Monday, August 31, 2015


      Pope Francis on June 18th 2015 published a letter ( an encyclical entitled Laudatum Si: Praise Be to You, Lord).  He boldly announced:

This is not a letter to the churches; this is a letter to every single human being in the world today.

       Such hutzbah! Bold indeed.  As he spoke in his letter of our need to “care for our common home” his boldness was entirely comprehensible:  This is everyone’s home – our common home.

       The Pope gave me an idea and courage.  As I read his bold modeling , I realized I had to speak out. This is my letter ( Thank you, Francis! ) to the world of educators. As James E Zull , educator extraordinaire,  says

     If you have children, you are an educator. You (join) all other educators in schools, businesses, and professions, or in our schools and institutions of higher education. This actually includes most adults.    1

      So I ‘boldly go where few educators dare to go’ and address this letter to the world of parents, grandparents, teachers, professors, trainers in industry, the military, medicine, politics and law.  As Zull says: This actually includes most adults.   So, listen up.


     We know more about learning and how it occurs today than ever before in history. I am grateful to be alive today to share the daily returns from a stock market of neuroscientific, biologic, epistemological and process research that goes only in one direction: UP!  No bulls and bears here: we are learning apace about learning.

       The system I designed from my years of experience teaching in more than forty countries around the world, and from my relentless reading and study is simple and accessible. It is now called Dialogue Education, as we doff our hats to Paulo Freire,  David Bohm, John  Dewey  David Kolb and Jean Piaget and all those on whose shoulders we stand today.  These prescient visionaries saw what the brain was doing long before the fMRI opened our eyes to the wonder within.


                          Learn your learners. Design for them.

     Learn   Before we teach anything, we  must discover the context and prior experience of the learners.  Such a simple task:  listen to them!  Ask them an open question!  Take them out for lunch or even for a cup of coffee. Listen and observe.  Invite their response to the plan of the learning session.  Listen to them!  Affirm their experience and their perceptions and their hopes for the learning.  Your listening will inform  the educational content and process.
     Such listening will develop a unique relationship between educator and learners.  Are we partners in this?” they will ask, in awe . “Indeed, we are,” you will
respond.  They are the Subjects ( decision-makers) of their  own learning because that’s how the brain works: connecting new stimuli to the experience and present context of the learner!  You have to know their context and experience so that you can present new content in that language.

Design. This system has a simple framework for designing a learning session: Eight Design Steps: Who? Why? So That? When? Where? What? What for? How?

WHO: the learners, the leader: informed by data from the LNRA ( Learning Needs and Resources Assessment ) - described above

WHY:  the situation that demands this educational event

SO THAT:  behavioral indicators of learning and transfer of learning that the learners will manifest at the end of the session

WHEN:  the time frame for face to face contact ( or online contact ) with learners

WHERE:  the site : everything about it!

WHAT:   the content;  spelled out as nouns showing cognitive, affective,  psychomotor aspects  (ideas, feelings, actions)

WHAT FOR:  achievement based objectives:  taking the content and using tough, productive verbs to name what learners will have done with the content in order to learn it.  By the end of this time frame, all will have…  (The Future Perfect Tense marks a covenant with learners)

HOW:  the learning tasks and the materials : shaping those achievement based objectives into learning tasks which are tasks for the learner.

These Eight Design Steps are a checklist to assure inclusive, comprehensive learning. This preparation part of the system of Dialogue Education takes time, a great deal of time.

      Every word, every thing you do in preparing the learning sessions and leading them can be guided by these simple principles and practices:

Respect the learners explicitly, gently, inclusively! They are the Subjects (decision-makers) of any educational event. This is the prime principle for learning.

Engage learners in all aspects of the planning and teaching: engage all learners in all aspects!

Safety:  let all learners know they are safe in your hands whether you are parent, professor or boss.  Safety measures calm the amygdala in the brain which inhibits learning when stirred by fear or intimidation.

Sequence and Reinforcement : Move the learning process in a carefully sequenced manner: from simple to more complex, from easy to more difficult, from small to large. And reinforce that movement consistently with iteration and creative repetition.
Small groups of peers carry weight. I listen to my peers. I learn from them because our context and experience is often close.  In the small group I can feel safe to try on a new idea or skill; in the small group I can be challenged when I am inconsistent or downright wrong. 

CAP : Cognitive/Affective/Psychomotor: This principle names the three elements in learning: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor: ideas, feelings, actions. Every effective learning experience somehow incorporates all three elements.

Open Questions invite dialogue. As you ask an open question (to which there is no single answer ),  push back against your chair and sit quietly. Listen. Learners are learning, as they connect your question to their experience and context, to their present knowledge. The open question is prime!

The Learning Needs and Resources Assessment {LNRA}  is the first step in design: Listen to the learners and continue to listen as the course or class or workshop unfolds. The LNRA never ends.
(cf Part One above )

Lavish affirmation is again both a principle and a practice: authentic, generous praise puts the sensitive amygdala at rest and enables the learner to deal with tough new concepts, attitudes or skills with confidence. Lavish – can be seen here as an adjective or as a verb. Do it! Do it well.

Role clarity is essential in a educational setting: who does what, and when? Boundaries are real:  For example, the teacher has the responsibility to design the course. Data from the LNRA informs her decisions; does not form them. 

Praxis: Action with Reflection is shaped by the open question, which invites learners to think about the content in terms of their experience and context. This is not faithful practice, but praxis: a three fold element: do it, consider what you did and then re-do it .
Accountability:  We are accountable to learners to teach all we have covenanted to teach in the learning design. We are accountable to all for all.


A learning task is an open question put to a small group who have all the resources they need to respond.

A learning task is a task for the learner: it shows him what he is to do with the given content in order to learn it.  A learning task is designed with verbs that demand action and reflection, and a product for evaluation.

A learning task has four simple parts:

i. Inductive work that connects new content to the learner’s context; This is sometimes called anchoring.

ii.  Input that presents new content as ideas, attitudes or skills.  This is sometimes called adding.

iii. Implementation that invites learners to do something with the new content; sometimes called acting.

iv.  Integration that moves the new content into their context,  sometimes called away. 

For example, here’s a learning task.

Learning Task # 1  Principles and Practices

1 A   In pairs, name one thing you do as you teach that you know helps learners learn… We’ll hear all you share.   (INDUCTIVE /ANCHORING)

1 B   Read over the list of principles and practices above, circling those that seem useful to you in your work or life.  We’ll hear what you circled.  (INPUT/ADD)

1 C   In new pairs, each select one of those principles/practices that will be immediately useful in your life/work and tell what you will do to incorporate it.We’ll hear a sample. (IMPLEMENTATION/ACT)

I D  Each, draw a picture, or write a descriptive paragraph of a scene from your work site to show you using that principle/practice with your clients. (INTEGRATION/AWAY)

Notice that the learning task has a title.  Notice the verbs in a learning task are actions for the learners to do.


Going back to the Design Step: SO THAT,  describe what you have seen of behaviors of learners that indicate they know they know the content you have taught . These are indicators of learning, immediately evident in the session.

Behavioral indicators of transfer are what learners do when they get back to their own context, or lives. They can send  pictures or descriptive paragraphs of their actions.

Indicators of impact show changes in systems, families, organizations, neighborhoods that have occurred as a function of the new consciousness that emerges from new behaviors.  Impact is usually a long range result.

This is the Berardinelli Theory of Impact which is found in the text HOW DO THEY KNOW THEY KNOW (1998) 2

That is my letter to the world of educators. Please respond:; or comment here on Blogspot.



1.  Zull, James E. From Brain to Mind  Sterling, VA  Stylus (2011) p. 4

2.  Berardinelli, Paula, James Burrows, Jane Vella, How Do They Know They Know , San Francisco, Jossey Bass (1998)

Monday, June 8, 2015


                                                                  The Secret of Sync

           What learning can come out of a busy, noisy, turbulent  Apple Store?

I sat with my personal tutor, Michele (Apple One-to-One) and tried to master the intricacies of moving files from  my new MacBookAir to my IPad Mini.  Michele is a master of quiet, patient questioning and waiting as I fumbled… Then, “AHA, there it is. I just did it!”  The MacBookAir was in sync, or synchonizing the data from its infinite innards to those of the Ipad. A tiny world image twirled on both machines until the “sync” was completed.

         I learned (again) the vital importance of sequence. I’ve been teaching that for years as a Dialogue Educator, and here I learned it anew. When I omit a step in the sequence, the process dies.  When all the steps are faithfully taken: click here, tap here, check this box here with a click…the process thrives.

           If Apple is able to do that between two metallic machines, why can’t we do it between two brain-rich, smart, experienced, kindly, thinking, feeling human beings?

           When I next find myself out of sync with my friend, or husband or wife or teen-aged son, I can take a lesson from Apple:  check the sequence of steps along the route  of the dialogue… (1) What did I omit? (2) Where did I skip a step? (3) When did I put in an unallowed step?  

            I rolled my eyes when my son said, “I’ll be home early, Mom, promise!” (3)

            I never asked him specifically to call me when he left the party.  (1)

            I  was not clear that I meant 10:00 p.m. home = early. 10:01 = late. (2)

       The process dies: he comes in at 10:30; I am all set to call the police! His phone was busy and I left ten messages in thirty minutes. He strolls into the house at 10:30 saying, “See, Mom, I told you I would be home early!” He was surprised to find me wild with anxiety and anger. 

      We were not in sync. Let’s see what a checklist of steps: ( the protocols of syncing two machines are always a checklist of necessary steps. ) 

_____“I’ll be home early, Mom, promise!” 

_____I take you at your word, Son. What time is early?


____“No, early is 10:00; late is 10:01. At 10:01 I start to worry.    (Clear Step #1)
         “Call me before you leave the party to say you are heading home. Since the Parker’s
house is twenty minutes away, I will expect a call before 9:40.

_____“Okay, Mom. Thanks.  Got it.”   (Clear Step #2 )

        Two clicks to sync: Tommy is home at 9:55 having called his Mom at 9:30 or so.  Mom did not offer physical signs of disbelief because the checklist was in proper, comprehensive sequence, and they were in sync.

Such protocols (check lists of steps in sequence) are non-partisan. Can we ask Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate to try them? Can we do this in our classrooms, families, shops, offices? 

When I miss out on a step in using an Apple protocol (steps in sequence), my tutor gently reminds me: “Wait, you are on the right track. What did you miss?” The sequence is logical, almost natural. Once I see it, I can repeat it.

So the secret to sync is sequence and dialogue about the sequence. A checklist can help confirm the sequence; talking through the checklist together (dialogue) is really essential.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


    Ineffable!  There are no words to describe my experience this morning on Falls Lake in my blue kayak.  The stillness!  A diamond necklace of iridescent sunlight in the dark water!  Birds winging and singing! The stillness filling body and soul!

    My prayer was simple: Please, God, let me keep this stillness, this quiet, the sight of ninety shades of green in the April trees surrounding the lake. The blue, blue North Carolina sky filled with the new day’s sun. 

    Perry, my good friend, had driven my kayak to the lake in his well-equipped van.
 He helped me get into the kayak, easing my old bones into the seat, placing the life jacket behind my back, handing me the paddle.  When he pushed the kayak into the water from the landing, I filled up with tears of joy!  The eight years of waiting to return to Falls Lake made that moment very special.

     I’m home now, with a soul full of stillness, warm and dry, remembering, gratefully…the ineffable! 


Monday, April 27, 2015


    My esteemed teacher ( through his books  and generous e-mail responses ), Walter Brueggemann, loves the word yield.  I do, too.  Where does yielding work in my life?  

     I try to yield to my age (84 in June),  and celebrate that reaiity by a great deal of snoozing,  quitting outdoor work after forty minutes,  sitting by the fire in sheer joy.

       The ole fella said: Sometimes I sets and thinks; and sometimes I just sets.

      I try more and more to yield by offering a quiet response to what others say.  My voluble responses of the past are not necessary today, nor are they healthy for me or
for  the other.  A quiet response face to face can be a nod and a warm smile; on the phone , “Yes!  I see. “  Such yielding moves us both!

      I try to yield to the weather, celebrating rain and snow,  heat and humidity, glorious blue sky North Carolina days - without distinction.  All is grace.

      I try to yield to the  joy of cooking and of  dining  with friends.  Yielding in this case means taking time.  Slow down, Jane, you move too fast!

      I yield to my importunate cocker spaniel’s big brown eyes staring at me exactly at five p.m., reminding me: It is dinner time!

       I am trying to yield to the relentless “buts” that  respond to a suggestion I make.  It was only a suggestion. Thanks for listening.

      I see now that yielding, far from being a sign of weakness, is a sign of  deep trust and strength.  Jesus’ mother is reported to have said, as she yielded to God:  Be it done to me according to your Word.  Later in the story, Jesus is said  to have repeated his mother’s prayer, saying in the garden, 
“ Not my will, but thine, be done”.

        What  has all this got to do with teaching?  What you do speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying! 

         Thank you, Walter Brueggemann!