Thursday, July 24, 2014

What Went Well: Reflections on Reflecting

Written for and originally posted at ACPA Commission for Social Justice Educators' blog.

In the many years I worked in social justice education through the University of Cincinnati Racial Awareness Program (RAPP), I’ve been grateful to work with committed and passionate student workers and AmeriCorps Public Ally apprentices. All of these have worked both in co-facilitating educational dialogue programming as well as the administrative work necessary to make these programs run.

Regular meetings, usually weekly, that include both task-oriented work and developmental conversations are part of our supervision routine.  Over the last four years, I’ve made a regular habit of structured reflection time where we look at specific tasks the person or we together completed and explore two key questions:

  1. What went well in the process?
  2. What is something worth remembering from the process, maybe something great we want to remember to do again or something new it inspires us to try?

Recording responses to the latter question generates a long list of “Lessons Learned” over the year that accumulate at the end of our agendas and are the basis for blog posts the students write. Initially, I asked people to write one post at the end of their tenure; for the last year and a half I’ve asked them to write the posts regularly to share the many things they learn/re-learn/are learning over time.

I started with the first question of “what went well” because nearly every person who’s worked with RAPP in a co-facilitator role has had one overdeveloped skill: Describing what they think they did “wrong.” Our ability to acknowledge things that went well and things they do well was sorely underdeveloped.

Until last year, I’d kept this practice reactive. We always reflected afterward. Outside of structured full staff trainings, I only brought in models & articles to discuss after I identified a deficit in knowledge/skills I wanted us to work on.

This past fall, a student worker Brice & I embarked on a journey together to be proactive around this work. We started with The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflection from Social Justice Educators, edited by Lisa N. Landeman.

I’d previously bought copies of this book for all the student co-facilitators in our programs but had only engaged it in pre-service training. Throughout the fall, Brice would select a chapter from the book for us both to read, we’d read it between meetings, then discuss it at the meetings. Occasionally, Brice would create an activity for us to do together based on the reading.

Inspired by this as well as our disagreements around his skill as a facilitator (I think he does well all-around in the many roles we fill as facilitators; he did not), I pulled out “Effective Facilitation: Self-Evaluation Checklist” by Dr. Kathy Obear. Rather than rush through all the dozens of skills in one go, I thought it’d be useful for us to give them time.  So, three or four times a month, we’d discuss just five of the skills at a time.  We’d each rate ourselves on each skill and discuss ways we did them, times we hadn’t, ways that the different work we did used the skills in different ways, and how we saw each other demonstrating the skills.
March at ACPA Nat'l Convention, Brice & Rebecca (center)
 got to talk with Kathy Obear (left)

I’d previously used this same list, but as a whole in one meeting or spread over at most three meetings.  Breaking the piece up over time like this has given us a chance for deep reflection and created a regular opportunity for feedback and reflection. I’ve since used this spread-over-time technique with other student workers, while still using whole articles, chapters, and videos as before.  For example, a student worker and I are going through the Code of Ethics for Antiracist White Allies point by point in preparation for our work with RAPP’s summer intensive on racial justice.

Recently, Brice & I reflected as described in the beginning of this post on the process of taking several months to work through the self-evaluation checklist. In many ways, this post is our Lessons Learned blog post.

If you asked me before I started working with RAPP how important reflection was, I would have said not so much.  Now, after working with RAPP, I know it to be extremely important. Though I practice these reflections in the realm of social justice education, I can see their application being useful in any field of work. The exercises  and blog posts we worked on over the course of the year boosted my confidence, reinforced my skillset, and gave me a framework for my own student workers (someday).

I remember when we began reading “The Art of Effective Facilitation.” I was thinking it would be some magic tome that would finally prepare me to do what I had always dreamed of doing: being a facilitator. The book did teach me some new things, but what it really did was reinforce how much I already knew. I was already a facilitator!  The same can be said about our discussions around Kathy Obear’s checklist. I remember going through the list five skills at a time and being shocked at how many I had successfully demonstrated. We reached the end of the list and I thought, “That’s it?”

As Rebecca highlighted above, I excelled at pointing out my faults.  I am my biggest critic, but I don't often take the time to analyze my mistakes. These mistakes become opportunities for growth once given the time to reflect. Similarly, I rarely take the time to appreciate the good work I have done. Through facilitating our 9-month social justice program, I have seen breakthroughs in the RAPPers and in myself. Being able to highlight these breakthroughs in the RAPP blog boosts my morale and hopefully that of the reader as well.

All of this reflection has been invaluable to my growth as a student, facilitator, and aspiring professional.

Brice is one of 15 recipients of the RAPP Social Justice Peer Educator Certificate
this academic year, the curriculum of which is built around this idea:
I exemplify social justice education when I commit to continual self-reflection
& intentional development work as a social justice educator.

Brice Mickey has been involved with RAPP since 2010. He is currently a senior at the University of Cincinnati majoring in Information Technology. He has also served as the 9-month co-facilitator for RAPP XXVIII and XXIX.

Rebecca Lehman has been involved with RAPP since 2006. She is currently transitioning out of the role of Program Coordinator for the program and is excited to see where she goes next.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Last Film of Courageous People Series

In Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation, we talked about the nonviolence movement in the United States and the teachings of Martin Luther King.

Those who participated in KNCR as well as the SALD Community are all invited to join us as we look at nonviolent movements from across the globe. This series is titled, "Courageous People".

We will now look at the nonviolent movement and resistance that fought segregation in Nashville.

Feel free to bring lunch! This is open to all UC students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community leaders!

                                                  Tuesday, August 5th, 12pm- 1:30pm
                                                       6th Floor Steger Student Life

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lessons Learned: Clique-y-ness

Clique-y-ness affects more than just the group - it affects us as facilitators. I think it is partly in our nature as humans to form up into groups of people who we feel are like us. I can even admit that I was part of a few cliques when I was in high-school and middle-school.  However, I have to own up to the oppression I perpetuated while in those groups. And now, looking back, I know I should have branched out more.

In RAPP, we ask students to do the same. Own up to oppressive situations you have played a role in, but also branch out and meet new people! Try new things and talk about it afterwards! As the late Maya Angelou once said, "You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot - it's all there." RAPP is meant to teach us how to communicate across difference. If all you ever do is hang around the same group of people with the similar ideas and upbringings, you will have a very limited view of life and a lesser experience.

This clique-y-ness affects us as facilitators too. We have to make sure that certain clique members aren't in the same groups and if they are, we usually have to spend extra time keeping members on task. On the flip-side, facilitators have to make sure people outside of the clique don't feel left out. Sometimes, I've even felt myself getting caught up in the drama of a clique, just by being in its presence.

All of this becomes a distraction from (and often works against) our program's mission, which is to fight oppression through individual awareness and collective action.

Lessons Learned is a RAPP Blog initiative intended for folks who hold formal leadership positions in RAPP programs to share what they're learning through their process

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lessons Learned: Commitment is...

As a facilitator, as a recruiter, as a leader one thing harsh lesson I learned was: not EVERYONE can do what they signed up for. I used to take low turnout/feedback/membership personally. I thought, somewhere in the process, I aspired too much or recruited too many folks. However, I'm learning that just because people sign up for things doesn't mean people will follow through with that.

It's not always people forgetting they signed up to commit to something. It's not just people wearing themselves too thin and not being able to commit. Sometimes folks have emergencies or an illness that prevents them to keeping commitments they made months in advance. Other times, people just drop the ball. Smile, discuss and converse away! Those who came were eager to learn and make sure to keep spirits high and work with those stayed committed.

Lessons Learned is a RAPP Blog initiative intended for folks who hold formal leadership positions in RAPP programs to share what they're learning through their process

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lessons Learned: Support Each Other

One thing I noticed was the huge support and visibility RAPP gets when we partner up with other organizations. The past year, our Program Coordinator has worked with Residence Halls (and put on an amazing Sizism meeting). We also worked with RAs and TAs for multiple workshops entitled, "Let's Talk About It". We took members of RAPP to get Safe Zone Training and this summer will have some RAPPmates going to Secular Zone Training.

                                                              ARJ Leadership Dinner!

These opportunities allow us to work with other groups at UC campus and will not only gain exposure for RAPP but also get folks from RAPP involved in other opportunities. I think it's good to have leaders diversify their portfolios (I learned that in LCoB) as far as what they attend. It builds awareness on organizations and drums up interest!

Lessons Learned is a RAPP Blog initiative intended for folks who hold formal leadership positions in RAPP programs to share what they're learning through their process

Lessons Learned: Little Details Add Up

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things. I am tempted to think there are no little things. - Bruce Barton

Recently, I was reminded that little details add up, for better and for worse! I need to balance this knowledge with my tendency toward harmful perfectionism. 

As a RAPP intern, I am often given several assignments that appear to have nothing to do with one another. When completing them all at once, I found that it is easy to skip a step or miss some of the finer details. On the flip side of that, my ongoing battle with perfectionism makes it easy to get lost in a single detail. I lose focus on that fact that these tasks are all interrelated and without one, the others tend to suffer. In the future, it will be important for me to find a balance between hitting all of the details and getting lost in just a few of them.  

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Lessons Learned: Redo It. Just Do It Again.

After two months of being RAPPORTless, I was so excited to finally return to UC for the second semester and start with a RAPPORT meeting. I set up the Facebook Page, invited all 50 of the people on my list (not many friends ay?) and Rebecca rounded out the invites. In the end, there were 20+ eager folks ready to get back into the RAPPORT swing and learn some Social Justice Values.

Then this arctic thing happened and classes were cancelled the first day back. And the day after.
                                                             Thanks alot, Santa!

In my mind, (and out loud to Rebecca), I said "well, we can just move the meeting forward two weeks and keep the event the same. Well, no. People had forgotten about the event and thought we cancelled it! In the future, it's good to just remake the event on Facebook and remind folks again that way. Once they've said their coming, we at least can keep a better count of approximate people!

Lessons Learned is a RAPP Blog initiative intended for folks who hold formal leadership positions in RAPP programs to share what they're learning through their process

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lessons Learned: Positivity and Planning

"Nothing will work unless you do." -Maya Angelou

Over these last few weeks, I have done some deep reflection involving the completion of my work. I am well aware that there are many stresses that have the potential to effect my positive energy and success. Lately, white supremacy culture and the idea of perfectionism. Reflecting and realizing that all my life I have been conditioned and expected to lead in ways represented in white supremacy - and I've done it well. 

I couldn't figure out why it was that when I missed a deadline - even if it's only by a an hour or so, I was completely unmotivated to do my work and found myself completely scared of negative ramifications (which in reality were ones made up in my head to happen, but never did). Instead of doing the work and pushing through, I would almost always allow myself to feel this unbearable guilt about the task not being completed. Of course, I have to recognize that this is a process working towards correcting this behavior - however, I already feel some improvement. 

After I returned from my recent trip to Cancun - I got home and realized that my planner was no longer in my luggage. My planner - my lifeline, and sometimes the only thing that keeps me organized was missing. Inevitably, I missed a deadline - since I didn't have it right in front of my face. I spent hours thinking about how I could've let this happen - instead of switching my thinking to what I can actually do about it. Once I did that, it was amazing how things happened! I went into the office - there was no paper, so I asked about it and got some instead of dwelling on it! I painted a simple and effective banner for the window - and I even messed up a few times and didn't take the time to rip up the banner and start over - shew!  

With this lesson I learned, not only does perfectionism prove to be extremely damaging to my work ethic - it is also an extremely hard system to navigate, but it's not impossible. I got the banner up a day late - and get to leave it up for an extra week. I even had some help from some great RAPPers to help me reach the top of the window. Take a deep breath and relax - it will all work out as long as you put forth the effort. 

Lessons Learned is a RAPP Blog initiative intended for folks who hold formal leadership positions in RAPP programs to share what they're learning through their process

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Lessons Learned: Don't Underestimate, Don't Procrastinate

When work is particularly out of my comfort zone (for example, designing a tri-fold board using a new marketing technique), it's particularly wise to not underestimate the work involved nor procrastinate.

Recently, I was given the task of designing the new look for RAPP's promotional tri-fold board that we use during tabling events. How hard could it be? Well, I am an information technology major with a love of history. I also enjoy reading fantasy novels and watching bad television in my free time. Nowhere in those last two sentences did I mention design or marketing. This leaves me wondering why I felt so confident when tasked with designing this board.

In my over-confidence, I procrastinated and worked on other things. I kept saying to myself that I would finish everything else first and only then would I have time to concentrate on the board. Well time flew by and there I was, rushing to complete my assignment with almost no time left. In hindsight I should have worked on the board first to gauge my productivity, especially considering my inexperience with this kind of work.  

Lessons Learned is a RAPP Blog initiative intended for folks who hold formal leadership positions in RAPP programs to share what they're learning through their process