NORTH NEWTON – As KIPCOR staff began planning for their annual training day, held the first Friday in December each year, they decided to take up the challenge of doing something a little different.

KIPCOR is the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Bethel College. The day of “KIPCOR Shorts” is a continuing education event for conflict mediation practitioners in the state of Kansas.

This year’s shorts are scheduled for Dec. 6 starting at 8:30 a.m. in Luyken Fine Arts Center on the Bethel College campus.

Mediators and social workers can earn 6 CEUs for attending the day-long event. More information and online registration is at

“The shift was inspired by a feedback suggestion after last year’s training,” said Sharon Kniss, KIPCOR director of education and training. “Someone asked if we had ever considered doing an ‘unconference.’”

An unconference is a participant-driven meeting, and though there are various formats for them, the KIPCOR staff decided to take the suggestion and try to create their own “nontraditional learning or conference environment.”

“We know that we do our best work by being reflective practitioners – by engaging in reflection,” said Kniss. “That means asking questions such as: Why am I doing what I’m doing? What could I do better?"

“We know [at KIPCOR] what the best educational practices are. They are participant-centered. They are ‘elicit-ive’ – eliciting responses from participants by asking questions. Yet even at KIPCOR, our standard [for the shorts] has been four or five people giving input and everyone else listening.”

It was time, Kniss said, to try something different.

The Dec. 6 training event will open with giving all participants the experience of “circle practice,” which comes from Restorative Justice.

Small groups sit in circles and pass a “talking piece” around the circle. Only the person holding the talking piece may speak, and there is also the option to pass.

Kniss sees this as giving practitioners the chance “to reflect on the challenges they face and receive and offer mutual support of colleagues.”

Two of the plenary sessions will be “Practitioner Lessons,” in which experienced mediation professionals will share from their experience about lessons learned.

“These will be TED-style talks, about 15 minutes each,” Kniss said. “There will be six total, three at a time. We gave them some prompts such as ‘What I learned from my mistakes’ or ‘The key skill I keep returning to.’”

Julie MacLachlan and Dionne King come from the Kansas City area. MacLachlan will talk about her 20-plus years of mediating and training mediators, while King, a consultant, speaker, mediator and coach, will talk about what she learned from “mediation mishaps.” Sheryl Wilson is executive director of KIPCOR and has years of experience in Restorative Justice.

Joy Hoofer, a clinical psychologist who practices in Newton, will talk about lessons learned from conflict. Tonya Ricklefs, a member of the social work faculty at Washburn University in Topeka, will consider lessons learned from failure. Holly Chavez, Restorative Justice coordinator for the Kansas Department of Corrections, will ask participants to consider “What’s your superpower?”

“We hope these sessions will connect with people’s personal experiences,” Kniss said.

A third component of KIPCOR Shorts will be using Open-Space Technology, “a facilitation practice used in group gatherings, where participants identify the topics they want to talk about and self-select into those groups.”

A number of presenters will be available to allow participants to visit the “selected topics in conflict transformation” input areas for whatever amount of time they choose.

The fourth part of the day will be a chance to hear Kirsten Zerger, KIPCOR senior mediator, and Dawn Rouse, who has worked for the past 21 years in the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration, explain the new Kansas state dispute resolution rules.

“It’s a new time in Kansas mediation practice and for alternative dispute resolution practitioners,” Kniss said. “The Kansas Supreme Court has set new rules to take effect Jan. 1, 2020, so everyone is wondering how these will affect them.”

Kniss says there’s no way to know how the new format will work or be received – but “Dec. 6 should be interesting and different!”