Facilitating in Communities that You Don’t Live In

Downtown Tacoma
April 15, 2018
in Uncategorized

Creating Safe Space
A couple weeks ago I sat at a dinner table with some lovely people who were involved in various aspects of refugee ministry across North America. We had recently emerged from a co-learning space where I had facilitated and taught on the topic of developing healthy and authentic cross-cultural relationships. The ability to break bread together (or in this case chicken burgers) allowed the opportunity for us to deepen our learning experience. It was in this space that I heard something that made me excited. One of the White attendees commented that she had been observant of how I “held the room” for my 90 minutes as a facilitator, which in turn provided her with tips on how to do the same when she sought to share the information with her staff and volunteers. Her astuteness and attentiveness to my facilitation practices, i.e., when I stood and when I sat, brought much joy to me because I believe that 25% of biblical reconciliation work in a co-learning space is information dissemination, while the other 75% is the actual space that is created for people to be able to feel safe enough to begin examining and challenging their perspectives, beliefs and actions, as well as those of the social and structural systems around them.

Although my co-learners do not typically name the facilitation techniques that I use, it is actually common for me to hear that they felt safe, honored and/or respected during our time together. I am honored and overjoyed every time I hear some version of this feedback because it means that one of my main goals of training has been fulfilled. Let’s be clear, when I share space with co-learners, regardless of what title is affixed to the workshop, it is almost undoubted that we will (in one way or another) touch on themes of biblical reconciliation, privilege, power, oppression, the history of racism, and analyze the social and societal structures that support racism. The subject matter can be challenging and create much discomfort and dissonance, a fact which I forewarn people of at the onset of our time together. I owe my ability to create a safe co-learning space for co-learners to an intentional application of ABCD principles. In specific the principle of listening.

The Practice of Listening
In ABCD we rely heavily on the practice of listening for the sake of understanding the gifts and talents that are already present in a community. This ongoing posture of listening helps to ensure that community members are being heard and are active contributors to the agenda building and problem-solving processes. In like manner, I employ listening techniques pre-, during and post-facilitation to ensure that the learning community that’s created is aware of the knowledge and gifts that’s inherently present in the room. Jeanette Romkema of Global Learning Partners (GLP) has pointed me towards excellent Dialogue Education tools and resources (i.e., Learning Needs and Resource Assessment), which help with creating learning spaces that honor co-learners. I highly recommend checking out their website which is chock-filled with ways to build listening into the design, implementation and evaluation of your workshop. Technology of Participation’s (TOP) Focused Conversation facilitation method also offers an excellent framework for creating questions that allow co-learners to engage in conversations that move from surface understanding of concepts to deeper meanings and contemplation of current and/or future actions.

Other ways that I employ listening is through providing co-learners with the opportunity to share the ways that they’ve already used the principles discussed in our workshops and by offering them a space to problem-solve collectively when contextual questions arise before inserting my own input. In these ways I try to empower them by revealing their God-given abilities to walk justly and act mercifully toward others. I also invariably try to provide some opportunity, usually through an activity, for co-learners to be able to examine and share their own narratives. This allows people to determine their social location, provides opportunity for them to identify how they fit into the social continuum (including their access to privilege), and provide opportunity for them to share how they’ve experienced oppression or marginalization (no matter the degree) due to some aspect of their social identity. It has been my experience that these listening practices assists in disarming co-learners and in building learning environments that they feel safe to explore in.

Anyone who has engaged in the work of racial reconciliation or had a discussion about race related issues can tell you that describing it as hard can at times be a gross understatement. I have found that employing listening strategies that are central to the practice of ABCD has by God’s grace provided opportunity for sacred spaces to be created that by their nature oppose the dehumanization of others. It is my hope that by assuming a listening posture that dignity is offered each co-learner and Grace and Truth finds their place to transform each heart including my own.

What tools, resources or practices do you use to create safe spaces in co-learning environments?

(Camp Shout Staff Training; Photo Courtesy of Bernadette Arthur)

– Originally posted here.