“A beginner’s guide to facilitation”

इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए, यहाँ क्लिक करें।

हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा.


In our previous article, The “New Normal” of Facilitation Akash Gaikwad and Diksha Pandey talk about the changes in the way they facilitate due to the pandemic and its impact on group work. As a follow-up and a deep dive into the facilitation practice, we are going to explore some best practices of SEL (Social Emotional Learning) facilitation from the learning and experience of Apni Shala facilitators. A go-to book for many in our team has been  “Unlocking the magic of facilitation” by Sam Killermann and Meg Bolger. A lot of what we share in this article draws insights from the book and from a focus group discussion with Apni Shala’s facilitators who have been facilitating SEL for two years on an average. 

What is facilitation?

According to Sam Killermann and Meg Bolger facilitation is a style of engaging others towards a goal, the goal being learning, which they use in the broadest of ways: learning content knowledge, learning about oneself and others, or unlearning which they call their favorite type of learning. In facilitation, there are two key roles: the facilitator (or facilitators) and the participants. The facilitator is the person responsible for guiding the learning process. They often describe this as being “in the front of the group.” The participants are the folks who are expected to be doing the learning. Facilitation is a skill and it can only be enhanced by practicing it. 

To further enhance our facilitation practice, we at Apni Shala have opportunities to strengthen this with the support of professional development. Training that facilitators undergo include ones focused on responsive classrooms (a classroom management approach, differentiated pedagogy and instruction, and our core philosophies such as Constructivist learning (where facilitator and participant co-create their learnings), Narrative practice(a non blaming and respectful approach for the participants), Diversity and inclusion (where we learn about various identities and systemic challenges/oppression) and Mindfulness (where we follow the five basic pillars such as wise attention, present moment focus, no judgement, no reactivity, and compassion).

Sam and Meg talk about some key ideas around facilitation in their book. Let us explore some of these while drawing learning from the experience of the AS facilitators as well.

Facilitation is a nuanced skill

“Facilitation is often considered the same as teaching but there is a nuanced difference between the two. There’s no one way people come to don the facilitator cap, and there is no formal or requisite past experience one needs to do it, nor to do it well. And while it looks easy to some bystanders, facilitation is anything but easy. However, practice makes it perfect” says  Sam Killermann and Meg Bolger.

Akash, shared that for him facilitation is a two-way process where he not only teaches but while teaching he is learning as well. Pooja and Diksha shared that facilitation is all about co-constructing knowledge and just guiding the conversation. “Facilitation is about an 80:20 ratio (it is considered that 80 percent of knowledge and conversation comes from the participant and 20 percent from the facilitator) It is also about giving the agency to participants and me. It is not that I am the expert but we all are the experts. Even if they see me as the expert I try to shift it and bring balance in the class” says Pranali.

Safe spaces for Vulnerability 

Facilitating can be challenging; showing up and really being seen while you’re facilitating can be even harder. While facilitating we explore the impact of vulnerability on facilitation, and how courageous compassion is required to make space where participants can learn from vulnerability. Facilitating is a skill, and designing it with values and philosophies gives a clearer understanding to the facilitator to make space for the participants. While facilitating, the facilitator needs to always remind him/herself the cause that brought them here: what have they signed for, why did they choose it and for whom they are doing it? For Pooja one of the Apni Shala’s core values of being/staying grounded and achieving excellence is something she holds close. She shared that while conducting the session she always believes that whatever she brings in the class can be co-constructed and comes with a very specific and well planned session.

Pranali shared how narrative practices, cooperation and openness to learning is translated in her session. An example she shared was of a student from her class. She narrated that this student was someone who never sat in the class where she facilitates. He would run out for some time and then come back. One day she decided to have a conversation with this student to find out what they could do. After the discussion, they came to a conclusion in which he could go out after he sat every 20 minutes. Since the time that they both agreed on this, he asks her every time he now goes out. This reminds her that everybody is an expert of their lives however young they are.

Reading a group

“The best facilitators know how to read and respond to a group. And to do that, they have to know how to listen. Let’s start with the listening, then get into how it helps with the reading. While active listening is wonderful, what we’re talking about here is less nuanced, and even more important, great facilitators spend more time listening than talking”. The way we at Apni Shala understand the words listening or reading of a group is more figurative. What it means to us is to understand and be aware of a group’s needs.

Depending upon the needs, learning styles, contexts of the group, the facilitator may choose  different modalities. Such as, for some, drama works better than group discussion. Sessions should be designed in a strength based format so that it allows for participants to draw from their strengths.  Making a space for everyone is critical to ensuring inclusion in the group. Akash shared “Connecting things with their lives and giving importance to their opinion makes them feel valued”.

Pooja and Diksha shared that bringing real life stories inside the classroom helps a lot. Always informing students about the agenda and the expectation is another useful way to build engagement with the content or learning process. Another thing that helps keep the group engaged is Setting the  tone for the classroom at the start. ”Entering the class with lots of energy and fun can help set the mood of the class” says Pranali.

Tips for a new facilitator

As facilitators with some experience of facilitiating SEL with young people, our facilitators also had some really cool tips for any new SEL facilitators out there.  

  1. Set your expectations in the beginning: Be clear with your classroom norms, set them in collaboration and be precise in what you expect from the participants.
  2. No blame no shame not guilt: This can be a norm for a session where freedom of expression can thus be experienced by participants  in a non blaming way,while avoiding shaming and putting ourselves or others into guilt.
  3. Inclusive planning: Plan your session by thinking of various possibilities of different learning styles of your participants. 
  4. Know your Triggers: Sam and Meg  also talk about triggers and how to manage them.  With diverse perspectives and experiences being shared by participants  as facilitators we may find ourselves feeling triggers. It’s very important to be aware of our triggers and identify ways to work through them. 
  5. Equipped with resources and water bottle with you: Always prepare before your session and be ready with all the resources you need. Keep them in one place and the most important thing is to always keep a water bottle with you.
  6. Scripting: Having a detailed script about sessions can be very helpful to feel ready and prepared as you start facilitating.
  7. Openness: While facilitating you need to be open to multiple outcomes. You don’t know what is coming or waiting for you in your circle of facilitation with your group.
  8. Be assertive: Be firm and clear in communicating expectations to your participants. 
  9. Always have a back up plan: Sometimes there is a lot of uncertainty one can experience while working with different groups. It would be good to have energisers, cool downs and plan Bs or Cs too.

These narratives from our facilitators definitely highlight some important aspects of facilitation. It also becomes critical to acknowledge that facilitation can do wonders in the facilitators’ lives as well as the participants. Being a facilitator has been a journey of learning and unlearning, and teaching while learning and learning while teaching. While these current times have given us SEL facilitators a lot to think about, adapt and learn about our practices, we believe that in essence we will continue to anchor ourselves to the learning that comes out of our facilitation circles.  

About the  participants:

Diksha Pandey is a Programme facilitator with Apni Shala. She has 1.5years of experience in facilitation with grade 4th to 9th  students. 

Akash Gaikwad is a Programme facilitator with Apni Shala. He has 3 years of experience in facilitation with grade 4th to 9th  students.

Pooja Gate  is a Programme facilitator with Apni Shala. She has 1.5 years of experience in facilitation with grade 4th to 9th  students. 

Pranali Patil is a Curriculum Lead at Apni Shala. She has more than 3 years of experience in facilitation with grade 4th to 9th students.

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