You know that feeling you get when, after a long work week, you meet some old friends for beverages at a local haunt? That’s a little of how I’ve felt coming back to Instagram. It’s not that I’m particularly down on Twitter or the blogosphere in any way. I still cherish the interactions and connections I have in these spaces. I just can’t help but juxtapose Instagram with my go-tos because I’ll admit that I’m finding some aspects of the former quite refreshing. There’s one difference, in particular, that hit me immediately.
It’s so easy to comment on Instagram.
Unlike most blogs, which still makes the commenting process a little 2010, if not completely onerous (yes, the irony of me posting this on my WordPress blog has dawned on me), Instagram makes commenting almost a must. There is absolutely no barrier to it. Just a little box waiting for you to write, with no character limit, and no pressure to be highly eloquent.
And, my goodness, sometimes emoji speak so much louder than words!
I know that I’ve arrived late to this party, so it must feel to some of you like you’re a Parisian being told by a foreigner how great croissants are, but I must say that the ‘Gram sure is making social media fun for me again.
I mean, where else does one get to live vicariously through someone travelling in the bamboo forests of Kyoto?
Playgrounds today. They’re beautiful, colourful, inclusive, and safer than ever. If you’re privileged, like my family is, to live in a place like the suburban Greater Toronto Area, playgrounds are also in abundance. You can’t go a few blocks without hearing, “Can we stop and play there, daddy!!!” It’s wonderful for families, kids, and communities. There’s just one thing.
From my absurdly casual data collection, there is approximately a 2:1 ratio of parents to children on most of the playgrounds where I live. To go to your average middle-class playground is to witness adult intervention at its most active. I dare you to think of even one instance of this from your childhood just a generation or two ago. This cultural shift fascinates me, especially in light of how unsafe some of the structures from the past actually were. These days, we are literally putting ourselves in the middle of kids:
Climbing very safe structures;
Creating imaginary scenarios for play;
Meeting and socializing with new children.
And I’m not waving my finger here at everyone else. My wife and I are as guilty of this as anyone, especially in the early days of parenting. But I’m starting to think that our playgrounds are symbolic of both our strengths and flaws as modern parents. What are/will be the consequences of us constantly mediating play and social interaction?
I have this exceptionally simplistic belief: if siblings stick together, the world will be alright.
I know, it lacks any kind of nuance or inclusivity for all the single children out there, but I think you know that I’m being at least a little bit figurative in my use of “brother” and “sister”.
It’s actually a very selfish hope more than anything. My wife and I spawned three monsters, so it’s really me hoping that they’ll text each other when they’re older, and buy pho lunches for one another when days are rainy. I always tell them: If you’re going to conspire, at least conspire together. I still get ridiculously delighted inside when I see my youngest daughter draw a glorious stick figure picture of her big bro, or watch my middle boy get reluctantly sad about his big sister being away for a night on a sleepover, or witness my eldest teach the other two how to do things without parental provocation.
It’s not surprising then that I enjoyed watching the steady stream of posts for #NationalSiblingDay #SiblingDay this past week.
Social media can seem awash in hate, misery, and bitterness, but frequently it is full of love. I was reminded of that this past #NationalSiblingDay.
Yesterday I was joking around with one of our closest family teenagers and suggested we take a selfie together for fun. Her response?
“Ew, that’s so mainstream.”
I then asked her if selfies were ruined by adults like me.
“No, it’s not that. I’ve just always hated selfies, and I don’t know why people go crazy about them. It’s like you have to do them to be cool”
As someone who believes that teenage rebellion is one of the most important ingredients to maintaining a stable, balanced society, my conversation with our family friend reminded me that sometimes the biggest act of rebellion is refusing to take part in the things that make up the canon of cool.
There’s a word in Korean that is arguably the most important in the culture:
밥 (pronounced “bahp”)
It can mean cooked rice or a meal, and for people who grew up with the word in their house, it’s usually thought of in the context of:
밥을먹고! (COME EAT!)
Before starting school in Canada, I only spoke Korean at home, so I thought 밥 was the universal word for food. I either wanted 밥, had too much 밥, dropped my 밥 on the ground, or got 밥 shoved in my mouth. I’m pretty sure I knew that a banana was different than a spicy bowl of Korean soup, and that short ribs tasted different than octopus, but I still generally considered all of it to be 밥.
This is quite different to how my own first-language English children are growing up. Perhaps because of both linguistic and cultural differences, they started naming specific ingredients in food pretty much since they could utter words. “That’s rice”, “this is chicken”, and “I don’t like asparagus”.
Let me tell you, I grew up eating good food. Sure, my parents fluctuated on the spectrum of income, and we were certainly low on that continuum in the earliest (and various other) days, but we always ate well. I did not complain.
Until I started school.
It was at school that I started learning about the food groups and how important it was to eat healthy. As soon as I learned about it, I remember coming home to tell my mother.
“Mom, we’ve got to start eating vegetables.”
“Vegetables. We have to eat more. Like broccoli or spinach or peas. C’mon mom, please!”
Meanwhile, my dinner that day probably resembled something like this.
A photo posted by royan the dragon🐲 (@spicylearning) on
Koreans eat a ridiculous amount of vegetables. But, obviously, I didn’t even know that myself. I wasn’t in the habit of naming and compartmentalizing individual ingredients on our dinner table. It was all 밥 to me. I’ll never forget seeing a TV dinner for the first time and dreaming about how much healthier my diet would be if I had some of those baby carrots and mashed potatoes on the side of my meat.
I thought back to this time in my life recently after having a conversation with other educators about English as a Second Language Learners and standardized testing. We talked about the importance of making the tests equitable by making sure vocabulary and cultural references were not specific to just one dominant culture. One person noticed that “plywood” was being used in a math problem, and was concerned about which cultures might be unfairly puzzled by the concept. This immediately made me think of 밥, so I reminded them that perhaps it wasn’t that some students are puzzled by the thing itself, but just by the word.
Being a child of colour or low income doesn’t necessarily preclude you from having rich, intricately-woven life experiences. Instead of always thinking that fostering equity means filling in knowledge and experiential deficits, let’s remember that social assistance recipients go camping, Iranians are engineers, and Koreans eat vegetables, too.
Some days you wake up and feel grateful because you are surrounded by happy, healthy, and inspired people. That’s how I felt this morning when I rose from my slumber and grabbed juicy kisses from my children and wife, how I will feel this coming week when I go back to work with my next-level genius colleagues after a great break , and also how I felt a couple of weeks ago when I got to hang with a couple of inspired women, Penny Lam and Joanne Babalis.
Penny is a dynamic fashionista, devoted mother, and newly-minted vice-principal in our great school board. She’s the type of person who makes you feel like great things are possible and takes action to make it happen. I’m honoured to call her a friend, and am grateful to her for bringing the three of us together. Her blog is an up-and-comer.
Joanne you probably know unless you have been resting under an edu-rock somewhere. For the past decade, she has slowly but surely been making an indelible mark on education, particular in the worlds of early years pedagogy and inquiry-based learning. A true artist (and Style Master in her own right), Joanne is the definition of a pioneer and leader. Oh, by the way, not many know how funny she is.
So, mix one cup of Penny, four tablespoons of JoJo, a pinch of Korean chili powder, and get a slick chef like Burman Lam and crew to whip it all together. It results in the video below, and the continued conversation between Joanne and I which follows.
Describe your blog to us. Who is it for, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
Joanne: My blog, TransformEd: Transforming our learning environment into a space of possibilities, is about early childhood education – most specifically, classroom design, creativity, the Reggio Emilia approach from Italy, and inquiry-based learning. The intended audience was originally educators in various contexts (e.g., teachers, designated early childhood educators, teacher candidates, graduate students, administrators, and systems support staff), however, my goal is that it will eventually reach a wider audience that might include parents of young children, artists, and creative thinkers who believe that anything is possible when we dare to be different and step outside of the box.
I hope TransformEd will continue to be a place that allows my unique voice (and images) to be heard/shared about my ideas on education, modern learning, and life, as well as a source of insight into how my thinking is always in transformation. I strongly believe that we are constantly evolving if we are open to learning each day. The moment that we think we know everything about a given topic means that there is no room left for us to grow. To me, a curious inquirer at heart, that would be a very sad day! Blogs have the potential to share a journey, and I couldn’t be happier to know that my journey is just beginning!
Royan: The Spicy Learning Blog is about me and my thoughts. If you read it, you’re going to see me reflected in every part of it. Since I’m a family man, progressive educator, and general nerd, you’re going to like reading it if you find that type of person interesting. I hope my blog touches readers’ emotions and intelligence. Most of all, I blog because I consider it an outlet for creative, autonomous expression. You don’t want to see me on a day when I feel I don’t have that.
What prompted you to start blogging?
Royan: In 2008-2009, I was part of a network of educators from three different Ontario school board’s learning about Instructional Intelligences. It was there that a lovely educator named Danika Barker (now Danika Tipping) approached me and asked me if I’d seen the great blog post Kent Manning wrote about an Ontario Ministry of Education video my class had starred in. My first thought was, “What is a blog? And who is this dude writing about me on it?” Needless to say, I read it and loved it. Then a light bulb went off in my head.
Growing up, one of my dreams was always to be a writer. I have also always been someone obsessed with new media creation. It was predestined that I would sit at my kitchen breakfast bar one day and write my first post and send my first tweet.
Joanne: I started blogging during my Master of Education program at York University. A colleague of mine suggested that I share my pedagogical documentation online as a means to track my journey and see the growth in my research and learning about the inquiry approach. Having had some experience with blogging in my undergraduate degree and knowing that YouTube “how-to” videos were always at my fingertips, I dove right in! I wasn’t too concerned about my visuals, writing, or if anyone would read it. Instead, I focused on using the blog as a vehicle for my own reflection. If someone told me back then that I would have over a million views, let alone a hundred, I would have called them crazy! To this day, I cannot wrap my head around how this happened, and that a simple blog could have such a powerful influence!
What do you love about blogging?
Royan: I love blogging because it’s fun. As a kid, I was always fascinated with non-fiction media in the form of magazines and newspapers. I spent a lot of time in my bedroom trying to create my own zines (which, I believe, were the precursor to blogs), and always dreamt of having a byline in a newspaper. My blog takes me back to that feeling. It’s my own little sandbox.
Blogging gives me clarity. It takes the muddle of thoughts in my mind and turns it into something cohesive. I also love the fact that there might be even one person out there that reads a post and is inspired or impacted in any way. When people approach me and say that a particular blog post gave them an idea, made them think in new ways, or caused them to make deep connections, it makes my day.
Joanne: Blogging has become my passion and has changed my life. I love that feeling when your blog post goes public and you push the “publish” button. Such an adrenaline rush!!
Why else do I love to blog so much? It’s because it provides me with a creative outlet. For instance, I can be creative with my words, my photography, my graphic design, and, of course, the work that I am showcasing within the photographs and blog posts! Since I started to blogging and sharing on popular social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.), it has opened up a new world of opportunities for me both professionally and personally! As a result of the blog, I got hired by York University to instruct their Kindergarten Additional Qualification courses, to speak at workshops and conferences across Canada, to learn from young children in my new role as Teacher Librarian, to engage with talented artists, academics, and techy’s, to create my own network of educators that meet monthly (#CTInquiry Connected through inquiry: A curious community of learners), to study at the PhD level, and as of most recent, to begin my own consulting company (TransformEd Consulting Services). Though, my blog has made me believe that anything is truly possible and that dreams can become our reality, I never take this for granted. I often look back at my humble beginnings, and feel as excited and thankful as I did then when a new follower sends me an email, posts a comment, asks me for some advice, or comes up to meet me at an educational event or Michaels (yes that did happen!). I am motivated and committed to blog, in hopes of making a difference for educators and essentially for the young children that they are so fortunate to work with each day!
What challenges do you face as a blogger?
Joanne: One of the biggest challenges that I face as a blogger is that I am sometimes seen as an expert. What I am sharing is just one example of early learning, and it is always changing as I learn from courses, professional readings, and from collaborative experiences with educators and children. The ideas shared are my own and are not the “right” way or “only” way. I hope that the audience can feel connected to what I share and leave inspired to try a version of what they feel is right for their students and context. Even when I worked in the same school, same classroom, with the same DECE teaching partner, same administrator, and same community, our practice changed year-to-year according to the needs and interests of our learners. Trying to replicate or view the strategies shared on the blog as a formula/recipe to be copied, will only cause frustration. Your best teachers are your students! Take the time to get to know them and observe what messages they are communicating to you about their learning. The children have taught me far more than any conference, course, or article!
Sometimes being overly transparent has lead to the criticism of my blog content, but I am learning to be strong and stay true to myself! In this journey, I recognize that I cannot please everyone, so I take great joy in hearing from those who have found it helpful. My goal is to inspire one classroom at a time to begin their own transformation, and if I can accomplish that, then I will feel as though I have made a positive difference to the education community.
Royan: I can really relate to what Joanne’s saying here. Educational blogging is often seen as just another way to share best practices or expertise, but I hope we think of it more as a process of thinking, reflection, and documentation. It’s tough because you put yourself out there, and sometimes your ideas will get picked apart because folks presume you’re trying to make grand, universal statements. I’ve recently realized as well that I’m quite privileged in the sense that female bloggers seem to get nit-picked or trolled far more than male ones such as myself. I find that really disconcerting as a husband, son, and father of two future female superheroines.
In what ways has your blog evolved over time? How do you hope it changes in the future?
Joanne: My blog has truly been through an evolution both in its physical appearance, as well as in its content. When I first started to blog, I used the Blogger template and wrote really long posts with a few photographs or video clips that were specific to early childhood education. Currently, the blog went through a makeover with the help of a graphic designer from San Francisco, California, and looks completely different! It has a fresher feel and showcases more of my educational photography, as well as who I am on a personal level. I have started to write less, and share more of my thinking through visuals. This was an intentional decision, as I believe a picture is worth a thousand words, which leaves room for my audience to make their own interpretation(s). My hope for the future is that it continues to make visible my transformation in classroom design, photography, pedagogy, creative thinking, and life! It will be fun to blog as a parent too, but one step at a time!!! I just got married…
Royan: Like Joanne, my blog has gradually moved more into the visual over just text, and I received tons of help from my buddy Fred in redesigning my old generic WordPress theme. Other than that, by blog hasn’t really changed in purpose. I still write and publish because I enjoy the process and since it helps me reflect. The biggest evolution, I guess, has been my outlook on educational technology (#edtech). Many people started reading The Spicy Learning Blog for my experiences, ideas, and reflections on #edtech. I still love writing about it and always will. However, I would say that I started out with a real utopian view of tech in education in the first few years of my blog, and have know evolved to recognizing the inextricable paradoxes that #edtech brings us. For example, the tools can be transformative and liberating while simultaneously reproducing inequity. Also, they can aid social justice actions or supporting corporate hegemony. There are so many gray areas. So, I guess it is my ideas that have evolved as much as anything, and I’m actually very proud of that.
Do you have any tips for bloggers who find it hard to find an audience, or publish posts regularly? What has/hasn’t worked for you?
Royan: First, keep blogging, don’t stop. Karate chop that voice in your head that reminds you constantly, “Why are you bothering with this? You know you suck, right? As if anyone’s going to read this…” That creature on your shoulder is not your friend. Second, create a workflow for blogging. It should weave itself seamlessly into your daily life. If it feels like a onerous school assignment, you’re doing it wrong. Lastly, keep it simple. If you want to write about how good your cup of coffee was this morning, the best Magic the Gathering game you ever played, or how great your grandma’s perogies are, just do it and do it right. By not trying to change the world with your blog, you actually just might.
Joanne: My honest advice is don’t blog or post on social media in hopes for more followers, likes, retweets, pins, and views. Just do your thing and do not worry about what other people think of you or your work. I never thought that I would have an audience, let alone one that extends throughout the world! Reading comments or emails from places like Australia, Asia, Europe, was never even in the scope of my imagination! However, even when this wasn’t the case and I had an impact on a single follower (one, in particular, stands out in my memory who introduced themselves at a conference and shared that she cherished her time reading my posts with her tea), makes me feel like it was all worthwhile!
Over the years, I used to follow a schedule for blogging, but now just give myself weekly goals and am more flexible when “real life” happens. Being less predictable with my posts, makes it a fun surprise for my blog visitors and allows them to discover something new that they hadn’t come across the last time! I also make it a point to share bits and pieces of my posts on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, which might encourage those who stumble upon it to read the entire story!
Thank you from my heart for continuing to peek into my reality! I hope that I can continue this conversation with all of you for many more years to come…
Connect with the Origins of Blogging crew at the following places and spaces:
In this day and age, it’s rare to meet a person who has not heard that humans may be either left-brained or right-brained. If you are predisposed to the left, you are said to be logical, analytical, and linear. Should you be intractably inclined to the right, you are deemed to be creative, imaginative, and “artsy”.
Similarly, we almost take for granted the theory of Learning Styles which categorizes people as visual, musical, kinesthetic, verbal, or logical, among other things.
While few can deny the appeal of such categories, even fewer can cite any robust science to back them up.
Here’s Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Deputy Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Institution University College London, on Left-Brain-Right-Brain Myths:
This is an idea that makes no physiological sense. There’s a fibrous tract in the middle of your brain that connects up the two hemispheres, and that tract, called the corpus callosum, enables the two hemispheres to talk to each other within a few milliseconds. So it’s simply not possible for one hemisphere to function without the other one joining in. Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, there was quite a lot of very high impact, extremely interesting research on flip brain patients who have their corpus callosum surgically removed, mostly for unretractable epilepsy. It’s not done anymore, but back then it was done a few times. What [the researcher] found was that each hemisphere played a role in different tasks and different cognitive function, and that normally one hemisphere dominated over another. This was really interesting and important scientific work, but what I think happened was it was misinterpreted in the general public to suggest that all of us are either left-brained or right-brained. Actually, most of us have a functioning corpus callosum, so we use both our hemispheres all the time.
[Facetiously] My learning style was very simple: Give me the information, leave me alone, and please, please Dear God, don’t make me work in a group. And no posters. I still have PTSD over poster projects [laughs].
It seems legit, and people in education have certainly taken it to heart, but when you actually review the evidence, it turns out that there … is some evidence that learning styles matter, but that’s not normally a function of the person, it’s a function of the material. So, certain material is presented better in certain ways. If we’re studying physics [for instance], we want to do a physical demonstration, because if you just put formulas on the board it doesn’t mean anything.
What is this force within us which desires compartmentalization and binary thinking in trying to understand ourselves? Why do we use misinformed or an outright absence of science to inform pedagogy? And finally, if we wish to develop learners with growth mindsets and true resilience and grit, how can we suggest that the way we learn is fixed at birth in these other ways? These were the types of questions the latest Podcasts for Pedagogues I’ve curated for you below had me wondering about.
Yes, that was when Dove exposed how the cosmetic industry uses digital manipulation to create an artificial representation of beauty. We were stunned, we were shocked, we loved Dove for revealing the truth. This was not to be outdone by their gorgeously shot and edited viral videos of ethnically homogenous women and girls reflecting on “Real Beauty”.
Dove, again, was “keeping it real”. Now, their marketing geniuses have come up with something as massive as it gets when it comes to brand-led social awareness campaigns: #speak beautiful, a crusade to flood social media streams with positive comments on women’s beauty as opposed to the disproportionate number of negative ones. Dove has some huge players involved in this campaign, not the least of which being the immensely respected cutting edge social media researcher and author, danah boyd (read her post endorsing it and my comment here). The following video was all over the Oscars last weekend attempting to take down all the negative comments on social media about women on the red carpet. No one can argue against the effectiveness of this clip.
Though I am certainly not the first blogger to write about this in the past decade, I feel it’s another good time for us to remember that Dove is owned by the multinational, billion-dollar company Unilever. Unilever also owns TRESemmé, whose web presence looks like this:
I’m not sure “diverse beauty” would be the word I would use to describe the words or imagery above. Of course, it has long ago been revealed that Unilever also owns Axe and Lynx, who are infamous for their ads which frequently resemble this:
So, I’m wondering, would that not be akin to Adidas going on a social media campaign to end low wages and child labour in sports garment production while their subsidiary Reebok carried on as per usual? Another analogy might be if Minute Maid marketed their fresh fruit juices with a hashtag #stopsugarydrinks in the interests of public health while its parent company Coca-Cola, well, kept being Coca-Cola.
It’s never been as complex and so fascinating to do work in media literacy. The next time you hear someone dismiss its importance in learning, tell them about Dove, and how hard it’s gotten to deconstruct a brand’s intentions in our world of social media. Tell them about Unilever, and how globalisation and multinational conglomerates play with their image based on context and need. Tell them, most of all, that adding “media” in front of “literacy” is becoming increasingly redundant.
I’ve read a fantastic book recently, and you know what bloggers do when they get excited about a book…
It’s called The Choreography of Presenting: The Seven Essential Abilities of Effective Presenters, by Kendall Zoller and Claudette Landry. If you are someone like me, who frequently stands in front of other adults to present ideas, persuade, or facilitate learning, I think you might find it enlightening, if not just plain useful. Zoller and Landry (Z&L) write pragmatically and simply about something we rarely consider in an explicit manner in education: How do you use your space, body, movement, speaking voice, and ability to read people to give better, more purposeful, less anxiety-driven presentations and facilitated sessions? They posit seven interrelated areas we all need to plan for and enact.
(Note that, of course, these techniques should not be considered universal, especially considering the variation in human physical makeup, as well as cultural variabilities.)
1. Establish Credibility
This was my favourite section of the book, as I’m a card-carrying member of the Credibility is Everything Club. Z&L talk first about the two different voices we should use when speaking to our group: the approachable voice and the credible voice. The former has more fluctuation and melody. They suggest we use it to be invitational, encourage divergent thinking, and build trust in the group. The latter, credible voice, they say, has less audible modulation, and is best employed when you want to be definitive, or to move the group from one activity to another without uncertainty or doubt. I found it fascinating that sometimes we unintentionally create uncertainty, discomfort, and undermine our own credibility as facilitators and presenters by using too modulated a voice tone in moments when it is unnecessary.
Z&L also write about the importance of strategic pauses, whether it’s through your spoken word, your body language, or a still hand gesture. By using intentional, pregnant pauses when speaking with the group, Z&L suggest we alert them to important moments where you’re asking for everyone to pay special attention or focus.
Another simple, yet rarely discussed technique which aids one’s credibility, they say, is your stance as a presenter:
Feet are parallel and hip-distance apart.
Arms are perpendicular to the ground and relaxed, or intentionally parallel.
Breathing comes calmly and deeply from your abdomen.
Stand still and calm.
Throughout the book, Z&L stress the impact that a presenter’s breathing has on session participants. According to them, by breathing heavy, fast, or not at all, one can actually illicit conflict and anxiety rather than maintain credibility. But all of this doesn’t even come close to what was my favourite part of their section on credibility.
There is one technique Z&L write about which is a method I’ve tried to use for some time now, but always thought was my own crazy idea that wouldn’t work for others. You might call it The Elephant in the Room. It’s where, as a presenter, if you anticipate or come upon conflict or a proverbial elephant in the room, you actually leverage it to maximum effect.
For example, many of us are often in positions where something that seems fantastic, in theory, is not widely embraced by a majority of people because it is seen as just that: nice in theory, “impossible” in practice. According to K&L, by honestly recognizing this type of cognitive dissonance in a group at the beginning of a session, bringing it out into the open, and then suggesting that the goal of your session is to solve this dilemma, you automatically gain credibility because you are, at the very least, not seen as someone with a “party line” or convenient suspension of disbelief.
2. Build and Sustain Rapport
When people are in rapport, say K&L, there is alignment in voice tone, breathing, and actions. Rapport, moreover, is not about agreement, but engagement. To build and sustain it, they say, you must orchestrate effective questioning before and during your session. K&L also recommends using a strategy they call Yellow Light, where, should you have content that may cause discomfort in a group, you warn your group beforehand so that they can be intellectually and emotionally prepared.
3. Read the Group
There are two types of groups, say K&L. Ones with high internal familiarity, and others with low internal familiarity. By knowing whether the members of a group know each other well or not, you have made a sound start to reading your group. Assess engagement and rapport within small groups through body language. If groups trust the presenter, you should notice many eyes looking in their direction when speaking. Should you sense that you are “losing” your group, K&L recommend the previously mentioned strategies of Yellow Light, pregnant pausing, and hand gestures to retain rapport.
4. Balance Task, Process, and Group Development
One mistake we often make in presentations and facilitation, K&L say, is not communicating and/or establishing clear protocols for cognitive and collaborative tasks. Don’t confuse your participants when you’re asking them to do something. Also, when making eye contact with individuals, they recommend one acts again with a clear intention, using it selectively and strategically. Use eye contact for learning conversation, while setting it aside for management moments, as adults do not respond well to being individually managed in a group.
5. Listen to and Acknowledge Group Participants
When asking questions of, and receiving responses from, the group, K&L recommend standing still, pausing, and following through with probing or paraphrasing. The idea is to honour what people are saying, and to allow speakers to retain ownership of their words, not to take over as a presenter.
6. Respond Appropriately
There are times when, either because of the people or the content you are facilitating, you might come across push-back or outright conflict in the room. We’ve all been in those positions, for instance, where a pointed question is asked which implicitly or overtly disagrees with an important process or idea trying to be delivered. In those situations, K&D say, one should remember never to engage in a back-and-forth with the individual(s). Much like a classroom, they say, it is not really the question that is being assessed by the group, but the manner in which you as a facilitator responds to it. Do you get flustered? Do you pour fuel on the fire? Or do you acknowledge and diffuse the situation through your artful reading of the group?
7. Recover with Grace
We all have moments where we make mistakes or “lose” our groups when facilitating learning or presenting ideas. The key is not to attempt perfection, but to recover with grace. K&L tell us that “location has memory”. If something negative has occurred in one part of the room, change it up. Take the memory of it away. Presenting, they say, is a dance in the sense that one is trying to create patterns. Therefore, if one pattern is not working, change it up. Breathe and break the pattern.
My Biggest Takeaways
As I stated at the beginning of my post, I just love the idea of deconstructing the techniques that strong presenters and facilitators use to create great adult learning experiences. Choreography helped me reflect on four things in particular with my own work in this area: establishing credibility, breathing, physical movement and location, and the importance of explicitly planning for all of the preceding. Lately, for instance, I’ve been experimenting a little with trying to see how I can use intentional, relaxed breathing to get my groups to feel calm and safe in my sessions, and I noticed that it’s true that you can actually change how people breathe around you. It’s like a Jedi mind trick! Whenever I work with people to support better thinking or practice, I want to think of the process as a science and an art. Hopefully, my groups will feel they’ve been a part of a dance without even knowing there was a floor or music.