In preparation for an upcoming series of workshops on Inclusion, I’ve been thinking more about workshop expectations for participants. In most workshops, I insert a slide on what to expect to directly address what participants should expect from me and what I expect of participants. I feel like it sets the stage for our work together.
In prepping for this work, I started feeling pressure to perform. Inclusion is a huge topic and one that we are all grappling with. I have experience but hesitate to call myself an expert. In reflecting on the pressure I was feeling, I realized the importance of talking about expectations, and a little of my philosophy when it comes to learning.
Understand that learning is YOUR work
As a facilitator, I provide the environment that makes it safe, the resources needed to actively learn, and tools to engage during the sessions. In the end, though, it is not my responsibility to teach. It is a participant’s responsibility to learn.
That does not mean I don’t take feedback. On the contrary, I take constructive feedback seriously and am constantly trying to improve. There are multiple times over the past year I have taken direct challenges and modified my material. After the initial gut punch I feel when challenged, I am learning to get curious about strong reactions. Challenges are good if they open up real dialogue.
My favorite moments are when I see a participant experiencing an epiphany – their face gives it away. Those moments only happen when participants have a growth-oriented mindset and are actively digging into the information being presented. They are fully engrossed in the work. Their work!
Follow a Learning Loop
The learning loop I use starts with an experience; an event. I work hard to be as experiential as possible in workshops. Online, that means careful use of polls, chats, discussions, and breakout rooms. I also often provide a worksheet to facilitate notetaking. To learn, though, participants must engage and exchange. They help create the experience.
Note: If you normally are the first to speak at a meeting, I urge you to listen first. At a Sierra Club meeting I attended, facilitators suggested waiting for at least two others to speak first. That means, those of you normally holding back, must commit to speaking up more quickly.
The understanding part of the loop is about taking the information in. This means taking notes on content, asking questions, and sorting the information in your own way.
I find the next step, reflection, is often overlooked. Yet this step is the most important part of learning. I occasionally ask participants to pause and free write. I ask them not to filter what is coming up. I usually only use a few minutes during workshops but suggest participants continue reflection time later. Journal. Sketch. Sit and think for a while. Any way you do it, take the time to reflect.
The final step in learning is deciding. It is saying, “I’ve had this experience, heard this information, reflected, and now I know what I am going to do next.” Then we must act. If you are not moving, you’re dead. So be brave to make a move and be willing to make mistakes. That action will take us to the next experience and the loop goes again.
Have positive intent
Have you spent time on the “why” you signed up for a workshop? What are you hoping to accomplish? An even better question I read recently is “What is your heart on this matter?” (in Jeanette Armstrong’s essay Keepers of the Earth as a part of Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind).
A heart needs to be full of empathy and compassion, for ourselves and others. If the intention is to learn, we must also be humble. Our intentions must be toward the greater good for all.
Write or state your intentions directly, if possible. My intentions in workshops are to guide others to their own personal growth as well as compassion for others and Earth. Every time I facilitate, I expect to learn something new. When I make mistakes, I expect others to have compassion for me. My ultimate intention is for us to co-learn; to expand each other’s horizons.
Check your attitude
I sometimes say, “What you look for is what you see.” If you are looking to judge me as a facilitator or judge others in their skill level in a topic, I assure you, you will find imperfections. If you are looking for new ideas you hadn’t heard before, you will find those too. Checking your attitude before starting any learning activity is important to maximize learning.
I tell participants that I do not have a silver bullet. What I present is from my own learning and experience. What works for me, however, may not work for others. I expect participants to take what I offer and include it in their own learning toolbox to use in their unique way.
The saying “attitude of gratitude” is a great place to start when it comes to attitude.
I expect there is good reason to choose to attend a workshop. Remove distractions to the best of your ability. I promise that whatever is causing worry when the workshop starts will be there when it ends.
I open all my workshops with a 1-minute presencing meditation. I often also check-in with participants to gauge their presence level. And I might even check-in again, depending on the length of the workshop. I say, “if you are not here, why are you here?”
I suggest having an item handy (of course, I suggest something related to nature) that reminds people to be present. I have a small rock at the ready during every one of my online workshops. The rock reminds me of a trip to Iona’s Beach on the north shore of Lake Superior when I was very present. Find what works for you. If you are not present, you may miss the best parts of your day or some key learning.
In workshops, I expect people to be open. When I think of being open I think of bubbles. More specifically, when one bubble touches another and they end up partially combined. Being open means being permeable like that. Openness means letting go of the rigidness that prevents ideas and new beliefs from expanding the bubble.
The more open the heart and mind is to not being right, the more will open up inside. This sometimes requires vulnerability and admitting to mistakes and imperfections. Letting go of righteousness can be a hard thing to do in our current, snap-judgment-filled culture.
Active listening skills are also required here. To be active listening is to drop a focus on self and open up to the voices of others.
The simple way to be curious is to ask open-ended questions (ones that start with who, what, where, how, and why). Another easy expression of curiosity is to say; “tell me more” or “say more”.
Shared meaning, sometimes referred to as mirroring is another way to express curiosity. If you are not quite sure what someone is saying, but you think your close, you might say; what I heard is [fill in the blank] and then ask; “do I have that right?”
If you have a question, most likely someone else does too. A well-crafted question, ladened with curiosity, open heart, and positive intention, expands dialogue further.
Do your homework
If I have asked you to do homework, it is not because I enjoy giving homework. Homework means I think the work is important and will take valuable face-to-face group time.
“I didn’t have time” is another way of saying “this is not important to me” or “this is not a priority for me.” I encourage priority setting, but then if the workshop is not important right now, don’t sign up. Leave the space for those who are ready to learn.
I want to make a special note about work on diversity and inclusion here. “I didn’t have time” in this case, feels like a privileged cop-out. That is not to be harsh because I have a lot of privilege. Inclusion is everyone’s job. If I want to be included, I have to learn how to include others.
Judge yourself first
When I have influence over workshop feedback, the first question I ask is; what could YOU have done to make this workshop better?” (from Lean In Circles). This requires participants to judge themselves on engagement and presence and usually leads to a little humility. Then I consider the feedback I receive after that to be more meaningful and impactful.
In many of the workshops, I present on connecting to others (like conflict resolution, cooperative language, and team wellness), I have regular check-ins that require taking a look at yourself first. I make every attempt to do the same. While I am a trained facilitator, I am not better than any of my participants. We are human and it is easy to judge others. I expect you to judge yourself first and then I’ll be more receptive to feedback.
Finally, I believe the best work takes place at the edge of you. Good stress, called eustress is what propels growth. I do my best to help participants feel safe to share their full selves. Growth requires vulnerability. I expect we will all make mistakes. That’s how we learn.
I have been blessed to be a part of several communities where it’s been safe to bring my full self. I know the rest of the community will point out my blindsides (in my Toastmaster’s group, we say refer to our needed corrections as opportunities). And, they do so with compassion because they know we are all human. I promise to do my best to help others settle into discomfort. I expect you to support me while I am supporting you.
Be the best YOU
Learning is most fun when we can do it safely, together. We each have gifts to offer and it is our responsibility to share them. I encourage participants to share the best of themselves. I work hard to bring out the best in my participants. Sometimes that means compassion. At other times that means challenge.
What you can expect from me is approachability, encouragement, openness, compassion, and a safe environment to bring who you are. I will also likely contact you directly for feedback on a challenge so I can either improve or make modifications or corrections.
From the great Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better do better.”
Feel free to use the following checklists as you begin and end any learning session: