Here are 5 things to consider as an educational facilitator to ensure success with your team:
1. Physical - The tone of the discussion and mood in the room is first set by the greeting you give and the level of eye contact used. Your posture and seating position matters, as it shows how 'available' you are to the group. Never turn your back on your group and only try to use positive body language with a comfortable, relaxed stance. Be open and non-combative. Avoid confrontational questions and comments (unless you NEED to address the elephants - or other animals - in the room). The tone, volume, pace and cadence of your voice can be butter to their ears or nails on the chalkboard. Practice these things aloud to a trusted colleague or partner, and ask them how you sound. Use active listening strategies and always try to soak in more from the group's answers than you are giving them to ponder. By waiting at least 3-4 seconds to respond to a comment or question (giving yourself time to reflect and formulate), you will be more able to avoid snap comments and emotional rebuttles should they arise.
2. Social - It is essential to forge a positive relationship in the group to move anything in a forward direction AND ensure actual future results. The "quid pro quo" approach can be used to achieve a balance and parity in what is being shared and how much time each voice is being given. Even if some comments seem trivial or cursory, use these times as opportunities to 'mine for the gold in the comment.' We do this all the time with students....Can anyone explain what strategy Jason used to solve the problem? Cue student response that is not on point with the question....."Hmmm....I really like how you thought about that and took the risk to tell us all your idea....but I think we need to dig deeper on this one. Who else has an idea?"
Embrace the silence between questions. The awkwardness you may be feeling will push the group members to feel it too and push their own comfort in responding and elicit more personal investment on their part to advance the conversation. Try to begin with personal anecdotes (if they are relevant and do not completely undermine your value and future contribution to the group). This sharing will spark transparency and break down personal barriers that guard us from others and create an "us" and "them" structure in the group.
3. Cognitive - Draw on higher order thinking skills and intelligently-designed questions. The time and preparation put in to the structure of your meeting and plan for everyone's time WILL STRONGLY AFFECT THE BUY-IN FROM YOUR PARTICIPANTS. Avoid absolute yes or no answers that can marginalize people and divide the group. Open questions will evoke thought and reflection, and guide subsequent questions with the layers of their possibility.
4. Emotional - KEEP STUDENTS AS THE FOCUS! Continually remind your group about the value and purpose for your discussion. We want to better student learning and support student achievement. We are building good human beings that can be self-sustaining, empathetic people and contribute positively to our society. Use student interests in discussions to keep a human face on the people that your educational planning and conversations will impact. Refer to parents and caregivers when you can to remind just how many people are invested in the focus of these learning conversations. By focusing on the different stakeholders in play and the many lenses we can use, there will be a heightened sense of empathy and noble purpose, which will keep a "human" perspective on conversation. This will help to avoid fixations on how we, as educators, have "not enough time" or how this focus is "just a new fad in education" to skirt the issue and dodge meaningful plans of action.
5. Inspirational - Everyone in the conversation needs to be inspired. They may not know it or be willing to admit it - but it's true. We want to be entertained and improved by the nature and quality of days we lived. As a facilitator, we're always hoping for an epiphany by our group members. But, at the very least, we should be looking for the "spark" and identifying when a participant is "working it out" in their minds and envisioning what change in practice they are willing to undertake. Start by playing music. Think carefully about the room or venue that you are meeting in and the connotations or mood that resonate from it. Draw on the interests and talents of the group whenever possible. Make it cerebral and emotive. The more sense stimulation you can muster, the better for your buy-in and ability to 'hook' their full attention and curiosity.
By the end of the session, your goal is to have all participants invested in the conversation, idea-generation and goal setting. Most importantly, every single session should result in an action based on change. As a facilitator, the same is true for you. Each time you facilitate, you need to reflect and create a goal for your next session that is based on an actionable change.
You want to be the ship that throws no one overboard (and also avoids people jumping overboard themselves).
Facilitation is an art form; and with the right tools and strategies on your palette - you can strive to create a collaborative educational masterpiece with your team.