In the final weeks of June, our team of facilitators coordinating the Business & Educational Programs at CEED were sent off to a three-day, face-to-face training delivered by the Association of Workplace Educators of Nova Scotia (AWENS). The goal was to create a common ground in knowledge and expertise concerning dual fields to increase our organizational versatility, as well as capacity, to coordinate a session regardless of the content.
I had never heard of AWENS before. Although, the professional development opportunity alone was enough to get me intrigued. My journey through facilitation has been an emergent one. I’m not quite certain about which field I can best serve through my skill set and for that reason, I actively seek to learn more. According to Robert Greene’s fifth internationally best-selling book Mastery (current read), I am travelling through the mist of my Apprenticeship. I see my goals for this period as increasing knowledge, gathering tools and pocketing a range of diverse experiences.
Next up: Training at AWENS
On the first day, the objective was made clear: participants will learn and practice effective teaching skills to create an active and engaging learning environment for students. That was my hook. Although I was uncertain about what the training would entail, I immersed myself in the process because the objective was in alignment with my goals.
[PREPARE THE LEARNER]
On Day 1, we were introduced to ISW – the foundation of the training. The program originated in the ’70s and was reintroduced at the University of British Columbia 20 years later for teaching assistants, faculty and sessional instructors. The course has since been adopted internationally and offered through a variety of disciplines. We proceeded to dive right in by first reflecting on times we were learning and teaching at our best. Through storytelling, we recognised the important pillars that must support the facilitator-participant relationship; trust, challenge, recognition, room to take risks, clear expectations and encouragement were a few attributes that were put forward by the group as each pair recalled their partners’ story. These descriptors may sound like common sense but we must remember that it’s much easier to judge a from the outside-looking-in opposed to being on the inside and in the act yourself. The comments enabled me to reflect on how facilitators manage group dynamics in the room. This is where the art of facilitation comes in which requires each aforementioned attribute, and more. Skilled facilitators are those who have a high level of Emotional Intelligence. Not only are you responsible for owning the content and integrating relevant, applicable learning tools but most importantly; the transfer of knowledge is channelled through the process of delivery. Training programs are no longer designed in a “one size fits all” approach – which means that facilitators need to be attuned to different learning styles and needs in the room. One thing is for certain – I was definitely proud to have honed in on developing those skills over the years. It feels good to know you’re in the right place. We then moved on to discussing feedback, often a sensitive topic. We examined this process from the perspective of ‘Giving It’ and ‘Receiving It’, again, reflecting on past experiences and situational practices in the workplace.
I instantly returned to my days of playing football in university. I must admit, it took a specific approach for me to respond well to feedback. I’m very invested in personal growth and I always took the game seriously so I always felt as though I was striving to be my best. Because of that, I had a hard time accepting authority figures, or anyone for that matter, strictly coming down on me for making a mistake or missing the mark. I didn’t need that, I was already my worst critic as a symptom of my ambition. What I needed was for someone to work WITH me. To recognise my strengths and direct me to areas for improvement. To challenge me appropriately and specifically within the frame of my capabilities. And lastly, I needed encouragement. I’m not saying everything has to be sunshine and roses but I’m someone who responds well to motivation, positivity and challenge. What appears as brash, condescending or authoritarian will receive an ill reaction from me. That said, I had to learn how to RESPOND to coaches with that style. A few instances of butting heads actually allowed me to form more open, constructive and understanding relationships with those coaches in the end. This is to say that the facilitator-participant relationship needs the attention and intention similar to what the familial, romantic and friendly relationships require. The facilitator is essentially building a community in the room to engage learners in the process; the first step in beginning to share the ownership of progress and accomplishment for the endeavour at hand. Without forming these connections, there is little insight to the learners' needs which hinders the ability to accommodate appropriately. With this insight, trust is built and the joint responsibility creates a synergy that takes the group to higher places of growth, understanding and creativity. And that is where our collaboration took our CEED team over the three days.
For each session, we all had to create 10-minute lesson plans to work towards our objective:
to learn and practice effective teaching skills to create an active and engaging learning environment for students.
These lesson plans would need to include six components:
4. Participatory Learning
All components needed to be accounted for in 10 minutes...10 MINUTES. It’s much harder than it sounds. So, evidently fitting for training such as this. The focus here was chiefly placed on the skill of the facilitator who received feedback after completing their session through a process of leaving the room to give participants a few minutes to deliberate. As a team, we were mutually supportive of each other's development by holding one another accountable. What emerged from the presented lesson plans was the furthest from uniformity. The content ranged from teaching how to putt, to how to create a flying machine out of paper and then how to ski and how to be conscious of high waste materials – all of the ideas were remarkably original. It was choosing the topic that proved to be most difficult. The BOPPPS strategy was like a formula so once the topic is chosen it can be broken down accordingly. However, the challenge was to choose subject matter outside of your expertise in order to focus on the ability to deliver. Throughout this process, we learned a great deal about our style, areas for improvement and practical application for programs in the workplace. Personally, I found it very enlightening.
In my first mini-lesson, I aimed to teach the group how to solve problems through the systems thinking exercise ‘Draw Toast’ (https://www.drawtoast.com/). To be frank – I fell short in my delivery from the fear of attempting to dive too deep in a short time frame. I hesitated, and it was reflected in my feedback. Up to this point, I had a subtle tendency to hesitate when going after Greatness. Either the timing wasn’t right, I didn’t have the tools or I just wasn’t there yet. I vowed that day to fully commit to standing above that insidious habit by becoming more aware of my abilities and sticking with my original bold and courageous intentions.
Bring on Day 2.
In the morning, all I could think about was delivering my mini-lesson. I was triple-checking every detail because I really wanted to bring my A game that day. I wanted to show that I had the necessary skills within me and that I truly loved bringing people together for meaningful interactions. I wanted that part of my character to shine through. Although, if I’ve learned any major lesson throughout my life it is that sometimes you just need to ‘Let Go & Let God.’ This doesn’t mean relinquishing all responsibility and just ‘winging it’ but rather surrendering to uncertainty in order to channel tranquillity, trust in oneself undoubtedly and become immersed in the moment completely. On this day, I would teach my fellow team members how to play the spoons.
As I facilitated the lesson, everything was moving smoothly. I was able to focus on the methods of teaching as well as the adaptations each learner needed to make in order to fully grasp the task at hand. I could connect with the learners through encouragement, laughter, challenge and teamwork for when we joined our new musical talents to create a final ensemble. When it came to hear feedback, I was just as eager to hear what could be improved as to what went well. If the learners had a good time while learning, they’ll be encouraged to apply it in their own time so that qualifies as success in my books. That said, I was now curious to discover how I could scale that experience. The feedback received highlighted three core strengths as a facilitator that I acknowledged as the key to scalability:
PASSIONATE. ENTERTAINING. ENGAGING.
Every facilitator has their own style just like that of a musician. It became very clear to me that although I always wanted to focus on what I could improve, I needed to give credit to my strengths. If those three pillars were to be my medium to facilitate effective sessions then I wanted to lean into them, heavily.
For our final mini-lesson the next day, I threw it all at the wall. This time regarding non-verbal communication. The objective was: learners will be able to identify non-verbal signals of communication and monitor their own.
Humans innately learn how to interpret non-verbal signals however I believed monitoring one’s own signals were to be more difficult. I raised the stakes and put forward two objectives which included each element of BOPPPS, as well as two, role-play scenarios – a challenge for 10 minutes. Nonetheless, I began the lesson in a completely different headspace than the previous days. I wasn’t exactly certain how well the session would flow but I was here to learn from my mistakes and this was a safe place to fail. Speaking of which….I ran out of time. Not only that but there were moments where I wasn’t sure the group was fully grasping the material. In the midst of it all, I had to decide between rushing for time sake or spending time to explain further. I opted for the latter. The learner experience is, and always will be, the priority of any session I facilitate. I had fun with it and redirected when moments called for an adjustment. In the feedback, my team members pointed out that more explanation was needed for one of the activities and also that one role play scenario wasn’t even really necessary. The highlights for them came back to the interaction we were having during the Bridge-In/Objective which is when I was able to be passionate, entertaining and engaging.
All in all, I gained a handful of personal and professional insights that will be critical to my growth. I’m now equipped with more tools for effective teaching methods, more knowledge for assessing and building a curriculum for the learner as well as more confidence in my abilities. This is a testament to the continuous learning opportunities that employees need to stay engaged, stay motivated and feel encouraged to exercise creativity in their domain of expertise. Inspiration can be a powerful tool to activate a relentless mindset when it comes to pursuing goals. If employees don’t feel this type of support, opportunity or encouragement in their current workplace – it won’t be long until they find somewhere they do.