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Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), by Jane Vella, will challenge you to adopt principles of listening, learning, and teaching, useful for leadership, relationship, and ministry.
Vella educates adults; however, she does not simply teach. And she does not merely stick to her own cultural group. She facilitates learning in many cultures and for many different groups, mostly community development projects.
I’m personally very familiar with this kind of work and many of the places and people Jane Vella writes about. Vella’s books are important to me because my goal for summer outreach teams of interns is for the students to have the best learning experience of their lives. I want students to gain a deep revelation of who God is, His love and grace for the world, and their calling to engage the world in response to His amazing grace. Vella refers to this kind of learning as the ‘quantum’ concept, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
To teach effectively, we must listen.
To teach effectively, we must listen.To truly listen, we must ask open-ended questions.
Our Student Mobilization Centre (SMC) team is in the process of writing their own job descriptions. This is a very open process, requiring each of the members to engage, initiate, and define their contribution to the whole. That process and this book has helped me realize I need to be even more effective at listening and giving open questions when teaching.
Open questions need to be put to the ‘safe’ environment; they are usually best when posed in small groups. For example, when I teach I ask participants the question,
“What was your best learning experience?”
When forming small groups to process questions, Vella encourages teachers to define learning tasks and follow through on them so that the participants truly participate in the learning process. Defining the learning task is done when we apply Vella’s Assessment Principles, which is simply done by asking questions.
Applying Vella’s Principles
Who needs What and defined by Whom? or ‘WWW’
Vella’s key assessment principle is the question:‘Who needs What and defined by Whom?’ This assessment is best accomplished by building questions into the application process, either before or immediately after acceptance to a training program or internship. Prayer for participants and decisions about what should be emphasized in a training experience can be made with greater effectiveness when we ask the right questions, keep record of responses, and assess the information gathered. This WWW assessment is not only for training; it is also an important leadership tool for assessing the needs and capacities of our team, their staff and their projects.
Field Ministry Internships (FMI), a principal program of the SMC, is a serving/learning outreach project for university student teams. Students integrate their field of study with a cross-cultural ministry over an eight-week summer intensive. Jane Vella, her books and other web resources for Dialogue Education, have confirmed that many of the aspects of our FMI program help students gain that quantum learning experience.
For example, to help students feel ‘safe’ we form small teams of 4 to 7. During the first few days in the host country, we typically send small teams out on a scavenger hunt in order to expose them to the new surroundings and help them learn how to get around with some measure of independence. However, this exercise is also a bonding experience that takes place within the safety of their small team.
Another reason for small FMI teams is that they may integrate well as a short-term team on a long-term field project. In this way, the students also gain a greater level of participation in the serving/learning process. The students design their own field projects on site as they learn to observe and listen to nationals and long-term project leaders. They are taught to assess the needs of the long-term personnel and projects while they are serving.
The safety challenge for FMI is the uncertainty of a cross-cultural experience. This challenge is overcome when FMI participants are safely embedded into the long-term project team. Within that safe environment for learning, FMI participants become more deeply involved in the learning process, which raises the creativity and energy level. Participants are therefore offering more of themselves in service and learning more about the contribution God has specifically called them to make during their summer internship, and perhaps, over the course of their lives.
3. Listening: Student Participation in the Assessment
Applying the Assessment Principle is a leadership challenge. We set the example of Listening and we invite our participants into the Learning process by giving them a Leadership assignment: Participate in an Assessment.
Before reading Vella, FMI was structured with four phases:
- Orientation – an intensive seminar, like a mini-Discipleship Training School, and project preparation.
- Cultural Awareness – the first few days at the site of the field project, getting acquainted with the new surroundings/people, including a scavenger hunt.
- Ministry - while serving the field project, participants write a proposal for a 5-year ministry project.
- Debriefing – the final few days reporting, saying good-bye to new friends, and evaluating.
I have since added a fifth phase, an Assessment Phase, just after the Cultural Awareness phase and before the Ministry phase. The assessment of the project was originally assumed by the FMI leaders. However, students had little appreciation for that important phase. To better equip the student participants for leadership in learning, we now require them Listen and to document their Assessment before writing their project proposal. By doing so we are showing more respect to the field project and the community they serve. We also show more respect to the FMI students, giving them more opportunity to participate and take responsibility for their project proposal.
These are only three principles, however Vella’s books outline 7 steps for course design (PDF download). I commend this amazing teacher and her principles to you as you develop training in your context. Pay particular attention to the key words, RESPECT and ENERGY, which are at the top of my list of priorities for equipping students for the life-work and calling.
If you or your group would like to learn to apply these principles for outreach and training, please contact me. If you would like to know more about the Field Ministry Internships program, and the Student Mobilization Centre network of Youth With A Mission‘s University of the Nations, send me a note.
I am expecting quantum changes as we train emerging leaders for every arena of society in response to Christ’s command to ‘make disciples of all nations’. (Matt. 28:19)