How to facilitate workshops while you grief

How to facilitate workshops while you grief

Some of you might already know that my father passed away in December last year. He struggled with ALS with a drastic course of the disease. Within a bit over a year, he went from climbing on the roof to being almost entirely paralysed. Acknowledging that at the end he was unable to eat or speak, his death was almost a release for him and in part also for us.

Nevertheless, since this day, I am finding myself struggling with missing him in all parts of my life. That also affected my work, both on the more administrative project management side and on the facilitation side. Especially about the later one I was worrying a lot. My father is a significant factor behind my approach to education, and I was not sure if and how I could manage to do this work, knowing he would not be there anymore.

So a couple of weeks ago, I was travelling to the European Youth Centre in Budapest with a giant pit in the stomach to facilitate a Study Session with youth. What followed were seven intense days, in which I led a facilitator team of six amazing, strong and passionate women hosting an emotionally tiring five-day seminar on the feminist struggle. The overall lesson I took from it was that I can still do the work I love so much even though I am still grieving one of the most important people in my life. I also identified many small tips and practices that made it easier to juggle both – facilitation and grief.

The first tip is both simple and really hard at the same times: Be honest to your team if you work with one. It sounds so simple, but it is actually tough to be so open and share that you are struggling with grief. You do not want to appear as you are not up to the task, as you could be a burden or be at risk to break into tears in the middle of a session. You do not want them to pity you or give you too much of a break. 

In my experience during the project in Budapest, it helped me and the team to be honest about:

  • how much I could put into the facilitation. – With that I do not mean, that I skipped sessions or parts that I was responsible for, but about how personal I can be in the facilitation, how much capacity for flexibility or intervention I had. 
  • my needs on a situation base. – Like many other similar circumstances, grief comes and goes in waves. On one day, I might have the need to be more supported or withdrawn in team meetings, on others I can take the lead. 
  • when I need to take a break. – The most important about it was that I let the others on the team know when I needed to step out.
  • when they supported me too much. – Sometimes support can be too much, and that is okay. And it is also okay to let the person helping know. It is crucial that you still feel self-sufficient.

One practice we developed as a team together was to check-ion each morning before the following two questions:

  1. How are you coming into the space today?
  2. How can we as a team support you today?

This simple routine allowed us to be in touch with how every person on the team – so, not just me – was feeling that day and to adjust our support system daily.

Concerning participants, the situation is way more delicate. As there is no preexisting relationship beyond the authority you have as the facilitator, it can be really harmful if you open with ‘my father died recently’. You do not want this to overshadow the event and distract from the actual content. With labelling yourself, you are creating an extra distance between you and the participants, which can make it hard for them to open up and fully engage. They might even worry about you and hurting your feelings.

The following things worked well for me during our event in Budapest:

  • Selectively engaging during social times. – This time I was really cautious of how I showed up during social times. Often I stayed in the seminar room during coffee breaks or did not join the evening activities. 
  • Keeping it professional. – I limited what I shared about myself to more professional facts. Usually, I am someone who leads through vulnerability but this time, being vulnerable felt too much.
  • Bringing conversations to the content of the sessions. – Often when I was in a conversation with a participant, I used it as an opportunity to make them reflect about the session before or ahead. That made it easier to stay away from the personal but also add value to the process.
  • Sitting with a team member. – Especially during the shared meals, I was trying to sit as often as possible with one of my team members. This way, I could strike up a conversation with them or they could direct a conversation with a participant on my behalf.

Using these small tricks, I was able to hold my situation as far as I needed from the participants. But on the other side, in this seminar, I made only a minimal connection with the participants compared to how I usually work. I had to accept this bargain to keep both myself and my participants in a comfortable space and to not transfer my grief.

Similarly delicate to your relationship with your participants is your relationship with the facilitation space itself. The energy we bring into this space can shift an entire session. It has an impact on the safer brave space you and the group aiming to establish and how emotions are going to be displayed.

Some practices I used to manage this relationship and my grief were the following:

  • Grounding myself before entering the room. – A couple of deep breaths before I entered the seminar or meeting room helped me to leave my grieving self as much as possible outside.
  • Deciding on a role before each session. – For all those sessions in which I was not actively facilitating, I consciously picked another role/task before their start. That could have been Communications, Note-taking or any other responsibility that would support those facilitating.
  • Stepping out when needed. – When I was feeling the grief coming up, and I had not an active role during the session, I simply stepped outside the room after informing the team. These small breathers helped in maintaining my energy levels.

The base of all the tips above is that you need to be honest to yourself. After a loss, you do not return as the same person. Make sure you do things because you can and not because you think you should do them. You are at the core of your practice, so take care of yourself. Only then you will be able to show up and serve your group.

Many of these tips I will continue in my regular practice. They have connected me deeper with my co-facilitators and me. I felt less physically tired after the seminar and actually felt setup for healing and growing out of my current state of grief. It is immensely empowering to know that I can do this work I love most no matter what is going on in my life.

The only aspect, I won’t carry on is the distancing from participants. I never felt so in the unknow about a group that I worked an entire week with. This disconnect also had an impact during the sessions. To affectively hold the space, I need to connect to the people in the room on a personal level. That was missing in this Study Session.

What is your experience with working while grieving? I am curious to know if you would use similar practices in a completely different work context. What are other methods you use to cope with grief?

Please let me know in the comments below. Also, indicate any other difficult personal situation you want me to explore and write about. And as always, like, subscribe and share this post!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

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How to start your planning process – From the topic to the learning outcomes and objective – Part 1 of the How to plan a training series

If you ever received a topic from a client and didn’t know where to start, this post is perfect for you! There are a million parts to cover, and your client has ambitious expectations. In this post, I will show you how to skip the panic and go straight from the topic to learning outcomes and objectives.

img_0977-2In the introduction to my ‘How to plan a training’ series, I introduced you to my four-step process on how I go from a training inquiry by a client to a ready to go training schedule. In this post, we will do a deep dive into the first step.

But before I want to address the elephant in the room. Most people use the terms outcomes and objectives interchangeable and often throw goals into the mix as well. Even in educational science literature, you can not find one consistent definition of these terms. To make this post as useful as possible and not to fall into the rabbit hole of this discussion, we will use the following two definitions.

“A learning outcome is a broader aim of an educational intervention. It does not seem necessary to describe a specific skill or knowledge. It can be covered through more than one objective.”

“An objective is a specific skill or knowledge that needs to be established to ensure a certain learning outcome.”

As we have this out of the way let’s start with part one of ‘How to plan a training’!

So, where do we start? For me, it all begins with an inquiry from a client or an organisation on the search for a trainer. Sometimes I also apply proactively for a training or workshop. In both cases, it is essential that you ask yourself, what can I contribute. Also, check if the client and the topic align with your interests and values. For me, nothing is worse than realising along the way that the expectation towards me as trainer and facilitator are not combinable with my practice and approach.

Next, you ask your client for a summary of the topic of the session and as much technical information as they can give you at that point. Relevant facts that you need to discuss as early as possible include time frame (on day or several days, how many sessions per date, …), venue (space for a circle of chair, small group work, …), aimed number of participants and eventual particular need, work alone or with a co-trainer or an expert and general context of the training (alone standing or part of a more extensive conference, parallel training, organisational relevance for your client…).

Once you received this information, you can start a first brainstorming phase. If you worked on that topic before, begin by listing what you can use from your past experiences. If you never worked on that topic, I recommend starting by looking for training manuals about that topic. I usually throw the following into Google “topic trainer manual pdf”. Don’t go too far at this point as you still have to sit with your client and discuss where she wishes to go with the training, but it lays a good foundation that will let you look even more professional.

IMG_0976The next step is to work with your clients on the learning outcomes. For this, you sit with her and walk through different thematic aspects of the training. I usually start from the organisational context of the training. What role does the topic play for the aims and objectives of the organisation and what shall come out of it? Regarding the topic itself, help her to break it down as specific as possible.

As an example, let’s say she asks you to facilitate a training on climate change for four days with three sessions per day. As long twelve sessions of each two hours feel like right now, they aren’t. One approach to breaking it down would be starting from the organisational context and aims. So let’s say in our example the client wants that the participants come up with awareness campaigns about displacement due to climate change. That give us already four learning outcomes:

  • Participants learn to plan awareness campaigns.
  • Participants discover social impacts of climate change.
  • Participants acquire knowledge regarding human displacement.
  • Participants explore effects of climate change.

From here I would look with the client which kind of participants she expects. If they would be mainly expert, another learning outcome could be “Participants develop solutions to displacement due to climate change.” or “Participants discuss possible stakeholders and their possible engagement in the fight against displacement due to climate change.”. If the participants are grass route activists or school students, the focus could be more on the causes of climate change and influencing factors.

The next steps are to work out the objectives that need to be achieved to ensure the learning outcomes agreed with your client. As we defined at the beginning, objectives are skills and knowledge that once acquired contribute to the fulfilment of one or several learning outcomes of training. Let’s say we look at the learning outcome “Participants discover social impacts of climate change.”. Objectives to reach this outcome could be:

  • Participants learn about the climate change and displacement.
  • Participants discuss the connection between weather phenomena and the livelihood of local communities.

These objectives still appear super vague and intangible. There are a million methods and approaches to formulating more successful and achievable objectives. Many of these theories usually are related to project management and corporate goal setting but can be translated into an educational context. I want to introduce you to two of these technics: SMART and CLEAR objectives.

The first one is SMART, which is also the best established and widely known approach. It’s an acronym standing for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Let’s take the objective from before “Participants learn about the climate change and displacement.”

SPECIFIC

The objective is quite general, and many things can be interpreted into it. Let’s try to reformulate it:

“Participants learn how climate change leads to human displacement.”

MEASURABLE

That’s more specific but can we measure if participants achieved this objective?

“Participants can name all causes for human displacement created through climate change.”

ACHIEVABLE

Can the participants achieve this objective within the framework of the training? Do they have all the resources and expertise they need? Let’s refine it all little further:

“Participants can name at least three causes for human displacement created through climate change.”

RELEVANT

Does the objective match the general context of the training? Does it play a role in the context of the participants? Which larger aims does it serve? Okay, one more try

“Participants can use their acquired knowledge about at least three causes for human displacement created through climate change to prepare an awareness campaign.”

TIMELY

A timely objective has a start and end date. If the training you are planning is a singular event, the time frame is apparent. Is the training is part of a multi-event project you can define the time frame in accordance to the likely need of the participants. So our final SMART objective would be:

“Within the training, participants can use their acquired knowledge about at least three causes for human displacement created through climate change to prepare an awareness campaign.”

The second technic is CLEAR. It’s an acronym as well and stands for collaborating, limited, emotional, appreciable and refinable. It’s mostly just in connection with Agile project management as it is seen as more flexible as SMART. Let’s take the same objective from before “Participants learn about the climate change and displacement.” through the CLEAR process.

COLLABORATING

Collaborating objects encourage the participants to cooperate in the quest to achieve it. Let’s adjust the objective accordingly:

“Participants discuss the connection between climate change and displacement.”

LIMITED

For CLEAR an objective needs to be limited in time and content. Therefore, you define a specific time frame in this step and also determine clearer what exactly you want your participants to achieve.

“Participants discuss effects of climate change that lead to human displacement in the framework of a 30-minute panel debate.”

EMOTIONAL

The objective needs to emotionally connect with the participants to tap into their energy and passion. One way to establish a personal connection to work with case studies of people in within the same age group or even an expert in this group.

“Participants discuss the effects of climate change that lead to human displacement in the framework of a 30-minute world cafe debate with youth from affected groups.”

APPRECIABLE

To make the objective perceptible its needs to be broken down into smaller parts that are faster achievable and contribute to the long-term goal. Let’s try to switch up our objectives once more.

“Participants map out concrete weather phenomena that lead to human displacement in a 30-minute session with youth from affected groups.”

REFINABLE

Finally, with CLEAR objectives need to re-evaluate during the process and modified as necessary. This does not lead to a refining of the objective before the training but challenges you keep an eye on them while you facilitate the sessions.

I have used SMART for most of my trainer practice but lately started to combine it with CLEAR. I find a combination of both boosted my objective setting process and simplified the creation of the learning journey, about which we will speak in the next part of the ‘How to plan a training’ series coming next November.

But before I let you go, I want to warn you of some risks and traps along the way. The most significant and most important is that you have to help your client to have more realistic expectations. There is so much you can put into a two-hour workshop, and that includes fixing the corruption of the pharma industry. 😉 It is further helpful to check in with your clients once you defined all objective to ensure you cover what they expect.

A small tip more for your personal life: You can use the technics of SMART and CLEAR to set goals for your life effectively. It helps you to set more realistic goals and to avoid the frustration when “I want to run a marathon tomorrow” did not work out.

I hope you could get something out of the post that helps you to improve your trainer practice. Feel free to leave me a comment if you disagree or have any question and it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!

Love and appreciation,

Anuschka

Why we all discriminate – Method of the Month: Sticker Discrimination

As trainer and facilitator, we often face complex concepts like discrimination and we uhm and ah about how to facilitate a personal reflection on such a difficult topic with our participants. We want to avoid platitudes like “I do not discriminate as I believe in equality”, “Only people who are racist/sexist/abelist/… discriminate” or “I am a woman/PoC/… so I cannot discriminate”. Many participants have a hard time to think beyond these platitudes and are unconscious of one basic fact: As we live and operate in a discriminatory society, we are likely to act unconsciously in discriminating ways

A simple discussion of different definitions will certainly not do the job. On the contrary, a full-on simulation might not fit in the allocated time slot within your training. This is where my first Method of the Month will come to your rescue! The method is based on “Labeling Ourselves” publish by… in ….

“Sticker Discrimination” is a short and impactful simulation that confronts participants with rules and tasks that are aimed to trigger discriminative behaviours. After mixing the participants up by standing up and walking around, the trainer invites them to close their eyes. She walks around and marks the participants’ foreheads with different stickers. Some are left with no stickers. She now instructs the group to form smaller groups according to two rule: they are not allowed to speak and can only create groups of maximum four people. [Pro tip: Variate the number of people so participants can not split evenly]

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Participant waiting with closed eyes. [picture: IUSY]

Once the groups are formed, they are tasked to think of why they grouped up, what they have in common and what makes them better than the other groups. After the presentation of each group, the trainer calls the participants back in the large circle to facilitate the debrief. She helps the group to reflect on the process of the group building and forming a group identity. Did they follow a particular strategy? Where there moments of comfort or discomfort? How did it feel when someone was left out? How did this person feel? What were the power structures within the process? What did the stickers represent? Why did they stick to/break the trainer’s rules? How does this simulation relate to reality and the societies we live in?

I used this method in my last training “Equality start with us! – Youth promoting inclusive societies and global citizenship and opposing violent extremism” for the International Union of Socialist Youth in cooperation with the Council of Europe. We were already on our second day, and it was the start of several session on the topic of discrimination that would be later connected to the reality of refugees. On our first day, we worked mostly on the issue of identity which my co-trainer and I used as foundation and point of reference for the debrief.

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Participants trying to form groups without speaking. [picture: IUSY]

In my opinion when facilitating this method the trainer already needs to be established and recognised by the group as a leader. Otherwise, the power of the rules is weakened, or participants who are facing discomfort might just leave the exercise. We choose to use a harsh and authoritarian tone to instruct the participants and not to react to approaches during the group phases. Further, we interrupted or shut down groups during their presentation and even skip one group’s presentation entirely.

Looking at the outcomes, we as facilitators were surprised that even so, we worked with a group of left-leaning political activists how ‘easily’ they fall into behaviour patterns that embraced the rules given. Not one person broke the rules or rebelled against us as facilitators. The initial group forming happened really fast, and most participants expect that they finished their task, but participants did not realise that one person was left alone. This lack of awareness shocked many of them. They were so eager to figure it out and fulfil the trainers’ expectation, that they did not question the broader context of the exercise. In the debrief the participants were able to relate this to their real life and the fact that many people do not discriminate consciously but blindly follow the rules and authorities and therefore establish and maintain a system of discrimination.

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Participants are discussing how the exercise relates to discrimination in real life. [picture: IUSY]

Possible variations could be replacing the stickers with roles or attribute. The roles could relate to the context of the living reality of the participants like professions, gender, sexuality, education, religion or ethnicity. The attributes could be different forms of greetings or movements. If you are working with a multi-ethnical group, the rule of not speaking could be replaced by only speaking in one’s native language. The debrief could be connected to a group work phase, in which the participants have to relate the structures of the exercise to common hatreds like sexism, ableism and racism.

I am convinced that “Sticker Discrimination” is a powerful and with 30 minutes relatively short exercise on discrimination. It offers a different approach to understand the mechanism of especially structural discrimination and by being non-verbal invites shyer or participants with a more substantial language barrier to take an active role in the group‘s learning process. The discomfort experienced during the exercise enables a more profound reflection.

As always leave me questions and remarks down in the comment section below. I truly appreciate you taking this time out of your day to discover the world of Affective Facilitation with me. And I would be of course delighted if you decide to share it with someone!

Love and Appreciation,

Anuschka