Overview of Protocols for Conversations


I promised Chris Lehmann that I would put this together at least a week ago and… well… I am finally getting around to it. Sorry Chris!

A quick disclaimer before I begin – All of the links on this page go directly to .pdf documents, so click only when you are prepared to download the documents.

Important Note #1 – As a facilitator, one of your jobs is to keep the conversation moving and to push participants’ thinking by using “probing questions.” There is a great “pocket guide to probing questions” that facilitators may find very helpful during your conversations.

Important Note #2 – Putting this together was actually more difficult than I anticipated because I had to imagine generic scenarios. If you are selected as one of the facilitators and you would like additional help selecting a protocol or tailoring a protocol for use in your session, please feel free to email me at ss_cajun (at) hotmail (dot) com and I will be happy to help you prepare in any way that I can.

Two good general facilitation guides:
Considerations for Responsive Facilitation
Facilitating Learning, Logistics and Longevity

And -- if you are feeling brave and just want to wade through the very long list of all of the protocols, feel free to visit the NSRF website.

Suggestions for Logistics


It is always helpful for any of the protocols for the facilitator to arrange for some way to document the conversations. Traditionally, in CFG groups this is done with markers, post-it notes, and Post-It chart pads. For those of us who are more tech-oriented, this can be done just as easily with a wiki created for the specific session.

So without further ado, here are some examples of how some of the CFG protocols can be modified for use in facilitating the kinds of “conversations” we envision for Conference 2.0.



Text-Based Discussions


Text-based discussions are great for deepening participants’ understanding of a text. My only recommendation for this in a conference situation is that the facilitator provide the text beforehand so that participants have time to read it in advance, saving the actual face-to-face time for the discussion protocol.

There are several different protocols that can be used and each has its own benefits for expanding understanding of a text. I recommend that facilitators look at each of the protocols, read the descriptions and instructions carefully, and then look at the time considerations for each (all included in the .pdf documents) before selecting one to use.

I will use one of the protocols as an example – the “Save the Last Word for ME” protocol. As the facilitator, I would go through the following steps:

1. Provide a text (book chapter, article, blog post, etc.) to participants before the conference and ask them to read it before the session. This could be emailed or posted on a wiki or blog.
2. Make arrangements for round tables or small rectangular tables so that participants can work in small groups of about 4 to 5 people each.
3. Use the protocol instructions to structure the interaction during the session. This is a very good protocol for exploring ideas and ensuring that everyone has a chance to have their voice heard.
4. At the end of the 30 minute protocol, hold an open discussion to bring out some of the big ideas that were discussed in the smaller groups.
5. Debrief the protocol. This is very important. This helps participants clarify the learning that occurred during the entire process and to reflect on how this protocol could be used back on their own campuses to create deeper discussions.

Other text-based discussion protocols that can be used include:
Block-Party
The Final Word
Four A's
Text-Rendering
Text-Based Seminar
Text-Based Seminar Guidelines -- good to read for any of the protocols

Sharing Best Practices


The Success Analysis series of protocols are designed to help individuals or school teams understand on a deeper level a success that they have had in their work. I would use this protocol with participants to focus on deeper understanding of work we have done to transform the educational experience for our students.

Steps for the facilitator in this protocol are very similar to the one above, except that there is no need to provide a text before the session.

Here are the links to the various versions of this protocol:
Success Analysis Protocol
-- for admin teams
-- for creative learning teams
-- for individuals
-- for leadership teams

What? So What? Now What?


I really like this protocol for exploring concerns. I use this most of the time for facilitating teams who are trying to analyze data on their students – WHAT does the data tell us? SO WHAT does that mean for our work, our students, or us? NOW WHAT do we need to do about it (usually leading to the development of action plans)?

I could easily see this protocol being used by a facilitator to guide a conversation around some of the bigger “dilemmas” that the participants feel we are facing in early-21st Century education. This would, of course, require extensive modification of the protocol which appears to be designed more for exploration of individual dilemmas – but if you read the instructions carefully you should be able to make appropriate adjustments based on your proposed conversation session.

Here is the protocol.

The Focus/Framing Question Exercise


Very similar to What? So What? Now What? Described above – but a bit more opened ended for the exploration of a guiding question.

As with all protocols, scribing or capturing the conversation is some way is crucial to developing the thoughts that emerge during the process.

Here is the protocol.

Ghost Walks/Ghost Visits


I thought these protocols may be useful for structuring a site visit process for all conference attendees who are interested in learning more about the host school. Each of these protocols are fairly self explanatory – and are great to use for learning more about a particular learning environment.

Collaborative Ghost Walk
Ghost Visit
School Walk

Chalk Talk


This is usually done with a very long sheet of butcher paper attached to one wall in a meeting room. The facilitator (or host) writes a guiding question (or concept) at the top of the paper and participants silently add comments to the blank sheet of butcher paper.

The process is anonymous and can last for 20 minutes or 2 to 3 days depending on the context. I’ve done it in training sessions where we spent 30 minutes writing and commenting on each other’s comments, and I’ve done this at the beginning of the school year by posting focus questions in the faculty workroom for a week.

For a tech-centric conference, the temptation would be to do this with a wiki page or some other web-based tool… and I would recommend against that because of the anonymity factor. Not that it couldn’t be done, but there is something about doing this on paper that makes it different from our online conversations. I would strongly encourage anyone interested in doing this to think carefully about using a digital approach as opposed to the marker and butcher paper method.

Chalk Talk

Gallery Walk


I don't have a link to this protocol, but it's essentially a process where everyone displays their work at the end of a session or workshop. For example, if a session involves school teams developing basic action plans for school improvement, the teams may write their ideas on large Post-It chart paper and post it on the walls. When all groups have finished, everyone will take about 15 minutes to walk around and read what others have written.

I don’t see why this couldn’t be done online with perhaps a wiki page with links to all of the wiki pages or other online “documents” generated during all of the sessions. I think this would be different from Hitchhkr – a more static page would be best I think for creating a digital Gallery Walk.