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

Creating Trauma-Informed Spaces that Support Learning


Safety is a profound way of showing respect for the learner.

- Jane Vella

Trauma-informed practices are all the rage across disciplines as we learn more about trauma and how it impacts so many of us. Even while traveling on an airline recently (hardly the bastion of trauma-informed approaches), the Captain came on the loudspeaker to tell passengers there was turbulence ahead. He then stated, "while it may be uncomfortable, it will not be unsafe.” Knowing what to expect and that there was nothing to fear not only helped put passengers at ease when the bumps inevitably came along, it prevented me from ending up with a cup of hot coffee in my lap. Had the Captain had some trauma training? Possibly. Either way, I appreciated the heads up!

On a beautiful Vermont morning at the beginning of my journey to becoming a Dialogue Education (DE) practitioner and teacher, I learned about the six core principles of dialogue: inclusion, respect, relevance, engagement, immediacy, and safety. Right away I connected to the concepts of safety and respect as these are core to my work as a facilitator in the movement to end domestic and sexual violence. Our learning events already aimed to be as trauma-informed as possible. We did this by preparing participants when content contains descriptions of violence, letting them know they can take a break at any time for any reason, and even providing ample healthy snacks and beverages. "Phew! So much to learn. At least I’ve got that one down," I thought.

Over time as I began to incorporate what I learned at various DE trainings into my practice I realized how aligned these principles and practices are with trauma-informed approaches. If you look at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s, 6 key principles of a trauma-informed approach, the parallels are numerous. I discovered we could be doing much more in our training design to create trauma-informed spaces. 

Why do we need to go to such great lengths just to make people “feel good”? Aren’t we just soothing egos and catering to sensitivities? Hardly. Fear inhibits learning.

Below are four things I have learned to keep in mind to ensure enough safety is present to foster learning:

  1. Ensure everyone feels “safe enough.” We know from the research of James Zull and Barbara Fredrickson that positive emotions are far more effective in helping us learn. When the fear centers in the brain are triggered, we are not in the learning part of the brain. In DE, we talk about the difference between being “safe” and “safe enough.” Being trauma-informed in adult education isn’t about being so safe and comfortable that you don’t have authentic and meaningful dialogue. It’s about feeling safe enough to actually engage in challenging discourse in the first place
  2. Create a safe learning environment. When working with people who have experienced trauma (which is just about everyone, even though impacts and experiences will vary greatly) facilitators can think even more deeply about ways in which they can support learners to feel at ease. Creating learning environments in which you are engaging the 6 Core DE Principles in Action are just a few examples of how you might create a learning environment that is safe and respectful. Designing learning events using DE practices like transparency, which is also a principle of trauma-informed practice, helps to create trust and safety. It can be done in many ways including naming learning objectives and providing a training outline so that the learner knows just what they can expect. In addition, being transparent about what can’t change in your design in service of learning (perhaps the length of the day, or location) is equally important and respectful. Knowing what is expected and where boundaries lie helps a person who has experienced trauma to manage their own needs and responses effectively.
  3. Offer choice. One-way inclusion can be achieved is through providing choice to learners wherever it serves the learning. This can be as simple as providing three questions to consider and letting them decide which two they will answer or letting learners decide where to sit. For example, if you have ever worked with people who have experienced trauma such as victims of sexual assault or first responders, you may have learned many prefer to face the door. 
  4.  Make the beginning count. If meaningful dialogue and learning from that dialogue is our goal, then it is critical to ensure a positive and safe space from the beginning of your training to the end that respects the learner and their needs. The first minutes of your time with a group will set the tone to the end.

All we do as facilitators should be in service of the learning. If we can make shifts, big and small, that allow learners to feel safe enough to focus on grappling with content they need and to engage in dialogue, we will have achieved this. Much like the airline passengers, learners will know they might experience some discomfort as they learn and grow, but they won’t feel unsafe. Will they know you know a bit about trauma-informed approaches? Possibly. Either way, they’ll appreciate the heads up!

What do you do to help ensure safety in your learning events?


Anne Smith (annepsmith@gmail.com) is an educator, facilitator and advocate working to uproot the causes of violence. Anne is currently the Director of Training and Leadership Development at the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. In her practice she has experienced and shared the transformative impacts of applying the principles and practices of Dialogue Education to deepen learning outcomes. She continues to work hard to spread that potential for transformation!

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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!

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Technology Tools to Support Online Learning


According to Clark (2012), there has been “more pedagogic change in the last 10 years than the last 1000 years and it is all driven by technology innovations.” The online learning space continues to grow in numbers, content, technological advancements and instructional considerations, and the trends in higher education alone predict continued growth.

Here is an overview of recent reports regarding online learning in higher education. According to Allen, Seaman, and Allen (2018) distance education enrollment is up over 5% at 5.6% from 2015 - 2016. That equals over 6.3 million students that are now taking at least one online course (Allen, Seaman & Allen, 2018), compared to 2002 when the enrollment number was under 10% at 9.6% (Allen and Seaman 2017). According to Allen and Seaman (2015), over 70% of higher education administrators have included online education in their learning institution’s strategic plan as compared to 2002 when 48% of administrators reported utilizing online education in their strategic plans (Allen & Seaman, 2017).

More and more research is being published about the use of new technologies or diversifying current technologies in online learning. Technology innovations after all, per Donald Clark (2012), are driving the pedagogical changes we are currently experiencing.

One such innovation I find helpful is Voice Thread. This tool allows for interactive collaboration on presentations and dialogue learning tasks such as reflections and group interactions. Additionally, Voxer is another tool that provides an option for live dialogue in the online classroom.

What types of technologies are you using in your educational practices that support a learning-centered approach in the online learning space, either 100% online, blended, or traditional classroom with new technologies?


Jennifer Kirkland (jkirkland@madonna.edu) is the Director of Community Relations for a faith-based not-for-profit hospice organization. She is also an adjunct assistant professor at Madonna University, and a doctoral student pursing her degree in educational psychology and technology. Please feel free to contact Jennifer with any questions or feedback

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In Memory of Karen Ridout



Karen Ridout, Senior Partner and Owner at Global Learning Partners, Inc. passed away on February 1, 2018. Additional information regarding the funeral and obituary will be posted here when it is available. Please feel free to leave any comments for the GLP community and family in the comments section.


From Peter Noteboom, President, Global Learning Partners:

It is with a great deal of respect, love, and sadness that Global Learning Partners celebrates the life of Karen Ridout, a beloved and close friend, partner, teacher and mentor. May her spirit rest in peace, and dance forever with the Spirit.



From Jane Vella, Founder of Global Learning Partners:

My friend Karen Ridout is, and always will be, my inspiration. The one word I think of when I think of Karen is FIDELITY. Her fidelity to her son David and her daughter Kacey, and to her four beautiful granddaughters and their dad (Kacey’s husband, Bill), and to her own two brothers, Jim and Bill, to her friends and colleagues, to her church family and to all whom she served! Fidelity!

I met Karen at our Church of the Nativity when I joined in 1984. Karen came to dialogue in her teaching as a fish to water: it was “arriving where she started, knowing the place for the first time!” (T.S. Eliot)

Her wonderful phrase: learning at the cellular level describes what Karen offered to everyone she taught or served or, in fact, met! Karen is already desperately missed, and she will never be gone from Global Learning Partners worldwide, or from her family and friends or from the Church of the Nativity.


Raleigh, NC – Karen Gunlicks Ridout, 74, died unexpectedly after a short illness at Rex Hospital on Thursday, February 1, 2018.

Miss Ridout was a senior partner with Global Learning Partners, teaching adults globally about Dialogue Education.  She was passionate about promoting interpersonal understanding and acceptance through education.

She was also a founding member of the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, NC.  She was instrumental in shaping the church through dialogue education and leading it in the direction of becoming a No Waste Church.

Funeral services will be at 3:00pm, Sunday February 11, 2018 at Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, NC with the Rev. Stephanie Allen officiating.  There will also be a prayer service on Thursday, February 8, 2018 at First United Methodist Church, Rockingham, NC at 6:30 pm, the Rev. Allen Bingham officiating.

She is survived by two children: David Ridout of Raleigh, NC and Kacey Matheson (Bill) of Rockingham, NC, and two brothers: Bill Gunlicks (Pam) of Chicago, Il., and Jim Gunlicks (Lois) of Fairfax Va., and four grandchildren.

Memorials may be made to The Church of the Nativity, 8849 Ray Road, Raleigh, NC 27613.

"We will miss you Karen"


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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.

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