The last couple of training sessions I’ve facilitated have both been local. They’ve also been with groups I’ve worked for before: Transition Leicester’s Footpaths project and the local Steiner school interest group.
I’ve spent a good number of years running round the country working with a large number of diverse groups. That’s been a fantastic experience. It feels like a positive contribution to have made, and of course I’ve learnt loads. I’ve rarely made significant local connections. But increasingly my work is about community-building and the irony of not being active within my own geographical community has become too much to sustain.
So a week ago I ran a morning’s skillshare with 2 of the Steiner interest group’s core group, coaching them through a deepening of understanding of the role of facilitation in groups including the realisation that ‘the facilitator’ doesn’t need to do all the facilitation. We covered a lot of ground in quite a short time in what felt like quite a lively session. It helped that both Tamsin and Susan were very eager to learn and have a genuine commitment to making the group’s processes participatory and equitable.
And this weekend I co-facilitated a second training for Footpaths project facilitators. We’d learnt a lot since the first one last year. The agenda was more spacious and also more focused on the facilitation of change. After all the volunteer facilitators are working with a group to make behavioural changes in order to make ecological change. So we spent a little time looking at the stages of change drawing on a model developed out of work with addiction. The extra space we created allowed us to look at the rank and privilege material we had to heavily edit last time around, although we changed the language this time (to inclusion and diversity). It was a thought and emotion-provoking session that took people into their discomfort zones, but it was valuable stuff and gave everyone a taste of the strong feelings that such material can inspire. Of course the practice sessions, in which participants facilitated for each other, were full of learning for everyone.
If there were an underlying theme I’d say it was consciously taking the group into an uncomfortable but fertile space. This is at the forefront of my mind having recently spent a weekend exploring Training for Change’s direct education approach, one important aspect of which is building a strong ‘container’ for groups – that is creating and holding a space in which it’s safe to be uncomfortable and to take risks. Given the task of the Footpaths groups being comfortable working with discomfort seems important. They’re working with challenging material both about changing personal behaviour for the greater good but also about working together to make change in communities. Neither is easy or comfortable.
My co-facilitator, Emily, took the evaluations home with her. Once she’s done I’ll get my turn. Then I’ll share them with you.
Debriefed with Emily today and got sight of the evaluation forms, so in line with our policy of transparency here’s a summary of what they said…..
Overall they were pretty positive. A couple of sessions need more work before the next time out (September). Specifically:
our work around group agreements and groundrules didn’t work for everyone: “too long, too early [in the agenda]“, “move…to the second day”
the inclusion and diversity session was “too quickfire to engage everyone”
There was also a request for more frequent movement/ activity. Noted.
On the plus side, inevitably the group liked being given space to practice with and in front of their peers. There were a lot of different things cited under ‘3 things that you learned’ including:
techniques for making people feel included
more insight into my own strengths and weaknesses
more about active learning
turning difficult situations into positive outcomes
More general comments included: “Lots of changes of learning technique. Good rapport between facilitators”. We plan to take that rapport into a posts Climate Camp, post Space for Change meeting in June.
Some of our own observations included:
the inclusion and diversity session wasn’t challenging enough. A bit more challenge could build a lot more empathy…..
our thread of conversation around ‘facilitating change’ got slightly lost on the second day
the topics we offered the group for the active listening practical didn’t work this time around, and we’ll be changing them before September
there was a much more coherent narrative to the agenda – it flowed well and everything played its part
We also had a useful conversation about our role and where we sat on the teacher-to-facilitator spectrum.