Here's a picture taken last Saturday night, as the New England facilitation training class unwound at The Pizza Stone, just a few doors down from The Karass Inn, where we were gathered in Chester VT for an intensive three-day weekend. Starting on the left is Alyson (my co-trainer), Clinton, Laird, and Steve, followed by Sue, Valerie, Leslie, and Mary continuing around the horn.
You can see the detritus of dinner strewn around the table. Though the food and drink were scrumptious, we were worried about a restaurant where our group was a majority of their customers during the 6:30-8:30 stretch on a Saturday night. That's not a great business model. Of course, having the place more or less to ourselves helped our group hear each other across the table—something we often struggle with—and we got excellent service. (We're hoping that they were just caught between seasons: with leaf peeping behind them and skiing dead ahead.)
I decided to share this image because it saves 1000 words, helping make clear the potency of the class engaging in ways other than in the classroom. Alyson and I endeavor to teach facilitators to work with the whole person (by which we mean the emotional, intuitive, kinesthetic, and perhaps spiritual, as well as the rational) and that means walking our talk—teaching the whole person and purposefully engaging the students at multiple levels. Laughter and singing, for example, are used liberally (who wants to be grim all the time?) and tears are never far from the surface when we dance close to the bone.
Thus, we shut down the classroom around 5 pm each Saturday (after being at it nonstop since 9 am Friday) and step out together. On the occasion of last Saturday the skids were greased by Clinton, who just so happened to bring a bottle of homemade mead from Buffalo—which helped us shuffle off to dinner with smiles all around even before anyone had ordered their first beer.
While drinking is optional during the off-hours of our class, it's advantageous as an accelerant when you want to let your hair down. (Of course, after chemotherapy this past summer I don't particularly have much to let down, but it's slowly growing back, nicely paralleling my body's ability to handle alcohol again. These days I have a drink about once a week instead of the near daily intake of a year ago—and that's plenty.)
While we prefer a larger class (10-12 is ideal, balancing greater income without compromising individual attention and opportunity), from a learning perspective half a dozen is terrific. With smaller numbers there was plenty of breathing room, allowing us to tease out the tangled threads of personal distress whenever we encountered tender knots—which is a difficult thing to schedule.
Since first launching this two-year facilitation program in 2003, I've delivered the training in its entirety eight times and have three more currently underway (in New England, the Pacific Northwest, and in North Carolina), and two more on the drawing boards (one in the Mid-Atlantic States and another in Colorado). While I've tweaked various aspects of the program over the years, some things worked well right out of the starting gate and have become bedrock features:
o Whenever possible I work with a co-trainer (preferably a woman for the gender mix).
o Weekends always begin with a Thursday evening check-in, followed by teaching that starts full bore at 9 am Friday, and continues through a Sunday afternoon closing.
o The main approach to teaching is to learn through doing. While there is plenty of time for questions, typically two-thirds of each weekend is devoted to preparing for, delivering, and debriefing live meetings that the students facilitate for the host group—with the trainers in the room as a safety net in case the students lose their way or are ineffective.
o Although we almost always work into the evening on Fridays, we scrupulously take a break after Saturday afternoon. The students tend to be running on fumes by then anyway and need time to recharge their batteries. Instead of accomplishing that by dispersing in solitude, we encourage the class to eat out together (at some inexpensive nearby restaurant with decent acoustics and a liquor license). We eat ravenously—it takes prodigious quantities of carbohydrates both to facilitate and to learn about facilitation—and laugh until our sides ache, followed by an early bedtime. (Hint: if you can't laugh at yourself this training will kill you.)
o At some point or other everyone goofs up—including the trainers—and that moment invariably becomes grist for the mill: another fucking growth opportunity.
Leslie (the Québécoise sitting second from the right in the photo above) mentioned Sunday that she once met a woman who was able to listen to a discussion and then weave the essence of what she'd heard into a pithy poem. (Wow!) In that spirit I offer this ditty entitled Facilitation Feedback, sung to the tune of Wells Fargo Wagon (from the Broadway hit musical The Music Man):
O-ho facilitation feedback's comin' to our group,
—with apologies to Meredith Willson