I have just spent my 2nd of 3 days with Bruce Wellman of Mira Via in a Pro-D session tittled Developing & Facilitating Collaborative Groups. The first session had a focus on facilitating groups and my personal learning focus centered around two main ideas:

1. Being deliberate about when we use Discussion and when we use Dialogue.

• Discussion is most effective when a decision needs to be made.
• Dialogue is most effective when we have a Change Initiative.

2. Effective paraphrasing with two powerful concepts: 1. Identifying the ‘baskets’, the key themes, and not getting lost in the ‘noise’, the content, that people get stuck talking about without meaningfully moving the conversation forward; and, 2. Shifting the Level of Abstraction. Either shifting down to concrete points or examples, or shifting up to Values, Beliefs, Goals, Assumptions, Concepts, Categories, or Intentions.

An example for this second form of paraphrasing given was a student in a VP’s office going on-and-on about his car troubles being the reason he keeps coming to school late. A shift down would be to figure out the specific problem, brakes or alternator, that needs to solved. A shift up would be, “Oh, so what you are saying is that you have transportation problems. We need to sort out if walking, a bus pass, or friends picking you up will be the best possible solution until issues with your car are solved.” (This could also be considered ‘identifying the basket’ in the first form of paraphrasing mentioned).
The idea is to use paraphrasing as a means to direct the conversation towards meaningful discussion.

In the second session the emphasis was more on ways to Promote Inquiry. Each of the sub headings below have specific skills that can be practiced, and focused on, in order to be more effective at promoting inquiry.

Inviting Thinking
“We are wired to detect threat in the communication of others.”

Think about our language:
Decision has the same root as Incision, Precision, Recision… Cutting Away
Decide other ‘cide’s… suicide, pesticide, herbicide …killing [ideas]
(note: coincide- co-incident- these have a different root than above.)

So… We can not confuse People with Ideas – kill ideas not people!
Separate People from ideas… Neutralize it linguistically
‘The Idea’ not ‘Dave’s Idea’, ‘The key point is’ not ‘Your point is’

We are wired for psychological safety – so HOW we inquire is as important as the topic of inquiry. We need to reduce the potential for threat in our questions.

The following Elements of Invitation aid in promoting the spirit of inquiry.

Attending Fully
The idea here is congruence… both our physical and our verbal elements of communication demonstrate full presence.
How many times do we have conversations with people while trying to pay attention elsewhere? I am horrible at talking on the phone with my computer in front of me, whereas I am pretty good at having students wait a moment while I complete a task so that I can turn and face them and fully engage in helping them.
I am reminded here of the SOFTEN Model I use with students at the beginning of each year: Smile, Open posture, Forward lean, Touch, Eye contact, Nod.

Approachable Voice

Credible– Authoritative
Example: A newscaster delivering information
Approachable– Questioning
Example: A newscaster conducting an interview

[A funny counterexample]

???DESIRE by ah BOB lee -- the JiuHuKiaAn interesting parallel to this is the universality of our body language across cultures…

‘Palms down’ is authoritative and controlling “Settle Down/ Listen here/ You need to know…”.

Whereas ‘palms up’ is inviting, “What do you think?/ Tell me…/ In what ways…”.

Here are some Approachable Invitations:

How might…
What would…
What are some…
What might be some…
In what ways…
How might you…
What seems…

We spent some time looking at how we might use these Invitations with Cognitions, (predict, recall, select, describe, sequence, compare/contrast, analyze, prioritize, summarize, conclude, generalize, connect, apply), in order to inquire, and promote meaningful discussion on specific topics. (These all work well when paraphrasing as described above).

How might you summarize the results from the grade-wide assessment?”

“Given these issues around student behavior, what are some generalizations that we can make?

When asking such questions an Approachable Voice will invite much better responses than a Credible Voice.

The ‘gift’ is to bounce between these two voices, and use them to your advantage.
Think of a new teacher telling the students in a questioning, approachable voice, “Today we are going to …[?].” -Credible Voice is important too!
Not enough of this is focussed on with student teachers!
A pet peeve of mine is when people use uptalk and make statements sound like a question?

Use Plural Forms
…to invite better inquiry.
‘The’ is singular, ‘Some’ is plural. (See below)

Exploratory Language
…is psychologically safer.
These promote more meaningful responses. They reduce the need for confidence/surety and the need to evaluate and sort ideas, until after several ideas are fully developed.
The… to Some “What are some key ideas here? (Plural Form)
Could… to Might
Is… to Seems
Why… to What “What are some of your thoughts about that?”
Can anyone tell me… to What are

My KatieMy KatiePositive Presuppositions
Finding and focusing on the positive aspects of the message being communicated… it encourages an “on-going willingness to engage with each other and with ideas”. This reminds me again of paraphrasing by shifting up– with the purpose of finding a positive belief or assumption.
Statement: “Our students just can’t do the work.”
Facilitator/Group member: “So, you’re concerned about helping all of these students be successful.”

Non-dichotomous Questions
Ask question that can not be answered by Yes or No.
“Did you notice…” becomes “What are some interesting or unusual things that you noticed…”
Avoid these dichotomous question starters:
Did you… Will you… Have you…

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I used information from both of my Pro-D sessions with Bruce Wellman to create the post above, with most of the information coming from notes on a page that was:
Adapted with permission from: B. Wellman & L. Lipton, (2004). Data-Driven Dialogue: A Facilitator’s Guide to Collaborative Inquiry. Sherman, CT: Mira Via LLC.
Thanks to Bruce for allowing me to share this information… please cite appropriately.

– – – – –
My thoughts:
What happens to most Professional Development (Pro-D) resources? For me it often gets tucked in a drawer, or piled onto a filing cabinet for later reference… and then it is forgotten! This is part of an on-going attempt to make the learning more meaningful. By reviewing and synthesizing the session for this post, I start to ‘own’ the material, or the concepts taught.
There is actually quite a lot of very useful information here not just for facilitators of groups, but for any member of a group. Things I can immediately work on:
• Effective paraphrasing in order to move the conversation forward, rather than just to summarize.
• Being a little more deliberate/aware of when to use my Credible vs my Approachable voice.
• Making questions more inviting, exploratory, and positively framed.

Depending on what the third session is like, I might write another post, or I might just add to this one.
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Photo Credits:
untitled by gregw,
???DESIRE by ah BOB lee — the JiuHuKia,
and Katie by me.

Originally posted: February 18th, 2007

Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:

I’m glad that I came back to this post. I think that I shift abstraction very well, but do not always use inviting language that promotes dialogue. As much as writing this down helped me to ‘own’ the material, it is still easy to forget over time without revisiting.