Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Art of Effective Facilitation: When Neutrality Is Not Enough

Chapter 10

Hi there everybody. Welcome back. It's the weekend again, and I'm in the office this weekend. (I wasn't last week. I um... Injured myself. Yeah, that's it. My sister in law and I went to Land of Illusion last Friday, and I walked myself into a lot of pain on Saturday, so I didn't go in to the office last weekend.) I worked from home instead, but this weekend, I'm feeling fine, so I came into the office. It's a gorgeous day out there, so I wish I had my laptop so I could work outside for a while. Anyways, enough of that. On to Chapter 10 of The Art of Effective Facilitation.

It's a good chapter in some ways, and not in others. In some ways, it was a frustrating chapter in that there's nothing to really get ahold of for most of it. Effective multipartiality is both a science and an art. Honestly, I think it's something that you grow into more than learn. The book gave three examples of facilitations, an impartial, partial, and multipartial. Impartial is when you can't get the participants to take risks in being partial. The example used was that of five scenarios. Some participants expressed the idea that the scenarios were UC-Centric. The facilitator thought otherwise, and didn't dig deeper into why these participants thought so. This was impartiality at work. The second example, partiality, was of an exercise where the author indicates that the participants in the facilitation igonored the facilitator's instructions and did their own thing. No one remarked upon this, even though it was a team building experience. (The objective was to count to fifty with each person speaking at least once and no person speaking again before everyone had spoken. You had to do all this with your eyes CLOSED.) There was a group of three males that counted off to fifty, putting the goal (reaching the number fifty) ahead of the process (not speaking again until everyone had had a turn). No one else in the group pointed out this breach in the rules, and the other voices were silenced. The facilitator, feeling triggered, didn't know how to resolve this. (I'm not sure how I would have resolved it myself. Maybe asked for a show of hands of people who had said a number and then gently reminded the participants of the rules? I really don't know.) The facilitator considered this a failure and a debacle for a long time. (I'm not sure if I would be any different, in that respect.) Finally, there was an example of multipartiality. It was a group discussing the prison industrial complex, along with facts and figures regarding the marginalization and mistreatment of minorities. In this discussion, several dominant narratives were introduced. The art of it is knowing when to encourage and/or present the counternarrative. It is giving respect to all beliefs and bringing out the experiences of people who are marginalized so that we see all the sides of an issue and can really discuss the meat of it. The three facilitations were handled very differently, and had very different outcomes. The multipartial experience was the hardest to understand, hence the reason I said I think you grow into it. After doing multiple facilitations, I think you would have a better idea of how to judge the group and bring forth those marginalized viewpoints.

So the question is, "How do we, as social justice educators, come to the point of recognizing when is the right time?" When is the right time is a hard question to answer as every group is different. The dynamics of the group are unique to that group and that session. Even if you get the same group together a week later, or two weeks later, they're not in the same mood they were in last time, and that makes for differences. I think this is generally true of all groups, even small groups that get together day after day. Each person is in a differnt place each day, not so much in their mood, but in their learning and in their process. On Monday, I may be grumpy. (I got to sleep in over the weekend, and now I can't.) On Tuesday, I could be happy. Wednesday I could be troubled. Even if I'M grumpy Monday through Friday, my co-workers moods will change as the week goes on. So each group has a different dynamic. You can never count on having the same people say the same things. So a skill that is important if you want to be a multipartial facilitator is to read the crowd, and be able to determine what they need to progress along the path of their learning at any moment. You have to know the right time to introduce new ideas or encourage participants to speak up. And your participants have to be brave enough to speak out and share feelings that are sometimes deeply personal. (And deeply rooted, too. We have to remember that we are challenging, or having others challenge, ideas that have been around for our participants since they were in diapers sometimes. We begin to learn sterotypes in early childhood, and sometimes, participants don't want to admit that mom or dad may not have had the right of it. These are emotional times for participants, and we have to let them learn from each other as much or as little as they want.)

Since we encourage our participants to share deeply held personal beliefs and incredibly moving stories, we need to make sure everyone is respected for what they bring to the table. We all have a unique viewpoint, brought about by our life experiences to date. We all learn different lessons at different times. Sometimes, we learn those lessons the hard way. Sometimes we learn by example what to do or not do. But we all learn at our own rate and in our own time. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". (Of COURSE it's a male horse, lol.) The same is true of participants. Some of us have to take a huge risk to change our opinions. It is a difficult thing to do: admit something we may have taken on faith for YEARS is wrong. It's a hard thing to recognize that we are privileged because of our gender or our skin color or our religion or whatever identity it is. It's hard to admit our world view is skewed. We cherish those lessons we learned in early childhood, and don't want to let them go. It's a risk to have that conversation. You don't want to learn that you have been privileged while you didn't even know it. You don't want to admit you've been blind, or that you don't see clearly. Sometimes, we fight harder for those things we have learned that make the least amount of sense, and we don't even know why we're fighting it.

Facilitation is an emotional process, and participants will be emotional about their learning in many cases. It's a painful process, to realize you've been a part of marginalizing others your whole life, without doing anything overtly oppressive. I know for a fact that I learned this lesson the hard way. I then felt guilty about it for weeks. I felt like I had done something wrong, when I was simply oblivious. These are extremely difficult realizations to come to, and very personal as well. Deep seated needs and beliefs are at play. There is a reason that these conversations are so difficult to have: they're intensely personal, and difficult for all involved. We have to trust others to see where we are in our own journey and respect us for what we bring to the table.

I see clearly how difficult multipartiality must be to achieve. It's another step in the process, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to judge people adequately enough to reach it. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and be brutally honest with people. In other words, don't ask my opinion of something unless you really want it. You're likely to get an earful. Unfortunately, my face is as easy to read as my words. I worry about facilitation with that face. It gives me away every time, sigh... This is one of the challenges Ali and I face as cofacilitators. We have to get used to each other's style and viewpoints. Our identities are opposite in many ways, and that is a good thing, in my opinion. We can learn from each other, and from the participants that we facilitate, which is a very good thing. What we learn from our endeavors depends solely on our desire to learn and our participants and each other as the sources of knowledge. I hope to learn much this year, about both leading and about social justice. I also hope to help others learn in any way I can.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Art of Effective Facilitation: Evolution of a Social Justice Educator's Professional Identity

Chapter 3

Okay, this week we read chapter three. It wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be, which was a disappointment. I did find some nuggets that will help me in developing myself as a social justice educator. One of the first things the author said was that she struggles with her identity as a social justice educator. And that made me feel so much better, because I struggle with my identity as a social justice educator too. I just feel like I don't know enough. There's so much to learn, and I don't nearly feel like I know what to be doing yet. It's much easier to teach one person at a time, I think, than to take on a whole group. There are so many pitfalls that way... And what happens when one person pisses another person off? Do we let them be angry at each other, and say mean things, do we try to control the discussion, what happens when we as facilitators get pissed off? I feel like a newborn when it comes to facilitation, and it makes me nervous.

Another thing I realized is that when people get emotional in this type of setting (during a workshop or meeting), it can sometimes be a beneficial thing. But it can also create an adversarial relationship between two people or two groups. This is especially difficult when someone gets angry. In most groups, this anger finds a target in someone of another group identity. For example, the black man may be angry with the white man who has just struggled to admit he has been oppressive before. Or the black woman may be angry with the black man who has just discovered that he thinks women are the weaker sex. (It's amazing the things you can realize during a training, workshop, or meeting. It was hard for me to realize that by not figting oppression where I found it, I was contributing to the status quo.) So in some ways, emotions (even anger) can be a good thing. In other ways, not so much. And the difference is in the people involved in the workshop. A statement in one workshop could be completely unchallenged, where with another group of participants, it could be like setting gasoline on fire.

One other thing I think is important. The author brought up a very interesting point. Every culture seems to think their standards for non verbal communication are universal. But they aren't. In the US, we make eye contact a lot with our bosses and coworkers. In Asian countries, this would be considered an insult. So when an American boss meets her Asian counterpart, she thinks he is untrustworthy because Asians do not make direct eye contact. And the Asian feels insulted that the American keeps trying to make eye contact. Neither is true, but the PERCEPTION is really all that matters. The Asian goes back to his colleagues and tells how rude the American was, while the American goes back to her colleagues and says the Asian was untrustworthy. In our communications across differences, it is best to talk about these types of things. If someone of another culture is speaking and says something verbally offensive or whose actions are offensive, it's best to ask if they know that what they said/asked/acted is offensive to you. It's hard to ask that type of question though. Or, if the person is drawing away and not wanting to talk to you any longer, maybe you can ask if you've offended them somehow. If we reach out instead of pulling back, we can learn about our neighbors in ways that empowers them - and us - to be better global citizens.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Reflections on an article: Reflections On Our Practice As Social Justice

Reflections On Our Practice As Social Justice: Educators: How Far We Have Come, How Far We Need To Go

This was a very interesting article. It followed the author's social justice education efforts down through the years (I see some parallels, but I have the benefit of MUCH more information) to the present, and then she looks at the things that may need to happen at other times to move forward. It was interesting to look at the evolution of social justice education from a single practitioner's standpoint, as it gave me some insights into ideas that I hold that need to change (the aforementioned inability to see my whiteness and privilege being one of them, of course). I liked seeing that the author made mistakes and did things wrong. It helps me to know that because I'm sure I'll make a few mistakes and I may do things wrong. Knowing up front that it probably WILL happen, and more than once, helps me to turn a mistake into a learning experience for both myself and my co-facilitator, as well as our participants for that day. I'm not, by any means, an expert on social justice education. And I have no problem with others learning from my mistakes. (After all, that's what they're for. To TEACH you something.)

I know that Kathy is one of Rebecca's heroes, and I was very interested in what she had to say. I actually learned a lot. But the key idea that I seized on from the article was the intersectionality of our identities and how this intersection drives us. I did quite a lot of thinking about this over the last couple of nights, and I'd like to share some of my ruminations with you. The first is that two people may share almost all of their identities. But that doesn't mean their identities affect them in the same way. It also doesn't mean that their identities INTERSECT in the same way. We all deal with this intersection differently. My mom and I are very alike in our identities, but VERY different in how we treat the world. We're both middle class white women who identify as cisgender, heterosexual, and Roman Catholic. We both spend a lot of time working. We enjoy a lot of the same leisure activities, and family is very important to both of us. But the way these identities intersect is totally different. She allows her judgments of people to color how she treats them, whereas I do not. I've often said I don't see color, creed, race, gender, etc... By this I mean I'm not making judgments on people because of these things. I accept people as they are, and am always looking for the good in them. (I can find good in most people, of some sort.) She looks for the bad. I accept that different people bring different things to the table. She thinks customs from other countries are weird or odd. So the fact that our identities are similar has NO EFFECT on how we interpret those identities and how we act them out.

And the intersectionality is sooooooooo fluid. In some situations, two of my identities interact in one way, but in another situation they may act in an opposite way. To me, this means that this intersectionality is dynamic and can change from situation to situation. When I started reading this article, it was in my head that my identities react to each other in a static way. (By static I mean unchanging.) But then I started reflecting and realized how easy it is to change the way this intersectionality works. One or two words different in what someone says to me, and I may have a completely different reaction to the sentence. My boss emphasized ambiguity once. He said look for ambiguity in tasks and refine them till there isn't any. He used a simple statement to prove his point: Tom didn't say Harry stole his wallet. But how many meanings can this statement have? I see eight. TOM didn't say Harry stole his wallet. (George did.) Tom DIDN'T say Harry stole his wallet. Tom didn't SAY Harry stole his wallet. (He implied it.) Tom didn't say HARRY stole his wallet. (He said George stole his wallet.) Tom didn't say Harry STOLE his wallet. (Tom lost it, and Harry found it.) Tom didn't say Harry stole HIS wallet. (He said Harry stole George's wallet.) Tom didn't say Harry stole his WALLET. (He said he stole his money clip.) So you can see how delicate words can be. We could react to the same sentence in very different ways. And a one or two word change can make a BIG difference. So we really need to look at how our identities are intersecting in the moment. Are they all involved, or are just a few involved? Are we acting in a triggered state? Do our identities intersect in certain ways around certain people or groups? Do we react to certain identities in certain ways? There are so many questions we can ask here, and if we ask them around different people, we're bound to get different answers to them.

It is my opinion that we all react to the things that happen in our lives based on which identities are intersecting at the time of the event. If our religious id is intersecting with our race id at the time of an event, we'll react differently to that event than we would if our gender id was interacting with our social class status id. And our reactions could be just a few words different, or they could be worlds apart. And I've come to the realization that my identities are what make me defensive or cautious or pedal to the metal. My identities drive me to respond in certain ways. When one is at the forefront, I respond in one way. If another is at the forefront, I respond in another way. I've come to realize my myriad identities need to be recognized as a big part of what drives me. My student identity drives me to get good grades. My employee identity drives me to do the best job I can at work. My white identity drives me to want to tell people what to do. My Roman Catholic identity drives my morals. These are just a few examples. But my identities are what drive me. If I'm in student mode at work, I have a hard time working. If I'm in work mode, I have a much easier time of it. And I've decided if I want to be a GOOD social justice educator, I need to be more conscious of exactly WHAT is driving me at any given moment: a tough task to be sure. I'm frequently oblivious to what is driving me, so becoming more aware is something I'll really have to work at. On the plus side, I do like to be challenged, so that'll make it a good thing for me to do. And so I'd like to challenge my readers (all four of them) to be more conscious of their identities and what is driving them when they interact with the world at large. I may try journaling, or maybe some brainstorming to see if I can get a better handle on this. Good luck to you in doing the same. (And feel free to leave a comment on this post for what you want to try and how you think it will work out for you.)

The Art of Effective Facilitation: From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces

Chapter 8

Chapter 8 hit home in some ways for me, because I have been wrestling with the idea of safe spaces in social justice education. I don't see how to both have an honest conversation where everyone can participate and also have a safe space. This is not to say that I don't think there should be ground rules. I think there should. However, I just don't see any way to create a space that is both safe and challenging for participants. These conversations about isms are SUPPOSED to be uncomfortable in some ways. And safe spaces don't allow for substantial discomfort. So how do the authors of this week's chapter bring these two ideas to bear on each other?

They talk about creating instead Brave Spaces, where participants can challenge each other (respectuflly) and really have those conversations about power and privilege. One thing the author pointed out that I don't think everyone remembers is that the discussions we have as a part of this come from our own dominant and subordinated identities. Each of us has both, and so each of us needs to think a bit more on what we're doing.Why are we resistent to having a certain conversation? Are we too tired to formulate our thoughts? Are we not sure what our opinion is? Are we resistent because the new idea introduced threatens our world view? If we want to jump into a conversation we can ask ourselves about that too. Why are we so eager to be heard? Are we defending our power and privilege? Are we eager to share with others so they can learn from us, or do we want to prove our point and preserve the status quo? These are all questions we need to ask when we decide when to participate and when not to participate.

I think, and this is just my opinion, that we NEED to challenge ourselves and our world view. If we don't, we're not learning much. This is something that is hard for me to do. I have this problem where I don't actually notice my whiteness and privilege. I KNOW I have it when I think about it, but it rarely crosses my mind. (One of my goals this year is to make myself more aware of my privilege and use it to further my social justice aims.) I need to challenge this view that I have that hard work pays off because it doesn't always, dependant on your group (dominant or subordinated). I'm not sure where this part of my world view comes from. It could come from the same place my privilege comes from. It may also come from my idealist nature. (That's the way the world SHOULD work, so it must work that way.) I'm having a hard time placing it. I want to say it's my idealism at work, but it could easily be my privilege since I don't tend to notice it.

Those are some of my takeaways from this chapter, and I've expanded on them quite a bit this week. I had several hours of tossing and turning last night (I had a bad asthma day yesterday, and so, since struggling to breathe wears me out, I slept most of the day. Then I went to bed at my normal time last night and woke up at three am wide awake. So I used the time to read some of the chapter and reflect on it while I tried to go back to sleep.), so I got quite a lot done in the middle of the night. (It's about the only time I HAVE for reflection.) Anyways, I'll be blogging again in a few minutes about an article Brice found and wanted us to share our thoughts on, so I'm gonna post this, then get to work on the next thing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Art of Effective Facilitation: Chapter 4

As I become more and more aware of the cycle of socialization around gender and gender norms around the world, I know that there is so much more to learn and explore. I see how we all have been conditioned to see male of female in such a way that when faced with someone who identifies outside of the binary;we can barley keep it together. From over friendly smiles to awkwardly asked questions. You know the questions I mean; the ones that you know come from the most caring soul but is used to see where exactly you fit. 

This chapter really hit home to me because of the intersection of my own identities. I am a Trans-person of Color who is also an American born African, a college student, a facilitator, a book worm, a Bengals fan and a great listener. These are all facets of me and I am usually about to express all of those identities in what ever fashion that I choose. Well, that is, all but one. The chapter focuses on TJ. As I read on, TJ and I were living parallel lives. From childhood through finding his own identity and realizing that no matter what he defined himself to be, others would still place him somewhere on the spectrum.

This chapter enlightened me to the way that cisgendered people really cared and really wanted to make an difference; even when they were unsure of uncomfortable. I have lived outside of the spectrum for most of my 28 years and only recently was able to say that I am in fact a trans-person aloud. This also made me think of my many years of RAPP and my wonderful facilitators. They used many of the ideas given in the book. One thing that I thought was kinda silly when I began my social justice journey years ago was the introduction of pronouns. Who would have thought that giving each person the space to identify themselves their own way made a huge difference? Even though some of them where "cis", they took the time out to include, educate and ponder  how such innate privileges are associated with living within the gender binary. The best thing is non-gendered bathrooms!! Being gender non-conforming can make the easiest task hard. If there are only bathrooms that take into consideration the sex that you were assigned at birth, where does the trans-person go? 

In retrospect, this chapter forced me out of the victimized stance and see thatpeople do care. There are ways to change the way we socialize children and ways to be easy and allow gender to be fluid and defined by each person as they see if fit for themselves.