3 Dimensions of Understanding

Protocol: Creating Metaphors

Adapted from:

Purpose: To explore or reflect on a topic through the lens of a metaphor which illuminates both the "light and shadow" of that metaphor (positive/negative, confidence/uncertainty, clarity/questions, internal/external, concrete/abstract, obvious/subliminal, etc.)


In a webinar, face to face meeting
  • Ask participants to have a visual image ready that illustrates their metaphor "When I am at my best as a (teacher, administrator, librarian, counselor), I am.."
  • Visual images with creative commons licenses are available at
  • In a webinar setting, have participants copy and paste their images to a whiteboard.
  • Light-- each participant adds bulleted thoughts to the metaphors of others using the text tool below the image that speak to the light and strengths of the metaphor..
  • Shadow- each participant shares what they see as the weakness.
  • Finally, with appreciative questions about the shadows that were self identified, each can dig deeply into the metaphor and have an opportunity to find the good in what we might identify as the negative.

In an asynchronous threaded discussion
  • Ask participants to upload the visual image of their metaphor in a reply to the discussion.
  • When everyone has done this, have each participant reply to the light of each metaphor
  • Then have owners of metaphors self identify the shadows/negatives below the responses of light
  • Finally, ask each particpant to respond with an appreciative question that opens the opportunity for them to find the good in what previously was identified as a shadow.

As an example:
If I see myself as an oil rig, one strength might be the ability to dig through tough surfaces to get to the valuable material underneath. I might see a weakness as too much intensity, that drilling over and over again at the same thing and coming up empty. But another participant might say, "How do you think that persistence - that drilling - might help with a student who is struggling?" Persistence is a positive trait, or at least can be used in very powerful ways.