The Art of Hosting Meets the Art of Teaching

16 Apr

By Mary Jetter

The Art of Hosting and Harvesting: Conversations that Matter is a facilitation practice being used globally.  I first learned about the Art of Hosting through my involvement in the President’s Emerging Leaders (PEL) program.  Used in various locations on campus, participants report that the practice has changed how they teach, conduct meetings, and interact with colleagues.

I confess that, initially, I was skeptical.  The concept itself seemed a bit “touchy-feely” for my tastes, and I wasn’t sure that translating practices in my teaching context would work.    In the end, through the training I did learn a great deal that I could use with my students and share with my colleagues across campus, but especially at the Center for Teaching and Learning.

In the following sections, I share a sampling of Art of Hosting techniques that I’ve found especially useful in teaching and learning settings.

Focused Conversation or ORID Method

As instructors, many of us lament that our students lack the ability to discuss course-related issues in depth.  We’ve used Bloom’s Taxonomy to create questions to guide students towards more critical thinking.   The ORID method is a framework to consider for structuring those follow-up group discussions.   The ORID acronym represents four key questions:

  1. Objective:  What are the facts?
  2. Reflective: How do you feel?  What are your emotional responses?
  3. Interpretation:  What does this mean?  What is the purpose?
  4. Decisional:  What are your next steps?

The Technology of Participation (ToP) Facilitation website describes “the group” tasks as focusing on the “what” – content, concerns, issues, ideas – in order to gather and apply knowledge to develop solutions.  ToP lists “guiding the group in discussion, problem-solving and planning” as tasks of  “facilitators” or hosts, and offers this matrix for reviewing ORID:

ToP gives the following example of how ORID could be used in class:

After students have viewed a videotape, the instructor asks the student to complete a “Video Reaction / Review” form, which includes the following four questions.

  • What were the highlights of this video-tape? (Objective: getting the facts)
  • How did you feel as you were viewing this videotape? (Reflective, addressing emotional responses)
  • Why was it important for you to view this videotape? (Interpretation: considering the meaning or purpose of this experience).
  • What will you tell your colleagues about this videotape? Or What will you do in your classroom as a result of viewing this videotape? (Decisional: next action)

In The Art of Focused Conversation, R. Brian Stanfield provides 100 focused conversation templates using the ORID method for a variety of situations, many of which could be adapted for classroom discussions or office hour interactions with students.  Others could be used for end of the year reflection with colleagues or for coaching employees.  A PDF highlighting Stanfield’s approach, links the ORID approach to conversations about legislation, to discussing a presentation, to difficult conversations with co-workers and to the task of prioritizing.

World Café

A World Café is a way to access knowledge, listen for themes, and explore questions.  The design is simple:

  • Gather groups of 4-5 people.
  • Seat them at a table with paper and markers.
  • Ask one person to be a table host.
  • Ask a question.
  • Encourage people to play, doodle or draw on the paper, making notes of key points.
  • Let people talk for 20-30 minutes.

Pretty simple, so far, isn’t it?  When the time limit for this first round is reached, the table host stays put while the others move on to different tables.  At the beginning of the next round, the table host summarizes the themes that emerged from the first round.  For the second and subsequent rounds (three are ideal), participants may be asked to discuss the same question or to address different but related questions.

At the end of the World Café, it’s essential to harvest the ideas, themes, and knowledge that have emerged.  There are many ways to do this:  One way is to have table hosts report to the larger group; another is to photograph the papers from the table and post them on a site such as and make them available to everyone.

So, how can you use this in a classroom?  Let me offer you three examples:

Lou Quast, Associate Chair of the OLPD department on campus, reported that he used this method to have his students explore topics and then form groups for a class project.  Through the discussions, the students took greater ownership in their topics and the result was that all of the projects this year were better than the best project from last year.  He believes that this is the result of taking the time to do the World Café and getting the students invested in the project.

Pam Enz of the College of Design is considering using this method next fall to have her students explore questions related to the concept of ethics as it applies to the field of design.

I’m considering using it at the beginning of fall semester to learn more about my students and their needs and then design at least part of my course syllabus around what information is harvested from the discussions.

Compassionate Listening

The exercise described as powerful in interviews with Summer 2011 Art of Hosting participants?  The compassionate listening exercise.

In this activity participants are divided into groups of four.  Each person has thirty minutes to tell their story – whatever story about themselves they wanted to tell, while the others listened with intention; one for facts, one for values; and one for emotions.   As Madelyn Burley-Allen notes, “When you listen well, you:

  1. acknowledge the speaker,
  2. increase the speaker’s self-esteem and confidence,
  3. tell the speaker, “You are important” and “I am not judging you,”
  4. gain the speaker’s cooperation,
  5. reduce stress and tension,
  6. build teamwork,
  7. gain trust,
  8. elicit openness,
  9. gain a sharing of ideas and thoughts, and
  10. obtain more valid information about the speakers and the subject.”

In an Art of Hosting event this term, participants discussed adapting compassionate listening to classrooms and other interactions with students.  Some thought it would be useful in place of a regular icebreaker in a class in which contentious issues would be prominently featured.   Another thought this could be used in Welcome Week activities to help students develop deeper bonds.   I have found it useful with international students who have no trouble finding the facts, but who have many more problems with emotional subtexts.  Outside of the classroom, my PEL team has adapted this activity as our way of reviewing our research.  It’s provided us with a useful structure that has helped us organize our findings.

Has the Art of Hosting changed my classroom practice?  Has it changed my worklife?  The answer to both of these questions is without a doubt, yes.   I’ve learned new tools, connected with the new community of practice on campus, and made new friends through the experience.  As I teach and interact with students and colleagues, I’ll be thinking about more about

What it means to be a host,

How to harvest the knowledge in the room,

How to ask questions that matter, and

How to build a stronger sense of community.


The Art of Hosting and Convening Conversations as leadership practice as well as teaching tool.

Facilitator Tool Kit, University of Wisconsin-Madison – from role of facilitator to measurement of impact.

If you are interested in learning more about the Art of Hosting, the next campus training will be held in June, 2012.  For more information, go to:


Mary Jetter is an Education Specialist at the Center for Teaching and Learning, teaching in the International TA Program and coordinating the August Teaching Enrichment Series.  Mary would like to acknowledge the PEL Solid Gold team of Brenda Carriere, Ellen Freeman, Chris Nelson, and Terry Straub for their support, friendship, and claps as they have taken the Art of Hosting journey together.


4 Responses to “The Art of Hosting Meets the Art of Teaching”

  1. Karen Seashore 17 April 2012 at 7:18 am #

    Thanks so much Mary — I have also used AoH in my teaching — and have used students as “Hosts” and “Harvesters” to give them more “skin in the game” for each class. It worked very well in an undegrad. face-to-face class — a little less in a graduate on-line class, but it can be tweaked. I hope that we get more postings like this!

  2. Katharine 20 July 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post, Mary, and too, for contrasting it with one of my most well-used protocols – ORID. My colleague and I, from Edmonton Public Schools, contributed several adaptations to Jo Nelson’s last edition of Focused Conversation for Schools. As a process consultant, facilitator, leadership mentor, I’ve used AOH as my orientation base with principals and teachers for the last decade, so too with students.

    My next focus is to bring AOH to educational policy makers to open up the conversation about public education and to train our young students in these principles and practices, to support what they seem to intuitively know about convening.

    A source within “our” community, Dennis Sparks, the former ED with the National Staff Development Council, talks about committed listening, similar to compassionate listening.



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