Let’s do it non-formal – Toastmaster Tuesday

In June 2018, I wrote a blog post introducing you to non-formal education. Everyday. I am falling more and more in love with this approach, its methods and setting and its practitioner. So it comes to no one’s surprise that I would dedicate one of my Toastmasters speeches to this topic. Check out below how much passion for education meeting a young hedgehog can evoke.

img_0979‘Let’s do it non-formal – My love for education’

When I was about six years old, my father constructed a glass house in front of our kitchen. One evening, he finished digging the fundament and left it without a cover overnight, so the forecasted rain would condense the soil. The next morning, we found a small surprise in one of the deeper spots of the diggings.

A young hedgehog had fallen into the ditch. It had to have been searching the churned earth for insects and worms. After its fall, it found itself trapped as the walls of the hole were too high for it to find its way out.

I remember how my father took his gloves and carefully picked up the small animal. He told me that I could gently pet the hedgehog if I would only stroke its spines from the front to the back. This way, they would not hurt me.

Dear fellow Toastmasters, guests and friends, this story is not just a charming anecdote from my childhood. In fact, it was a moment of learning.

I learned that hedgehogs search for food at night – that if touched correctly their spines would not hurt – that you should not leave diggings without a cover because you never know who could stumble inside – and most importantly I learned compassion for those smaller than me.

In education science, these occasions of learning are considered as informal education – colloquial known as learning by doing. This form of education occurs unplanned and gets neither assessed nor monitored. It is not restricted to a set environment but happens – like in my story – in everyday life.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is formal education. This happens in a clearly described setting with a person holding the authority over a pre-defined set of knowledge which has to be received by the learner. The learners are kept to an institutional standard and assessed by their ability to reach the criteria of this standard without consideration for individual circumstances. Therefore, formal education focuses on the outcomes, not the process, which makes the participation mandatory.

Does this sound familiar to anybody?

Indeed, we are all familiar with formal education as we all were taught by teachers in subjects, we could not choose, at schools, we were obliged to go to while being evaluated by an educational standard written in curricular that did not consider our individual strengths and needs.

Today, I want to introduce you to a third, lesser-known concept of education, which is really dear to my heart – non-formal education. Many would describe it as a sweet spot where formal and informal education meet. Do you remember the compassion I learnt as a child in contact with the hedgehog? It would be possible to explain compassion in formal education, but only informal education helped me to feel what compassion is. For me, it means liberation of the learner – and liberation of the facilitator of the learning.

So let’s look at some characteristics that make learning non-formal. As in formal education, the process is planned and structured by some kind of facilitator. Even though the content is preselected, participation is voluntary. This means, the learner actively chooses to join the learning process. There is no assessment of the outcomes and the learners’ abilities and knowledge. So non-formal education is clearly process-oriented. Typical occasions for this way of learning are workshops and seminars, especially in youth work – or – this Toastmasters club meeting.

For me, the magic of non-formal education lays in its process. It gives the space to participants to acknowledge their own expertise, connect it to those of fellow learners,  and create together unique solutions, which can only occur at that precise moment with those exact people. The most valuable takeaway is precisely this moment of self-awareness and growth. Non-formal education creates connections beyond the conventional separation of class, race, gender, religion and enables thinking outside the boundaries of fear, logic and the restrictions of the learning environment. Once set in motion, the facilitator becomes part of this ever-changing and evolving learning system and, through the chosen methods, guides the participants to their own, unconscious milestones.

I witnessed this myself as a facilitator on many occasions. I saw it in Fatma, who found the bravery to speak up despite her traditional upbringing – in Carl, who left the limits of his disability behind him and embraced his passions – in Mikael, who saw beyond the playfulness of the methods and understood that his opinions can hurt someone else – and in Lena, who did not say a word in a week-long training but carried something she heard with her, that changed her life a year later. She ran for a national office and got elected.

I acknowledge the value of informal and formal education. Nevertheless, I wish that both would be approached in a more non-formal manner. I firmly believe we are missing out on these moments of actual change.

So, when it comes to education, I say – LET’S DO IT NON-FORMAL! Thank you.


So what do you think? Should we make our education systems more non-formal? Leave your comments below!

Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!

Love and appreciation,


Photo by Liudmyla Denysiuk on Unsplash


Why I hate to talk about myself – Holding my Icebreaker speech

Every journey starts with the first step – and with Toastmasters International this first step is your Icebreaker speech. This speech aims to introduce yourself to your club members shortly and lightly using funny and amusing anecdotes.

I did go another road. I wanted to take a risk and challenge me from the beginning. Therefore, I chose to get real personal and share facts that might make others, and I feel uncomfortable. However, I also wanted to share a positive message through this radical openness. This was important to me as I firmly believe the things that I had to go through in life made me stronger and that sharing my experiences might make one of you feel a little better.

I followed the structure taught in the corresponding module in my ‘Effective Coach’ pathway: Interesting topic – opening – body – conclusion. I struggled the most with the end and worked with my mentor Keyla fine-tuning content and wording. I will have to work on how to best close a speech as I do not have a feeling for the right sweet spot. We all know these speeches that go on and on and on, and we wished the speaker would have finished an hour ago.

So here it is, my very first Toastmaster speech! Enjoy!


‘Your Icebreaker is about you – and that should be your favourite topic to talk about.

Dear fellow Toastmasters, guests and friends, actually I hate to talk about myself.

I grew up in a small German town, with two loving parents and a younger brother. For most of my childhood, my grandmother was around to help to raise us, as both my parents were working back then, We have been an average higher middle-class family with a house, pets and an annual summer holiday. My parents raised me both protestant and social democratic. Civic engagement, social justice, and cultural activities are high held values. After a smooth carrier, I went to university and aspired to become a teacher. In 2017, I moved to Brussels. Today, I have an indefinite, full-time contract in a job that generates enough income for me to give a decent living, here in the heart of Europe.

That brings me to tonight. As you might guess, my life has not been this average and easy rundown of geographical, personal, and educational cornerstones that I just shared with you. Nevertheless, they are all true.

Let me tell you another story about myself, which is equally true, but harder to share.

The school was never easy. I never had to redo a class, but I did not fit in. I was too tall – too lively – too curious – too polite – too whatever my classmates came up with that day. I was a victim of bullying and spend most of my years in school alone. At home, I was loved and supported and still also there things weren’t as easy as they looked. Most of my close family members struggle with sicknesses that do not just affect their path, but also our shared life. I had to start working at the age of 14. Due to these facts, I left school not just with the highest secondary school degree but also with my first burn out.

In university, my dreams about what it means to become a teacher did not match with the contemporary academic teachings and the educational reality. My fellow students and professors did not welcome my idealism. Due to my mother’s early retirement, I had to support myself – and in part my family too. Therefore, I was forced to combine classes with two jobs, which led to medical consequences I still face today. In 2016, after a severe operation, I dropped out of university without a degree. I moved to Brussels for a job aligned with my values and aims. I lost this job just a couple of month later when the leadership of the organisation changed.

Today, I am a chronic pain patient in a high-pressure job that negatively impacts my body and soul and barely covers my costs of living – and the payback of debts acquired during my time at university.

Dear fellow Toastmaster, at the beginning of the speech, I told you that I hate to talk about myself. If I am honest, I actually hate that every time someone asks me to say something about myself I have to choose between these two stories.

Do I tell the first one and confirm what was assumed by just looking at me? Or do I say the second story and risk scaring the person off or making myself vulnerable? Both, the story you see and the one that is hard to share, make me who I am today.

The truth about having these two stories is, that being able to tell the first story give e the safety to choose to say the second and give hope through how I became who I am.

Thank you.’


I got a lot of positive feedback from my club member and came second in the vote for the best speech of the night. Nevertheless, I did not manage to go back to the meeting since then and only logged into the online platform once but did not keep working on it. It’s hard for me to go back to a group after I skipped a couple of meeting. I feel guilty and that I let everybody down by not showing up. Next week is the last meeting of the year, and I want to use this post as motivation to go there. Fingers crossed…

What do you do when you fall off the track? Would you be interested in me delivering the speech on video? I would love to hear your feedback!

Love and appreciation,