I had time to do all the little things that one does when traveling for work:  finalize my daughter’s camp schedule, make sure my husband had everything he needed to solo parent, pack a week’s worth of supplements and travel snacks, get a good novel for the plane, and gather some small gifts for the group. You know the drill. 

As an adult learning specialist who has consulted with organizations and communities around the United States and in 19 different countries for over three decades, I thought I knew what was most important when planning a trip. I retrieved my passport and GOES traveler card from the safe deposit, and carefully reviewed the itinerary I’d been sent. But, the day the uber dropped me at the airport (nearly an hour from my house in Rhode Island) and I went to check in, I was stopped dead in my tracks:  “What? A visa?” “Yes, you need a visa.” I was not going anywhere.

How had I missed that? I seethed all the way back home.

  • Was it globalization or American conceit that made me feel I could go anywhere, easily?
  • Was it too many years of travel that made me lazy?
  • Was it an over-reliance on others, including the agent who bought the ticket?

Interesting questions, but none of them would get me to Brazil. 

So, we built an alternative plan.

Two IBP staff had graduated from a series of courses with GLP and showed a deep commitment to the principles and practices of dialogue-based learning. We all agreed they were ready to facilitate the learning “on the ground” in Brazil. I was in awe of Alex Ciconello’s last-minute flexibility and skill as a facilitator, as well as Aideen Gilmore’s attention to both details and people. I joined the group each day and all day via a large screen. The interpreters were super effective at their simultaneous translation to and from me, via headsets. We were a mutually-supportive team and, because of the commitment to a common set of principles, it worked!

But, that wasn’t what made it good.  The good part was how my not being physically there shifted the dynamic and created space that I’m not sure would have been there otherwise. I listened even more deeply than I would have had I been in the room. I was forgotten at times, as the group passionately exchanged doubts and ideas. I watched and asked to speak when I had something to contribute. The participants talked far more than the facilitators did and seemed very comfortable voicing their disagreements with what was being taught. For example, at the close of Day One we invited their thoughts on the course so far and in all my years I’d never heard such critical feedback! They critiqued the examples we’d chosen, the models we shared, and the priorities we’d set. They underscored their commitment to the tenets of Popular Education – which grew from their soil through Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire – and questioned the connections between what we were teaching and that philosophy which they know so well. 

That night, our facilitation team made adjustments to the course in direct response to the feedback we received. First thing the next morning, we invited the group to express the essence of Popular Education in words and in sculpture (see images above). From then on, we connected what we had to share back to that philosophy. And, we did so in true dialogue.

Everything shifted – they engaged in the course content, and made it their own. I don’t know if any of this would have happened had I been in the room, leading the course and creating personal connections in the way I usually do. My distance – and the skills of those in the room – created a safe space for true dialogue.

Let’s toast to bad stories that turn good!


What training or facilitation story can you tell where a bad story turned to good?

Valerie Uccellani is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of its consulting network, as well as a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP.

From Head to Heart

I was working with a small group of women executives in a peer exchange leadership development program. They had moved through two tumultuous and revealing days together, and had generated some real insights about their unique leadership styles. A capstone activity of the program was to meet with emerging women leaders from one of their institutions to share their learning. 

I walked into the room and was disappointed to see a microphone, a podium and 50 women sitting in rows. 

My disappointment grew as each of the executives walked to the podium to deliver a technical, formal and impersonal speech. It was so different from the authentic and informal exchange they had been having. 

From the podium came descriptions, numbers, and advice. From the chairs came polite attention, fidgeting, and silence. 

My quiet disappointment turned to panic when I heard my own name come from that podium. One of the executives, perhaps reading the room (or perhaps irritated at me for including this exercise in the design) was introducing me and inviting me to take the podium. I had nothing planned and about 20 seconds to figure it out. 

A phrase from Jane Vella’s Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, came to me: “I have to get them out of their heads and into their hearts.”

Here is what I did:  I said, “You have just heard leadership examples -- women who met considerable obstacles, and figured out how to move beyond those, to make big changes. Think about a time in your own life, when you exercised that kind of leadership. You met with a considerable obstacle, and you figured out how to move beyond that, and make a big change.”

I had no plan, and there was not much time, so I suggested they write a note to themselves and to share the story with partner. I predicted — and I was right — that the polite attention would turn into engagement. I did not predict what came next. 

For the next 20 minutes, one woman after another stood to tell a powerful story of personal leadership, stories that their CEO could not have known. Stories that inspired tears and laughter. For that 20 minutes, the women in the “audience” were not talking about leadership, they were leading. The podium — that symbol of power that suggests there is but one leader in the room — remained empty. The learning space was being led from those chairs. 

We don’t often deal in heart issues in business settings but they are always operating and leaders, facilitators, presenters, teachers do well to figure out how to get people “out of their heads” and into their hearts.

Three ideas for helping groups to “get out of their heads” and into their hearts:

  1. Use stories. A story contains so much more than mere statistics, advice and descriptions. The most powerful moments of that leadership exchange centered around the stories they shared. Stories convey information and they evoke emotion.
  2. Find a way for people to be seen, and to see themselves in the story. Change rarely comes anonymously. Organizations create too many opportunities for anonymity.
  3. Look for, and study, moments of accomplishment, triumph, and perseverance. Problems are interesting. Positive stories are powerful. They illuminate the assets we have with which to change the world. 


What stories do you have about getting groups out of their heads and into their hearts?

* * * *

Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.


10 Ways to Minimize Resistance

Resistance is normal:  resistance to what is being taught or how it is being taught. What we want to do is minimize it so that it does not negatively interfere with learning. Here are 10 ways to do this:

  1. Early agenda. Tell learners in advance what they will be learning or meeting about. Getting rid of the element of surprise will minimize resistance.
  2. Choice. Offering learners choices on how to learn or how to do something, can minimize resistance. They will appreciate the feeling of having input in their learning.
  3. Transparency. Explain to learners why you are doing something if it is different from what they are used to. Once they understand there is a reason, they will resist less.
  4. Relevance. When learners do not understand how something is important in their life they will resist the learning experience. Help learners know why this content is important for their lives or work, and why it matters.  Relevance is key for adult learners.
  5. Check in. You can check in with learners privately during a break or with the entire group at the end of a session. If you invite them to honestly tell you how a session is going and they see you respond to what they share, resistance will be reduced.
  6. Stick to the program. Don’t change the learning agenda unless you have a good reason and explain it to the group. Flexibility is important. However, unless the change will benefit the learners and their learning, you should stick to the plan.
  7. Show respect. Showing respect to all learners can minimize resistance. People will react negatively to feeling left out or undervalued, and when seeing others experience this.
  8. Affirmation. Everyone likes to be appreciated and affirmed. The more you do this, the less resistance you will have from your learners.
  9. Safety. Learners need to feel emotionally, physically and psychologically safe enough to authentically engage with new content and with each other. If they don’t, they may start to resist the process or not fully engage. Learning new content takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable—learners need to feel safe for this to be possible.
  10. Welcome it! Minimizing resistance is helpful. However, never avoid it when it shows up because it will most likely build and come back stronger. Sometimes the best learning happens from tough debate, uncomfortable challenge and surprising questions.

Why do most people fear resistance?

* * * * *

Jeanette Romkema (jeanette@globallearningpartners.com) is a Global Learning Partners (GLP) co-owner and Managing Partner of Communications and Marketing, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP. She loves talking about the topic of resistance, so don’t hesitate to email her with your questions or thoughts.

An Action Package for Managers, Part II

In Part One of this blog series we shared a story about how Global Learning Partners (GLP) and pro mujer collaboratively built the skills of managers in the context of their day-to-day work. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the video about that process, enjoy it here.

In this post we briefly show how the structure and implementation of the learning program for managers reflect critical principles of adult learning.

To start, take a close look at the snapshot, above. The green paths are three, six-week periods of self-directed on-the-job learning. The red circles are four in-person gatherings, called “refueling stations.” Each of the carefully facilitated in-person gatherings:

  • is built on a concrete set of learning objectives that name what the managers will have done by the end of the time together;
  • balances action with reflection, allowing time for managers to exchange past experiences around a particular aspect of their work, and plan for how they will approach that aspect moving forward; and,
  • focuses on relevant content, prioritized through both self-assessment and outside perspective.

During the weeks of self-directed learning, managers used personal workbooks with a consistent structure to try out new skills on the job as exemplified in the box below. On the recommendation of managers during the rapid pilot phase, each workbook begins with a proposed timeline for pacing themselves through the self-directed learning.


Key Skills

Step One: Reflect

e.g. Reflect on which leadership qualities you exhibit most consistently.

Step Two: Discover

e.g. Read this one page resource about feedback and select one strategy you’ll use this month.

Step Three: Try It Out

e.g. Select three staff from whom you would value feedback on your work. Adapt this draft invitation for their feedback and review these tips for how to accept their feedback well.

Step Four: Plan

e.g. Use this action sheet to capture one thing you will continue and one thing you might do differently as a result of the feedback you received.


We congratulate pro mujer staff in Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and Bolivia for the collaborative design and implementation of a practical action package built entirely on the true meaning of “learning by doing.” This has been exciting work!

What ideas for “learning by doing” does this two-part blog inspire in you?


Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.

An Action Package for Managers, Part I

Do you sometimes find that training doesn’t stick? Watch a four-minute case study with a creative approach to taking new skills out of the workshop and into the workplace.


Keep an eye out for Part Two of this blog for a closer look at this work.

What ideas for your organization does this blog inspire in you?​


Valerie Uccellani (valerie@globallearningpartners.com) is a GLP co-owner and Managing Partner of our Consulting network, as well a Senior Consultant and Trainer with GLP; Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with GLP. Feel free to contact either of them to learn more about this work.


Facilitation for Real Ownership

The key to optimizing learning and building long-term memory is to create ‘ownership’ of learning content. (Jensen, 2005; Poldrack et al., 2001)

Below are facilitation skills I have been especially aware of lately in my work. These go beyond technique. They are more about “being” than “doing.” See which ones you practice and which ones you want to pay more attention to.

Authenticity. Being genuine with the learners is critical for building a relationship of trust in the learning event. Listen deeply, ask questions with real curiousity, and acknowledge when something they say gives you a new insight. Be honest about your own questions, concerns and enthusiasm for the topic.

Autonomy. Adults’ lives are their own and as such they need to have full ownership of their decisions. Although as facilitator you may create the structure for participants to set goals, frame plans and discuss accountability, the learners are the owners of those goals, plans and accountability. Autonomy reinforces ownership. Create space for people to decide. Celebrate when they ask for autonomy instead of clearer instructions.  It is a sign of ownership

Brevity. Only share the right information for the exact moment with your specific audience. Learning events can fail due to too much content – “less is more!” A few ways to check what you may need to adapt in your workshop design are:

  • How many people are coming? Who are they?
  • Why are they coming? What do they need?
  • What is your vision for change as a result of this 1-hour workshop? What is realistic?
  • How much time do you have?
  • What kind of space will you be in? How are people accustomed to using this space?

Get out of the way of learning. After setting a learning task or activity we often want to hear how the discussion is going or see how the work is unfolding. Don’t. We need to get out of the way so learning can happen – it is through the struggle, decision-making, and debate that learners engage and personalize the content being learned.  

Personalize. As much as possible, refer to examples and stories shared as well as topics and themes of interest to the group. New learning needs to hook into existing knowledge and experience, so get to know your audience at every opportunity:  phone, email, breaks, conversations, check-ins, and the like.

Silence. So often we say too much. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence or wait 5 seconds before adding something or redirecting a question – people need time to think.

Purpose. Be ready, at any time, to reconnect the learning to the purpose for including it now as you understand it. When you own it, they can own it too.


QUESTION: So, which of these do you want to work on for the next while in your work?  Share in the comments section below.

Tuesdays with Jane: Week #1

(Tuesdays with Jane is a virtual learning series for those wishing to read or re-read Jane's books and immediately apply their new learning to their workplace. In preparation for this task, read the Foreword and Preface to the book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach.)


The Foreword by Malcolm Knowles; the Preface (2002)

When we read the fax Malcolm sent in 1993 with his draft Foreword, my sister Joan and I wept. It is such a gift! This is a beautiful man with my friends, humble and abundantly generous. 

You will learn more from this book

than from any textbook written by me…

The Preface to the Revised Edition (2002)  

I remember the response of David Brightman, my editor at Jossey Bass, to my suggestion that, in this revised edition, we include the perspective of quantum thinking. “What in the world?” he wrote back. “Never! Your work is accessible and we want this revised edition to maintain that accessibility!”

Of course, he finally agreed, and I linked arms with Danah Zohar and Margaret Wheatley to show how dialogue in educational design and practice corroborated quantum thinking.

The response of many readers reminded me of my dear mother’s response to my using saffron and curry on our Sunday dinner:  “What a waste of a good chicken!” However, I remain convinced that the connection is sound. My recent reading of James E. Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain (2012) showed me that current research in neuroscience corroborates the conjunction of quantum thinking and dialogue in education. 

When David Brightman invited me to do this revised edition, I also said I would not change the stories or the twelve principles and practices. This preface makes a clear case for the stories’ diversity in cultures and the global usefulness of the principles and practices. 

Here are some delightful lines in the Preface: 

Danah Zohar 

  • “How can we teach multitudes on a human scale?” p.ix
  • "We must change the thinking behind our thinking!" p.xxi


  • “Notice The Thinker is thinking with his toes!" p.xii
  • "Prepare yourself for a quantum leap into a familiar place.” p.xii



What line moved you in the Foreword or the Preface of the 2002 revised edition of Learning to Listen Learning to Teach?      


How Can We Design and Facilitate for Hospitality?

To feel a sense of belonging is important because it will lead us from conversations about safety and comfort to other conversations, such as our relatedness and willingness to provide hospitality and generosity. Hospitality is the welcoming of strangers, and generosity is an offer with no expectation of return. These are two elements that we want to nurture as we work to create, strengthen, and restore our communities. This will not occur in a culture dominated by isolation, and its correlate, fear.

Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging (2009), p3


Ten graduate students from Wycliffe College in Toronto created the list below of ways to build hospitality in courses, workshops, conferences, and meetings. Indeed there is much we can do to create a sense of community and connectedness, and grow a sense of belonging in our learning events.

The Space and Place

  • Arrange the furniture to help people connect easily with each other and the content
  • Bring flowers and/or plants in the room
  • Orient the room for warmth, comfort and learning
  • Have snacks and drinks in the room
  • Buy snacks with the uniqueness of the group in mind
  • Open the curtains and let the natural light in
  • Cover tables with colourful table clothes
  • Remove unnecessary clutter from the room i.e. extra furniture
  • Strip the walls of distracting visuals and items
  • Have a welcome sign outside the room, welcoming people in
  • Set up a variety of seating areas for people to use during breaks.


The Facilitation

  • Warmly welcome people as they arrived
  • Smile!
  • Set ground rules that help ensure safety and respect
  • Use the language of your audience
  • Listen for cues and be flexible to respond
  • Connect authentically to people before, during and after the event
  • Call people by name
  • Affirm all stories, questions and ideas shared
  • Be genuinely curious about what the group has to offer
  • Listen deeply
  • Speak authentically.


The Learning Design

  • Give people choice in how to engage, where to sit, etc.
  • Use a diversity of learning tasks to invite all types of learners in
  • Ensure all voices are invited in and heard
  • Check in with the group from time to time re: energy, pace, etc.
  • Include a warm welcome in the learning design and/or printed material for learners.


A Few More Ideas

  • Give people clear instructions to the venue
  • Welcome people in advance and invite their input
  • If learners are new to the city, have maps and restaurant ideas on hand for them to take with them
  • Arrange child care, if needed
  • Have the room and all resources ready when people arrive, so you can focus on welcoming each person
  • Chat with people during the breaks
  • Have name tags so everyone can use names.


QUESTION: What ideas can you add to this list?

Learning-Centered Conferences: All's Well that Ends Well

After a plenary or panel session at a conference, it is helpful to protect time at the end to engage the audience with the content just presented. One idea for doing this is to pose a question for people to reflect on or discuss with others around them (or at their table): 

  • “What key ideas were offered in this presentation that you feel are worth trying?”
  • “What did you hear from [the speaker] that resonates with your own experience? What was new for you?”
  • “What ideas were offered here today that you find most challenging?”

Another idea to help engagement and personalize the content is to invite personal reflection:

  • “On your own, what one idea do you want to share with your team? Write this in your conference booklet.”
  • “Take a few minutes on your own to write one key learning from this session that you want to take back to your work with you. What is it, who do you want to share this with, and when.”

Although this engagement time is often short, even 5 minutes is time well spent. Whether you frame it as a “take away” or “key for me” or “now what”, facilitating it well is important. Here are a few tips:

  1. Be simple and clear. Since time is limited there is no room for complex instructions. Projecting the task on a screen at the front is helpful and recommended. This way no one is wondering what was just asked.

For example:  “We just heard [the speaker] offer us much food for thought. Now we are going to take some time to consider what was most important for each of us. At your tables, share what was most important for you, your team or your organization to hear today, and why that is so.”

  1. Set the task and get out of the way. There is no need for discussion or explanation. Once the task is set, let the participants start the dialogue. Your voice has to stop, in order for theirs to start.
  2. State the allotted time. People need to know how much time they have. If they hear they only have 5 minutes, they may start their discussion a bit faster than if they think they have an unlimited amount of time.

For example:  “In groups of 2 or 3, take 10 minutes to…”

  1. Encourage digging deep. The audience has just been passively listening to a presentation and may need a bit of encouragement to get started and engage authentically in small groups.

For example:  “… as you discuss this at your table, think of the communities in which you work. What is critical for them in light of what you heard today?”  

  1. Affirm the group. After everyone engages with the task you asked they to do, thank them. They have just shared their thoughts, questions and sometimes tough issues – this should not be taken for granted.

For example:  “Thank you for sharing all you did and for the tough questions and stories you shared. Although we don’t have time to hear the dialogue that happen at your tables, I invite you to continue these conversations over lunch and during the breaks.” 


Jeanette Romkema is a Senior Partner at GLP.  You can join her and GLP Partner Michael Culliton in the January 2016 online course, "Learning-Centered Conferences".  

Tips for Effective Time Management

Managing time is a challenge for even the most seasoned facilitators. Here are a few tips to help you ensure you facilitate the planned learning design in the designated time:

  1. Start on time. When learners don’t arrive on time, it can be challenging to know when to start. It’s okay to wait a few minutes, but in general work to start on time. This will also show respect to those who are there.
  2. Use two time pieces. Having a clock on the wall is critical and having a watch or other timing device with/near you at all times, helps you for 100% awareness of the minutes and hours. Time has a way of passing by quickly unless you monitor it constantly.
  3. State how much time each task is when you give it. When learners know how much time they have, it will not be a surprise when you call them back to the large group after engaging in a learning task. If timing is short, stating it can also help energize learners.
  4. If you are working with a co-facilitator, ask him/her to be your timekeeper. It is sometimes a challenge to monitor time when there are other things demanding your attention i.e. questions from learners. Relying on your co-facilitators in this way can be easy and helpful.
  5. Mark the time breakdown in your workshop design. Making notes to yourself about timing, materials and things to mention while facilitating can help you stay fully focused.
  6. Use learners. Sometimes asking a learner to let you know when a certain amount of time has passed, can be helpful. In some cases this request can help a learner focus and feel validated.
  7. Be flexible. Sometimes a learning task will take more or less time than you expect – don’t be afraid to adjust your workshop accordingly. You are responsible to ensure learners are meaningfully engaged and have enough time to work with and personalize the new content. Although a well-though out learning design needs to be followed and trusted, as you learn more about the people in the room and their needs, changes may need to be made.
  8. Check outside factors that may impact your planned time and timing. Although you may have the learning event perfectly planned out, life has a funny way of throwing curve balls. Check with those in the building and in the group for things like: lunch bells, outside meetings, others using the room, or events in the area. The fewer surprises the better.

10 Tips for Groups Where Language May Be a Challenge

by Kathy Hickman, Jeanette Romkema and Elaine Wiersma

From time to time we work with a group where language is a challenge (e.g. dementia, low-literacy, different languages of origin). It is important to understand learners’ language abilities (expression and comprehension) when planning for an education event. During the learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA) process, find out what you can about learners’ comfort and abilities related to reading and writing. Then carefully and intentionally design your event. Here are a few things to keep in mind when language may be a challenge.

  1. Use visuals. Where possible use visual aids to teach the new content or to make a point i.e. video clip, role play, pictures, cartoons, etc. When you need/ want to share words visually, support them with a visual representation as well. In general, limit written text.


  1. Offer choice. Adult learners will choose wisely according to their needs and comfort level. For this reason, when you offer choice about how to do an activity (drawing or writing) or receive information (follow along in the brochure or with the drawings), adults will engage in a way that is most helpful for them. Be sure to create safety (“it’s okay to do it different”) and give reminders about the options for a task. Remember that too much choice can also be overwhelming for learners living with dementia.


  1. Use props. Whether as a metaphor or a concrete example of what you are explaining to a group, demo objects can be helpful in learning or understanding a complex or new concept or skill. The key is to find props that communicate clearly and simply. You can also SHOW rather than, or perhaps as well as, TELL to explain a new concept or skill.


  1. Engage learners by DOING. The best way to learn something is to do something with new content to test, challenge and/or practice it. If you ensure that this activity does not involve much writing OR that there are options for how to do the task, learners will be successful regardless of language abilities.


  1. Use language that is familiar to the group. As a general rule of thumb, everyday language is more easily understood compared to academic or professional language.  Listen to the words used by learners when you speak with them as part of your assessment process and during the course. Check with others within the community or others who are familiar with this group about what language is most appropriate and is most likely to be understood. Make sure that this language is reflected in your design and facilitation. This will not only aid the learning but also shows respect for the learners.


  1. Reading aloud. By asking for volunteers to read instructions aloud and at times reading aloud yourself, ALL learners will have the chance to know what is expected of them. This increases safety for learners that have difficulty reading because they know they will not have to read in order to participate in the group.


  1. Be clear and simple. You may think that this goes without saying, but all too often professionals get caught up in jargon or the complexities of their field. Teach as if you are having a casual conversation – keep it down to earth.


  1. Use stories. Story is a powerful thing for all human beings. When written text is a challenge to read or understand, oral text is often helpful. Stories are personal and often come from or touch the heart – this is why they are so powerful.


  1. Use role play. It is a form of storytelling, but can also help learners experience how it must feel to be in a particular role. Get learners to act out a role they are not normally in to gain empathy and new insights into another person’s reality. It is critical that this is done with safety (e.g. in small groups or pairs, with those who would like to volunteer or use a demonstration role play with facilitators).


  1. Ask learners to retell or summarize. We sometimes assume a nodding head means understanding. This is not always true. You can help learning and assist in the personalizing of new concepts when you ask learners to retell or summarize their understanding of what has been presented or explained. This can be done with a partner or small group, with a question attached to discuss together. Frame this so that learner safety is ensured (e.g. no wrong answers, affirm, and respectfully clarify as needed).


Kathy Hickman is Knowledge Mobilization Lead at Alzheimer Knowledge Exchange and Education Manager at Alzheimer Society of Ontario khickman@alzheimeront.org;

Jeanette Romkema is Senior Consultant, Partner and President of Global Learning Partners jeanette@globallearningpartners.com;

Elaine Wiersma is an Associate Professor, Centre for Education and Research on Aging & Health at Lakehead University ewiersma@lakeheadu.ca.


10 Tips for Managing Data to Document Learning & Change

By GLP Senior Partner Jeanette Romkema and GLP Partner Christine Little.

It can be challenging to collect meaningful data from participants while facilitating dialogue. There we stand at the flip chart with markers in hand, racing to get their insights up on the wall while the dialogue flows past us. The conversation starts to go off track while we try to recall what someone said a minute ago. And the chart starts to look like a jumble of words. It is important to remember that the conversation itself is a meaningful product! Facilitators need to be intentional about what gets documented and know that it’s not necessary to capture all that is said. Here are 10 helpful tips for documenting ideas, decisions, and insights.

  1. Use participants’ own words. If you don’t have a scribe, consider having the participants write it out themselves and post their work. Using a co-facilitator for this role can also be effective and easy.  Remember, ask learners to repeat when something is unclear: “What word did you use just now to describe the theory? I want to capture your thought exactly.”
  2. Ask people to be specific and descriptive in their answers. People tend to synthesize their thinking to the point where it can lose meaning. To get important detail in learners’ work, you may need to ask questions of clarification and probing questions. Setting the task clearly is critical. Remember, be specific in your instructions: “Write the feedback you are hearing about the method your organization is using. Be as comprehensive as possible.”
  3. Leave space between points as you scribe.  As people inquire into the point you can use this space to add a richer description and fill in the details. As you continue to unpack ideas on a chart or visual you will want to add words, phrases, pictures, and thoughts. Remember, be transparent: “I am going to leave lots of space between your ideas so we can add thoughts and examples as we unpack this throughout the day.”
  4. Make it moveable. If you will be categorizing, capture data on Post-it Notes or cards—one idea per note—so that they can be easily clustered or moved into columns. Let participants do the clustering, sorting and meaning-making when possible. Remember, be clear: “Write one idea per Post-it Note so we can move ideas around and categorize after we hear everyone’s input. We are going to be working with this for the next hour or so.”
  5. Label your charts. It may sound obvious, but a flipchart without a title may be hard to identify by the next day and when you need to use the data again. You and the group need to know what a collection of data on a chart is about, at a glance. Remember, details count: “When you are finished add a title to the top of your chart and your names at the bottom. We want to remember whose ideas are on each chart.”
  6. Use graphic organizers.  Graphic organizers help individuals and groups to make sense of the data they generate. Some examples of these include: T-charts, mind maps, matrices, Venn diagrams, timelines and pie charts. Remember, maximize this tool: “Use the full paper to make your chart and write large enough so that we can read your ideas from a distance. This will be important for our further work together.”
  7. Leverage technology. For some data, typing it directly into a computer (possibly visible to all on the screen), is a good way to scribe. Only use this if the data does not need to be visible in the room later. If you will need to refer back to it with the group, put it on a wall or flip chart. Remember, technology is not our enemy: “We are going to collect your ideas on the screen so I can email it to everyone during the break and we can work all work on unpacking the idea on our computers during our working session this afternoon.
  8. Put the data in their hands. Participants will feel more accountability for the product to the extent they own it. Invite them to write, post, enrich, sort, cluster, categorize, prioritize, eliminate, and add to the data. This keeps them meaningfully engaged, adds more credibility to the outputs, and makes your job easier. Remember, be prepared: “You will find all you need to do this work on your tables: markers, Post-it Notes, and scissors.”
  9. Keep visuals up that you plan to continue to work on and refer to. Visuals are not to be treated like wallpaper, and should only be kept when/ if it will further the learning and work that needs to be done. Be selective in what you record, how and how long you keep it up. Remember, refer to what has been kept visible: “Remember our work on this yesterday [gesturing to the chart]? How does that inform this new model?”
  10. Be transparent and clear. Whether you are collecting data verbally or in writing, in advance or in the moment, individually or as a group, be clear what will be collected, when, where and by whom. Clarity and transparency on process and expectations will help ensure rich data and minimize assumptions. Remember, avoid “faci-pulation” (facilitation + manipulation = faci-pulation): The process of facilitating decision-making that will not be used later. Be clear who has deliberative or decisive voice and what will happen next.

What tips would you add?

An Interview with Jeanette Romkema, GLP Senior Partner

Jeanette Romkema with co-facilitator Marshall Yoder, GLP Certified Teacher.

What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Pray for Doubt. I pray for the learners to question, struggle with, and doubt the new content and learning journey I take them on. For me, this means they are engaging with the new content. This is good! However, I also pray for my own doubt. I never want to come into a course or workshop or meeting feeling like I know it all. There are always surprises - from the learners, the place, the timing, the content, and the situation - and I want to walk into an event with lots of questions and curious to discover what I don`t know. I often say to learners, "The day I stop being nervous before a learning event is the day I stop teaching." I always want to remember that there is lots here I don't know... and yes, this is a bit nerve-wracking.

Name your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use it for and why it’s your favorite.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate and respect the facilitation skill of silence. It is amazing what happens when we wait. I have heard the most powerful questions, deepest sharing, and most provocative insights after a long silence. People need time to think; people need time to have courage to share; and, people need to know you are authentically curious and want to hear what they have to say.

Of all the DE principles, what is your favorite? Why?

Lately I have appreciated the DE principle of relevance. Of course it is important for adult learners to know how an event and the new content is important for their lives - they want to know "Why am I here?" Even more important is that people take time during the learning event itself (here and now) to decide what they will do with the new content. If it is so relevant for their lives and work... then let's plan what we will do differently with that 'critical new learning'.

Lately, I have more deeply understood the importance of spending time to transfer the learning: the AWAY part of a task or design. Yes, this is all about maximizing change in real lives, real communities, and in the real world. In the end, this is what it is all about.

Why do you love DE?

For me, DE is rooted in deep love: love for the world and all living things. At its core this method is about authentic presence with each other better systems, lives and communities - it is about right relationships with each other and bringing things back to how they were first created and intended.

What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

This is constantly growing in meaning and changing for me, as DE is soooo rich and complex in its simplicity. What comes to mind for me right now is: authenticity. When we are authentically present with each other and in a situation, we can truly see, hear, and understand. When we are fully present with each other we can truly work together for change in the world.

What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Don't stop doubting, questioning or challenging what you do and how you do it. DE principles and practices are wonderfully complex and our understanding of them is forever changing, deepening. What “safety” looks like in rural Iowa may be different from urban Ontario; what “engagement” looks like in a corporate Board meeting may look different from a not-for-profit meeting; what “respect” looks like in Jordan may look different from the USA; what “the WHY” is for leadership training in a small rape clinic in Ottawa may be different from such a clinic in Addis, Ethiopia. The principles and practices of DE are a moving target and we have to constantly work at understanding and practice deep presence with individuals and groups to hear. There is never a time or place when we can say, "Mmmm, I finally know how to do this". This is the stuff of life-long learning and what makes it so exciting.

Part of all this "life-long learning" is also a need to continue to research other methods and ways of doing things. Talk to colleagues, surf the internet, read blogs, study the new thinking on teaching and learning, and ask for feedback on your work from other professionals. There is so much more to learn and just because it doesn't say "DE" somewhere in the text does not mean that it is not congruent or usable.

If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

There are many methods that complement and are congruent to DE. Three of these that I use often are circle practice, world cafe, and the art of hosting.

Circle practice is a practice of meeting in a circle to share... deeply. This simple practice of passing a "talking piece" or sharing "popcorn style" can help to ensure relevance, dig into the root of why an event is happening, and include all thoughts and feelings in a safe way. In slowing down and focusing on a single question, idea, feeling or experience depth of sharing is experienced. It can be quite surprising and powerful!

World Café is a wonderful method of working with large groups on complex topics or issues. It is highly engaging, respectful and inclusive, and can be a great solution to the challenge of facilitating a large group.

The Art of Hosting is “an emerging set of practices for facilitating group conversations of all sizes, supported by principles that maximize collective intelligence; welcome and listen to diverse viewpoints; maximize participation and civility; and transform conflict into creative cooperation.”

Join Jeanette Romkema for Advanced Learning Design, November 18-20, 2014 in Toronto.

An Interview with Peter Noteboom, GLP Senior Partner

What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

My favorite axiom is “pray for doubt”. The reason why it is my favorite is that it is both counter-intuitive and powerful. It is counter-intuitive because often facilitators avoid or dread doubt, and see it as a negative contribution. This axiom transforms those negative connotations into positive energy. The reason why it is transformative is that this axiom values doubt, which demonstrates that people care and are engaged; it demonstrates that people feel safe enough to give voice to their doubts; and, it is evidence that analysis is happening and feelings are being shared. Valuing these outcomes gives power to the doubt and contribution, and then can eventually challenge it to become productive and solution-oriented. At the same time, acknowledging doubt cannot be a rote or superficial response. The more empathy can be brought to the situation in a genuine way, the more authentic the learning, the search, the common construction of new knowledge.

Name 3-5 of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.

  • Listening: Again counter-intuitive, demonstrates confidence, makes room for thinking, makes space for quiet in a noisy world.
  • Echoing/paraphrasing using names: Acknowledging responses in a specific way, sometimes with a specific personal touch, creates an attentive inclusive difference-valuing space for learning, dialogue and debate.
  • Weaving, as in story-telling about the event and how it might unfold: Breaks down the technical nature of a meeting (objectives, tasks, agenda items, resolutions), is more explicit about purpose and outcomes (what we need to get done), yet helps participants know their role and place, what is coming later in the meeting, how it all fits and links to one another.

Peter in Jordan with members of the Jordan Civil Society Program.

Of all the DE principles, which do you like the best? Why?

Singularity: Seeing each participant as a person of incomparable worth stretches the boundaries of inclusion, valuing difference, respect, and safety. When love is the measure of the relationship with each person of incomparable wealth, then that drives a very deep form of engagement on the part of the facilitator.

When you attend learning events that are not learning centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Not knowing where I am going, or how what we are doing is being used, or assuming conclusions are group conclusions when they are really the facilitator or leader’s conclusions.

Why do you love DE?

I love DE because it is the best system of principles and practices I know that facilitates learning and change. I also love its versatility; virtually every other “method” or approach can be enriched by the application of DE principles and practices.

What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Dialogue Education is . . .

  • How adults learn.
  • A reliable system for facilitating change.
  • A useful set of tips and tools.
  • A principled way of life.

What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Personalize, innovate, make the practice your own. Move beyond the structure to breathing more life and “naturalness”, personality, into the designing and learning process.

If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

They are all enriched and strengthened by DE, whether strategic planning tools like Appreciative Inquiry, SWOT, SOAR; or teambuilding principles and concepts, etc.

Persons with Disabilities: From Principles to Practice, Part II

This is the second of a two-part series. Read part one here.

I am a visual learner so by preference (teaching and facilitating in the way I like to learn) I tend to prioritize visual learning when designing learning experiences: showing what I mean using diagrams and pictures, drawing on visual metaphors to invite new connections, and calling on learners to draw tables, flow charts, and diagrams that demonstrate causal or relational links from one idea or action to the next. When facilitating small and large group sessions, I like to invite learners to document their idea on cards and post them, either in a web chart or on a wall calendar or timeline, the more colors the better. My experience is that most of the learners appreciate these practices but not all.

To my regret, as a result I have been caught flat-footed by participants with visual impairment. Even though one participant came prepared with the learning design printed in Braille so that she was able to follow along without visual cues, the learning tasks did not, in the main, invite her to put her best foot forward. Even though another participant was mobile because of a motorized chair, the walk-n-talks, the shifting partners of 2 x 2 or trios often demanded accommodations that unduly brought attention to him and how to accommodate those small group dialogue practices. And even though a third participant expressed her thoughts and ideas with great wisdom and clarity, I found myself learning forward, squinting, and bending over as if listening to a child because of her speech impairment.

I need to stretch my understanding and practice of inclusion well beyond a minimal definition of seeing to it that every voice is heard. So what does inclusion in this inclusive-of-persons-with-disabilities mean? What does it mean to demonstrate respect and safety for each and all? What does engagement look like? How will we design learning events so that all participants, including those persons with disabilities, are able to tell, show and demonstrate how smart they are?

Practical Tips for More Inclusion

Designing and facilitating learning events with persons with disabilities in mind is a gift, an art, and a science. While not expert, here are a few practical tips for designing and facilitating learning that take into account fuller inclusion.


  • Make the effort to find out in advance who is coming with disabilities. Including a question in your Learning Needs and Resources Assessment can demonstrate both that you are ready, aware, and willing to respond, and that you welcome and encourage their full participation. The question works best when it is placed as part of an overall assessment process, not all that different from asking if there are any special diets to take into account.
  • When appropriate, ask if any are self-excluding themselves from the learning process and event because of a disability. Checking with the organizers in advance can again encourage fuller participation. Asking the question demonstrates an interest, concern and desire to see everyone fully participate. This attitude of openness may also influence positively other aspects of the program.
  • Once you know who is coming, do the research you need to find out how they like to learn best. Inviting persons with disabilities to tell you what works can help increase their feeling of control and involvement, key factors that may lead to their success. Be sure to take these into account during your design process.


  • Examine the room layout. Is there room for a wheelchair to move from the circle of chairs, to working tables, and back? Will the visually impaired person feel comfortable with seeing aids, including dogs, in the room? What else do you need to consider in the room layout to practice fuller inclusion? What about accessibility?
  • Design or adjust your learning objectives with your learners and their abilities in mind.
  • The learning tasks that result from those learning objectives are best written from the perspective of the learners. So consider in advance your step by step instructions to ensure that persons with disabilities know how they can participate, and who will work together to be successful. As the facilitator, do a “dry run” in advance with everyone in mind (Can that wheelchair get to the necessary location? Will the visually impaired person get the full weight of the research and theory, and alone or together can they learn by doing with others?) Consider sharing the learning tasks in advance, quietly, perhaps during a break, so there is more confidence and predictability in the room.
  • Customize the production of the learning materials. A complete learning design helps all learners to see and participate. (Do you have the facilities to print the materials in Braille when needed, do you know where to go? Is there an appropriate reliance on visuals, or descriptive text that describes the visuals to ensure everyone can participate?)


  • Consider your facilitation stance. How will your voice and body language affirm and support the learning for each and all, without discrimination or sending unintended signals?
  • Choose the best place to sit and stand: Does it work best to be close to the person with a speech impairment to avoid asking for repetition, or signalling unintentional body language?
  • When setting the learning task, be sure to consider that the task is clear and that how the task will be accomplished is clear for each and all.
  • Intervene when you see and feel exclusion. Check in quietly at the break, consult before the start of the event, or solicit feedback at the end of the event that surfaces concerns of exclusion and encourages everyone to respond.
  • Be sure to celebrate the successes and insights of each and all, without discrimination.
  • Honour and name the efforts of each and all.

What tips would you add to this list, both in principle, and from your own experience?

Persons with Disabilities: From Experience to Principles, Part I

Unbelievably to me, and even at first unnoticed by me in the large ballroom style conference room that was being productive and facilitated through dialogue, the facilitator was blind, unable to see the people and setting in the room with his eyes. Led at the elbow, he deftly travelled from table to table inviting the participants to share their points of view, fielded questions from other members of the audience, and beautifully summarized the outcome of the session.

Intensely attuned to mood, sounds and feelings in that large ballroom hall, he could hear when a comment was about to be made at the other end of the room. His face, wonderfully expressive, let us know when he sensed tension or debate that needed all of our attention. His posture and listening pose affirmed each and every contribution.

“Persons with Disabilities” is the term currently used most frequently to describe persons with various kinds of impairments: physical, visual, hearing, sensory, speech, mental health, emotional, intellectual or developmental.

I celebrate his ability to expertly facilitate a very large group of advocates. He demonstrated respect in all his interactions, and perhaps his disability was a gift that focused our attention even more to being present and alert because we wanted to return that respect we felt. The topic was advocacy for and with persons with disabilities so the engagement level was extraordinarily high since the room included persons with disabilities, their allies, and the broader public. Most importantly, even in that large group of 150 people, we all felt included. We participated at table groups, our voices were heard in the group dialogue, and we found our input reflected in the summary he provided.

At the table groups too, careful seating meant that we were discussing the topic with other persons with disabilities, so our dialogue was well informed with personal experience, not only good will. Seated with a blind woman and another in a wheel chair, we were leaning in to hear what one another were saying and responding as carefully and thoughtfully as we could.

For more on the results of that session, which contributed to the report on the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Jordan, please see the report here. It was my pleasure to work alongside the organization supporting that effort, who deserves commendation for their careful, inclusive, and ground-breaking work, the Civil Society Program in Jordan.

What about you, what experiences have you had, and what have you learned about excellent facilitation and learning design skills from persons with disabilities?

An Interview with Valerie Uccellani, GLP Senior Partner

Global Learning Partners (GLP):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Valerie Uccellani (Val):  Pray for Doubt. Funny. I didn’t used to like this one. In fact, when we taught axioms in the introductory course, I sometimes deleted it from the binder; I didn’t want the language to make some people feel excluded. Not everyone “prays”. But now I love this axiom and I like saying it to myself when I’m not sure how to make sense of what’s going on around me – or what to do next.

Doubt opens us up. When we have doubt, we become curious.

And, with that curiosity, we grow.

GLP:  Name 3-5 of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.

Val:  My all-time favorite has been to trust my gut. It’s in none of the “facilitation skill” materials I’ve created over the years. But it ought to be. I’ve found that if I pause, and listen to my gut, I get good direction about how to proceed. And as I’ve listened to my gut over the years, I feel like it’s grown stronger – like a muscle.

GLP:  Of all the DE principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Val:  I think immediately of the principles and practices which Jane Vella has called “the signs of Dialogue Education.” I use them a lot when working with clients on creating new programs and learning designs.  I check:

  • Are the learners being productive?
  • Is there substantive content injected into this learning experience for them?

Yes, I like substantive content and productivity for the learners!

GLP:  When you attend learning events that are not learning centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Val:  That’s easy! I abhor fake listening. It happens in so many ways in so many places, even by really well-intentioned leaders and facilitators. We want people to think X, to know X, to believe X. Instead of just saying what we think, know or believe, we craft a series of questions that “guides” people to arrive at our conclusions. This drives me crazy. And, when I've inadvertently done it myself I regret it terribly.

GLP:  Why do you love DE?

Val:  It creates a space for people to be true to themselves and different from others. It creates a space for us to learn together and move in a direction that feels right for us.

GLP:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story.

Val:  Thank you for asking that question. I hadn’t thought about this moment in a long time. I was in Mozambique, working as the leader of a group of teachers/ trainers for the Peace Corp. I had worked for a month or more with a team of young teachers. I had tried to model, and explain, the principles behind a learning-centered, dialogue approach. I hoped they would bring it with them into their own classroom teaching with Mozambican students.

One day, I sat in the back, observing a class. There were unmovable benches, 3 children in each one (crammed together). The students had learned that they only speak when spoken to, and when they answer a question they stand up. I watched them all, noticing in particular a young woman who sat hunched at her seat. Clearly she didn’t want to look up for fear she’d get called on. As I continued my observations I watched her – like a plant whose growth would indicate to me the healthiness of the garden.

One day she pulled up her head, another day she sat up straight. One day, she volunteered to answer a question (a beautifully designed open question) and she offered her response proudly. When the teacher affirmed her reply I saw a peek of a smile. I felt so good. This is a moment she would remember—it was a teeny start to a transformation. That’s what it’s all about, for me.

GLP:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Val:  DE is like a braid. It intentionally weaves together:

  • Our personal experiences and truths;
  • The latest of outside perspectives; and,
  • The world of learning.

GLP:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Val:  Look for ways in which our instincts can make a positive contribution to any work we are involved in. If DE resonates for you, it’s because you care about honesty and clarity and sincerity. You want affirmation to prevail over negativity and destructive competition. Listen to that and find ways to apply it to everything.

GLP:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Val:  There is a premise behind this question that doesn’t quite work for me. I don’t see DE as a teaching method. It is an overarching way of connecting people to each other and to learning. So, any teaching method could be done in a way that is compatible with the principles. The key is to always ask myself: does this feel respectful? Does it feel relevant? Are we being transparent here?

In that case, bring it on!


The Importance of Written Tasks

Blogger Saba Yassin teaching with GLP Senior Partner, Peter Noteboom, in Amman, Jordan.

Why do we have to create a visual of our learning tasks?

Can’t we just give out verbal instructions?

Why do students need more than that?

I can’t begin to count how many times I have heard these questions from my learners while teaching Dialogue Education courses. I used to explain that the importance of having the tasks in both verbal and visual form helps those who are visual learners, and shows respect by providing the learner with an easy reminder, and . . . much more. I knew it was important, but now I really know why.

I was in the final stages of certifying a group of university professors as Dialogue Education Practitioners in Saudi Arabia (yes, these professors are working to embrace DE at the university level!). As I assessed their sessions using their full learning designs and their practice facilitations, I quickly started noticing big differences. Each candidate who had the learning tasks well-written and presented visually during her class had a very organized, smooth session that was clear to the students; the students easily followed the learning tasks. The dialogue was rich and the learning deep.

On the other hand, some facilitators didn’t reveal the learning tasks visually, and only related them to the students verbally, from memory. While the facilitators clearly knew the learning tasks themselves, they weren’t as clear for the students. I noticed that the sessions were not as organized and the learning tasks were not as well sequenced or presented. There was a tendency towards monologue (where only the professor spoke) and the learning seemed questionable and less authentic.

Wow, what great learning for us all! Writing well thought out written tasks, with all the needed resources, offers us important guidance. It is our “road map” for the session, the gateway to a room full of Dialogue Education practices and principles that lead to meaningful learning.

Now, when my learners ask why it is important to share learning tasks visually with the learners, I have proof. It’s all about the learning.

Saba Yassin is a GLP Certified Dialogue Education Teacher who lives in Cairo and teaches licensed Dialogue Education courses in the Middle East.

An Interview with Michael Culliton, GLP Partner

This is the third in a series of interviews conducted by Joan Dempsey, GLP's Dialogue Education Community Director, with people who believe deeply in the power of dialogue to influence learning that lasts. Today's interview is with GLP Partner, Michael Culliton.

Joan Dempsey (Joan):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Michael Culliton (Michael): “The learning is in the doing and the deciding.” In James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain he notes that we can’t say that people have truly learned anything until they engage in “active testing” of the content. This is not just philosophical, it is biological! We actually need to do something.

Joan:  Name 3-5 of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.

Michael:  Pay attention to the physical “geography” of the learning environment. For example, in the circle, have just the right number of chairs (one for each, no extras; it says, “I know how many folks are in this group--and it cues the group if someone is missing); keep the circle in shape (so everyone is “in” and each can see all). To me, this says so much about the “intention” of the time and the process.

Monitor for visual noise: on the walls, only keep up the charts and visuals that are still needed. I have been to events where facilitators just keep adding more and more visuals  to the room that are not ever referenced again. For me--and some other visual folks, this creates the equivalent of a room full of “screaming monkeys.”

Remember: it is possible to sit and teach. I was so habituated to standing. When the setting and size of the group allows, sitting for me signals so much about dialogue, power, roles.

Joan:  Of all the DE principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Michael:  1)  Congruence - Knowing the principles of DE is not enough: I must put them into practice in a way that brings each to life: in the design, in the learning event;  with the learners and with us as facilitators. 2) Autonomy - Questions of power and agency abound in the design and facilitation of learning. The principle of autonomy demands that I be aware and intentional as I design and facilitate: recognizing, honoring and celebrating the power of learners to do and decide for themselves.

Joan:  When you attend learning events that are not learning centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Michael:  That often I am in a room with other participants who are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject and yet there is no structure or time to share any of our energy and knowledge with one another.

I once took a history of modern art class with 70 other people. For weeks, we listened to lectures. Not  once were we invited to share any of our own passion or knowledge.

Imagine if the teacher had asked: “Turn to the person next to you and tell about one of your favorite paintings. What do you like about the work? What does the work elicit for you?"

Michael with Teryn Jones, who recently co-taught with him as part of the GLP certification process

Joan:  Why do you love DE?

Michael:  To me the principles are not just about learning, but about life. The principles and practice serve the building of respectful, collaborative relationships and offer tools for creating processes that harvest shared wisdom in service of repairing the world and shaping interactions and structures that are more life-affirming, sustainable and responsive.

Joan:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story.

Michael:  Over a decade ago, I helped design and lead a two-year program to support community leaders in developing local legislative advocacy programs. Most of the programs are still going and report success in influencing policy. In addition, several participants still talk about change in both personal and communal confidence and skills. This shows the power of DE in developing individual leaders and organizations; in making a difference for individuals and for communities.

Joan:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Michael:  When people leave a DE event, they have actually practiced DOING whatever it is they are learning. (As opposed to just “hosing people down” with lots of information, which is the MO of a lot of learning, be it lecture or webinar.)

Joan:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Michael:  Team up with another dedicated practitioner to study, design or teach together. I am consistently delighted and deeply influenced by what I learn from others who work out of the DE approach.

Joan:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Michael:  The use of Open Space Technology within multi-day DE-designed events is something I find powerful: it provides a vehicle for emergent conversations and creative explorations.

When there is pattern of tension between two deeply held values within a group or organization, I have found polarity mapping to be a powerful and instructive tool.

Joan:  What else would you like to share?
Michael:  As a practitioner of DE, I don’t think I ever “arrive”: there is always more to learn, re-learn, explore, and research. It’s a courageous, exciting, and very satisfying journey!

Michael will be teaching the following courses in 2014 - join him!

Foundations of Dialogue Education, Sept 22-25, 2014  |  Anchorage, Alaska

Foundations of Dialogue Education, October 6-9, 2014  |  San Diego, California

SURE-Fire Meetings, October 23-23, 2014  |  Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota

6 Tips for Using PowerPoint to Engage People in Dialogue

PowerPoint. We love it. We hate it. We abandoned it to flirt with Prezi. Then we came back.

It's like that relationship we know is not good for us, but we keep it on speed dial.

So, we won't give you the long list of how not to use PowerPoint. You've been there and you could write that one. (But this Gettysburg Address example is worth seeing if you haven't already).

Here is a list of how to use PowerPoint and still get the kind of engagement you want with your presentations.

  1. Consider not using it. (Sneaky, I know, but at least consider it). If it does not enhance your presentation in meaningful ways, don’t use it at all. It has a bad reputation and people have come to expect that they will be passive and unengaged when the first screen comes up. You will have to work against that in the first few seconds.
  2. Set it up with an open question (i.e. “As you look at the numbers, be thinking about how they will impact the work in your own department in the short term.”).
  3. Use it to visually communicate what you are presenting (that is not the same thing as “textually” communicating). Images stick in our minds, for instance, and some graphs can help people to make meaning of complex concepts.
  4. Use text that the group needs to see in order to react to it. (And then give them time to do just that). i.e. “Read through this description of the product we are considering purchasing. What jumps out at you from this description? What features are most important to your team?" (Hint, if the text is too long to fit on a slide, use a hand out or a pre-read instead.)
  5. Intersperse it with dialogue (i.e. "Which of the policies that we’ve outlined so far might be a challenge for you? Why?").
  6. Divide it into short chunks (no more than 10 minutes) around core concepts. People won't stay with you much longer than that.

Above all, remember this.

Your PowerPoint is not your presentation. It is a visual aid to your presentation.

What are your best PowerPoint tips? Worst cases?! Show us some examples in the comments section below.


Hey, good news! We messed up the original Early Bird deadline for The Art of Facilitation, which means you have until September 10th to save yourself $80 on registration! The course is October 10-11, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA.