The “New Normal” of Facilitation

इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए, यहाँ क्लिक करें।
हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा.

How did facilitation look like before lockdown?

When we began to write this conversational reflective piece,  it took us to our own journey of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and facilitation*. Allow us to tell you who we are and why we believe in SEL.

We, Akash and Diksha, are Programme Facilitators at Apni Shala Foundation. We plan and facilitate SEL sessions with students. In our journey of being facilitators, our students, teachers, caregivers, team members, and the values and the philosophies that we engage with at Apni shala, made us strong and are a support system. Our own personal stories are our strength to work in SEL Spaces.

“Diksha, why is SEL important for you?”

“Akash, during my late adolescence and early adulthood,  I felt the need for social-emotional skills. I felt many emotions but I didn’t know what emotions I was feeling or how to express them.  Many of my emotions have impacted my relationships and which I think could have been managed better. What about you, Akash?”

“I resonate with you so much, Diksha. At the same age, I had similar experiences of not being able to name or even express my emotions. I have seen in some movies and in my area where I live that whenever we express emotions it is taken as a sign of weakness. As I have grown where I have received opportunities to express myself through poetry. I believe that expressing emotions is a sign of resilience and not weakness.”

We wish that when we were 17 or 18-year-old, there was someone who could have taught us about our emotions and relationships. As we wished for this, it inspired us to work and build social-emotional learning spaces.

Why is there a need for social-emotional learning in the pandemic?

“It is next to impossible to expect teaching and learning to occur in a crisis without attending to our emotions,” says Cipriano in an article by Tim Walker.

We also felt the same as students are spending most of their time at home because the schools and other socializing places for young people such as parks and playgrounds were shut due to the pandemic. Because of this sudden and drastic change in lifestyle, students were experiencing various emotions and had very few opportunities to channelise them. “There is a need to recognize students’ emotions before we start teaching academic studies,” said a teacher from our partner school. 

Teachers also mentioned that students don’t talk to them about their emotions as they primarily teach academic subjects and many students don’t find comfortable talking about other aspects of their lives..They will talk with us since we work around social-emotional learning where we talk about how to manage emotions and how one can take care of their mental health in our sessions.

One thought that came to us when the lockdown was imposed and how facilitation will look like? 

Last year, we both were Fellows at Apni shala, and that is when we began exploring the skill of facilitation. When in school, the experience of facilitation for us was about sitting with our students in a circle in the classroom or hosting our annual event, Anokhe classrooms, in schools along with caregivers, teachers, and students or just sitting and talking about life with students during their recess time. When we think of facilitation and the classroom, we are reminded of how students share openly in the sessions or how peer learning happened in the classrooms. 

However, life became interesting as things moved online and there were challenges on the way for sure. We knew due to a lack of resources students will face the challenge to come for the session. We wondered how we can make our sessions interesting, despite being online. At times we felt demotivated because of not being able to do the session in person, however, there are stories during these challenges that we want to share.

What are some online class SEL moments that motivate us in the lockdown?

When I begin with the online SEL sessions for my students, I remember a student asking, “Akash Bhaiya, how are we going to do activities here?”  At that moment I exactly didn’t know what to say. I had my session planned with me still I didn’t know how to reply. I replied saying “let’s all collaborate and do this together.”

That’s such a beautiful example of offering agency and building a spirit of cooperation with your students, Akash. When I was working on community outreach for providing ration and relief support to some of our students’ families, one of the teachers asked, “Diksha didi, when are you going to start taking sessions with the students?” I had no answer for it. She added, “Didi, when you all take sessions with the students they are able to express their emotions and it will be really helpful for the students in the lockdown if you all start taking sessions.” 

These reinforcements from our students and partner teachers really inspired us to work together to create new online possibilities.

How are different stakeholders helping us in doing SEL sessions? 

And not only have they inspired us to move SEL sessions online but have also helped us to do the session online.

For example, while I was taking a Zoom-based session, I realized that the caregiver/ parent/sibling/etc used to sit with the students and help them to use the app.

Rahul* Sir was facing difficulty in getting students online for the session. To resolve this, he conducted a survey with the parents to know when is the time they are available the most. With multiple iterations of finding a suitable time, we were able to resolve this. While building our SEL schedule, sir invited me to be directly part of his session timing only since it was already structured. 

Likewise, when I send the activities in the WhatsApp group, then Ramesh* sir, another partner teacher, asks students to do the activity and sends the follow-up reminders. 

In so many old and new ways, our students’ parents and teachers have come forward to support and make SEL happen for our students.

Practices or philosophies that we followed to overcome challenges that we are facing in facilitating an SEL session?

When we think of facilitation for us it is about creating a space where all students can express themselves. Also, facilitation is a process where the facilitator not only facilitates but also learns.

When we facilitate a session on Zoom (synchronous) or on WhatsApp (asynchronous), we use differential instructions so that all students can understand and participate in the activity. 

For example on WhatsApp, when we send an activity we text in the preferred language of the students. Along with that, we also share the audio of the text so that students who face challenges in the reading or are more of audio learners can understand better. We also make sure that we share with them a demo of the activity, especially for those students who understand it better by seeing examples.

On zoom, we make sure that our videos are on. Also when there is an instruction that we are sharing we use an image or ppt to explain it and type in the chatbox. Using these modalities allows us to reach diverse types of learners and be more inclusive.

When I think of the challenges, patience is one of the key skills that I am reminded of. There have been times while facilitating sessions on WhatsApp where I have felt demotivated because I noticed that students have read what I have sent but were still not replying to it. 

You know Akash, being patient with myself by saying it is okay this is a new way of learning and everyone is adjusting to this, has been the key. I reminded myself of one of the core beliefs of  Narrative Practices that “people are not the problem, the problem is the problem.” It influences me to think beyond and not blame the students. What needs to be done from my side is important and what I have done is taking follow-up with them through phone calls. They informed me that since in the group many teachers send their homework, they at times forget to get all of it done. students mentioned to us that if teachers can personally send their homework rather than in a group then they would be doing the homework. It’s amazing to see how students, however young they are, know what they need. Sometimes, all we need to do is, ask!

Yes, I agree, Diksha! I have shown patience when students were not coming to my class to solve the problem. I had to set up a fixed schedule with students and stick to that. The reason that students were not coming was the timing of my session was not fixed and students didn’t know when the session was going to happen. 

What do we hope for SEL sessions and facilitation?

During the session on Self Management, students were sharing ways on how they manage anger in this lockdown and some of the ways were watching funny videos, drinking water, and drawing. While talking about Relationship Skills, we conducted a session on Gratitude. Students wrote gratitude notes to their parents and teachers and sent the teachers through WhatsApp. In times like these, these little and big acts of love, kindness, and resilience is something that we want to hold on to. And SEL sessions create these possibilities. 

This pandemic has affected the emotional and mental state of every individual. This need has been highlighted by emerging studies and the practice of teachers and social workers on the field.  For example, in a post on the impact of unexpressed emotions and ways to navigate them, our colleagues, Priyanka Shrivastav and Vanisha Shetty talk about the emotions we might have experienced and how we could express them. It is important for us to know what we are feeling and why we are feeling this way? 

Now pause for a moment and think of all the students. What are some emotions they must have been feeling when they got to know that they can’t go to school or to play? What are some ways they knew to manage a variety of new emotions they must be experiencing in this lockdown? If all our students had the opportunity to work on Self-awareness, they might be able to reflect and be able to recognize the feeling and could talk about it to the caregivers or teachers.

For students, it is difficult to understand these new experiences of lockdown and emotions coming from it as they are already experiencing other emotions during their growing stages. “Social and emotional competence builds the repertoire of life skills an individual has at their own disposal to deal with various situations, especially adverse life events. They also help strengthen healthy relationships, boost self-confidence, and become more empathetic while responding to one’s environment. In a time of global crisis, it becomes important for children to be taken care of when they also respond to the uncertainty around them in the form of the various changes that would take place in their schedules and their daily living.”, writes Mansil Gohil in her post, How To Help Build Social And Emotional Competencies For Children At Home? 

We hope that in the post lockdown phase, SEL will be given as much importance as it is given now. We hope to reach out to all the students and be able to talk about the emotions that have visited them as we continue to teach for various skills. We hope to continue to facilitate wellbeing for our children and our communities. What are your hopes for education as you take a pause in this pandemic? Share with us in the comments.

PS: Look out for more SEL Facilitation resources and best practices in our upcoming posts.

About the Authors

Akash Gaikwad has completed his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from Mumbai University.  He is also co-founder of THE SHOR poetry group. He works at Apni Shala as a Programme Facilitator. When Akash is not working, you will find him drinking chai (tea) and listening to music or walking. 

Diksha is a Programme facilitator with Apni Shala. She has completed her graduation in B.Sc.(Mathematics). When she is not in the classroom you can find her reading mythology books or dancing.

Note: *We use “facilitation” to describe a style of engaging others toward a goal. We generally assume that the goal is learning, which we use in the broadest of ways: learning content knowledge, learning about oneself and others,or unlearning (our favorite type of learning). (Source: The Magic of Facilitation)

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