Facilitating Learning Actions: Some Principles
Specific theoretical/critical framing and the facilitator's thorough understanding of the underlying concern the action is designed to address;
Appropriate use/adaptation of the action to ensure the action is appropriate for your community of learners and suggestions for adapting the action;
Discussion of the ground rules for the learning action to ensure safety for participants and facilitators throughout the session;
Discussion of the differences between safety and discomfort (the latter is often required for embodied learning);
Encouragement to participants to be attentive to their own thoughts, reactions, and responses during the learning action (often multiple or contradictory) which they can build on/share during the debriefing/discussion;
Participation of the facilitator (though this may occur in different ways);
Debriefing and discussion of how to take the learning/action forward and into multiple trajectories; this often and should take much longer than does the action/activity itself;
Self-care of all participants, including the facilitator
Facilitating by Participating
Our experience has shown us that participants in anti-racism learning are most receptive when facilitators (be they internal or external to the group/organization) are able to both lead the group and at the same time demonstrate that they are not external to, removed from, or "above" the specific learning action or the systemic concerns being addressed. In other words, we feel that the participation of the facilitator is fundamental in building trust, community, and in supporting collaborative learning. How that participation occurs will vary according to the specific contexts of the group and the learning action; it is important that participants know that the facilitator has experienced/is experiencing the learning as well—and possibly the discomfort that comes with it.
Facilitating the Engagement and Contribution of Each Learner
As a grounding philosophy, we recognize and value each individual as an agent of positive change with particular experiences, knowledge, and abilities that will contribute to the learning of all participants, including the facilitator(s). Each learning action, therefore, must be designed to involve contributions and active engagement from each participant. Of course, there are decisions to be made regarding disclosure and safety. At times, participants' contributions may be expressions of racism. This is not necessarily a "bad" or unexpected result; such expressions are profoundly important moments and provide opportunities for learning for everyone in the group. These moments may helps us to learn about the systemic and historical processes that create and reproduce such ideas, to challenge these ideas, and to offer alternative ways of seeing and being in the community. Discussion of groundrules and issues of safety are required for every learning action.
If you are facilitating in your own classroom/workplace/organization, recognize that you have particular knowledge and insights about the people, their level of anti-racism knowledge, and the personal/institutional dynamics involved that you can bring to bear to make the learning action more productive. The learning action will be most effective when it is appropriately suited to, or adapted to, the group and context. When preparing a learning action, consider how it relates to previous circumstances, learning, problems or positive steps, and how you see it fitting into future learning actions and goals. If you know the participants well, you may be able to think about and anticipate certain kinds of responses to the action, and how you might best address these. In other words, trust that you have valuable knowledge and that these actions can be adapted to suit particular communities and contexts. At the same time, be aware that while you may have particular insights into your classroom/workplace/community, this does not mean that you know absolutely everything about it.
If you are external to the group you will be facilitating or working with, try to learn as much about the group as you can beforehand in terms of their history with racism/anti-racism knowledge. In such situations, it is important to build in a component/activity that serves as an ice-breaker so that participants can get to know you and you can get to know them; this helps create an environment of trust for discussing more challenging materials.
Consider the possibilities and any limitations of the group and/or space and adapt accordingly. For example, consider the following:
If the group is comfortable with technology (e.g. Smart Boards) and whether or not the use of technology would enhance or limit participation for that group.
If there are any concerns about physical limitations that may inhibit the level of participation for some. Some learning actions require movement around a physical space, others are visually based, and so on. Think about ways that you can adapt the action to ensure full participation (and if technology can help in this regard).
If the specific content requires adaptation to meet the concerns and/or needs of specific groups of learners in terms of age, knowledge level, geographical location, history, knowledge (urban versus rural communities, for example), language needs, cultural, spiritual or political affiliation, etc.
Effective facilitation is a constant learning process; it can feel a bit unsettling due to the emotions that arise and that are expressed (or the intensity of the resistance), or because you may not feel as if you know enough, or because you may feel like you cannot anticipate every possible response of participants, or because you may feel responsible for the entire group and the outcome. When you have these doubts, keep the following in mind:
Over time, and with a strong systemic analysis, you will become adept at seeing how the systemic processes and histories impact or even create individuals' responses—there is always a way to shift an individual's response to a discussion of systemic problems/histories;
As a group or community, the participants have contributions to make, and the capacity to address the concern at hand. If you have set up the learning action as learning for everyone, including the facilitator, you will feel less pressure to "do it all." Ideally, each learning action will occur as part of a longer process of learning so that you can continue to build on successes and address concerns as you proceed.