Tips for new facilitators

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Good facilitation requires a lot of different tasks:

  • Listen to learners
  • Ask clarifying statements
  • Provide good feedback
  • Keep discussions on task
  • Probe assumptions and evidence
  • Elicit viewpoints and perspectives
  • Mediate conflicts
  • Summarize and present findings

That’s a lot, but don’t worry, nobody is expecting you to be perfect from day one, and it will become much easier with practice. Below you’ll find a number of tips from some star facilitators.

A special thanks to the 6 librarians who contributed to the video:

Qumisha Goss, Detroit Public Library
Dan Hensley, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Julie Sherwood, Wichita Public Library
Martha Yesowitch, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
Alexis Burns, Kansas City Public Library
Steve Capuozzo, Cleveland Public Library

Some additional tips:

MODEL PEER LEARNING

For most people, learning has been a passive experience of “receiving” instruction. They may be unaccustomed to taking responsibility for their own and the group’s learning. This is not what Learning Circles are about, and it is important to be clear about this, especially in the first few weeks. As a facilitator, you can be a role model for the group by engaging learners in problem-solving and actively reaching out to help when possible.

MAINTAIN AWARENESS

Be observant, and learn to read the energy of the room. Who seems really motivated today? Who is particularly quiet? Once you have an understanding of each learner’s goals, you’ll be able to respond to this energy productively. Is one learner quiet because they are struggling with a basic concept? Ask somebody who is a few steps ahead if they don’t mind helping out.

STRIVE TO HELP LEARNERS SELF-IDENTIFY AS MEMBERS OF THE GROUP

This is called social cohesion. Social cohesion begins to develop within an hour of people being together. Some examples for encouraging social cohesion include:

  • Agreeing on a group name
  • Using non-verbal symbols (mascot, logo, colors)
  • Establishing rituals (traditions, habits, weekly activities)
  • Using plural pronouns (“we” instead of “I”)
  • Invoking group metaphors (referring to group as family, team, etc.)
  • Making verbal pledges (commitments to future action)
  • Establishing group narrative (saying things like “Remember when we…”)
  • Developing groupspeak (inside jokes, jargon)

ASK PROBING QUESTIONS

Learners will ask you many content-related questions since you are the closest thing to the traditional teacher in the room. When a learner asks, your response should demonstrate that their peers are a valuable resource and that most questions are answerable if you know where to look. Examples of responses you might give are: I’m not sure, did you ask anyone else if they ran up against the same problem? Hmmm, where would you start looking to figure that out?

ENCOURAGE MEANINGFUL, FREQUENT INTERACTIONS BETWEEN LEARNERS.

Shared emotional connections serve the dual purpose of helping individuals learn and reinforcing community. Watch out for questions or conversations that de-focus the group, and get comfortable steering conversations back on track. Other participants will greatly appreciate this.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS

When learning something new, there is a fine line between being optimistic and discouraged. To navigate this, express confidence that learners can achieve their goals, while also being realistic and aware of what is possible in six weeks. For instance, it’s unlikely that somebody with no programming background will get a programming job after one HTML/CSS Learning Circle. However, they will gain a better understanding of how to build a website, get a sense as to whether this is a subject they’d like to continue in, and have a peer group of like-minded individuals they’ve gotten to know.

ENCOURAGE GROWTH MINDSETS

A growth mindset is the belief that one’s skills and abilities can be continually developed through hard work, rather than stay fixed at a certain level. As a facilitator, try praising a learner’s processes (effort, strategies, choices) rather than their innate intelligence (e.g. saying “you’re so smart!”).

TURN FRUSTRATIONS AROUND

Try to flip frustrations into positive statements and involve the group. For example, when one learner felt that the interview tips in a Job Training course were too basic, the facilitator asked the group if they could come up with better tips. This re-framed the frustration in a positive way and served as an opportunity for learners to work together.

DELEGATE RESPONSIBILITIES

A good facilitator empowers learners to take charge of their own learning, making the role of the facilitator smaller and smaller over time. As the Learning Circle progresses, the facilitator can start asking learners to take on some extra responsibility, such as:

  • Send a wrap-up email afterwards reflecting on the day’s class
  • Summarize the week’s material at the beginning of each class
  • Set up/clean up the space
  • Share a resource or article that relates to the course content
  • Help a learner who is struggling
  • Bring snacks

BE REFLECTIVE

As a facilitator, you have a great deal of influence over the atmosphere in your Circle. Ask yourself the following questions as you work through the six weeks:

  • How might my cultural assumptions influence my interactions with learners?
  • How might the backgrounds and experiences of learners influence their motivation, engagement, and learning?
  • How can I modify course materials, activities, facilitation techniques, and expectations to be more accessible to all the learners in my Learning Circle?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

The Barefoot Guide Connection - FacilitationTools and Exercises
Liberating Structures: Participatory Group Exercises
Community Tool Box: Developing Facilitation Skills

Here’s some additional strategies suggested by the Toronto Public Library (March 2019). @Marni_Tam @Larysa_Isoki

  • Use statements like “tell me more” to encourage people to explain their ideas or feelings in more detail.
  • Time management
  • Review previous learning circle at the beginning so everyone is on the same page
  • List everyone’s goals
  • Talk about what level of commitment learners expect during the learning circle
  • Interrupt extroverts + encourage and support introverts
  • Give people turns
  • Post it rule: Give everyone a post-it note with the rule that once they speak, they must place the post-it note on the ground and they can no longer speak. Only those with post-its left are able to speak.
  • Have a signal when someone is talking too much