Philippa Bogle shares two true stories that warm the heart and renew your faith in what is possible through facilitation.

The powers of facilitation skills are far reaching. I have championed  the unique one-to-one technique from coaching, mentoring or counselling, which transforms thinking and behaviour in both the receiver and the giver. Yet there’s even more to share: successful facilitation given by a key support person to a teacher – or to a head.

Settle back and read two ground-breaking examples that will encourage you to use resources you’ve always had but, perhaps, never considered in this way before.

Seeing through new eyes

The first story – facilitation has no hierarchy

In the north of England, a mixed group of school professionals were half-way through a facilitation skills development programme. The group all worked within the same secondary school and were encouraged to identify a ‘practice partner’ to begin honing their facilitation skills.

‘I don’t know who I can approach,’ said a young, school finance manager, ‘I’d really like to facilitate another member of the support staff but I doubt whether anyone could give the time at the moment.’ The group mulled it over. ‘Does it matter if you ask a teacher to be your practice partner?’ asked the head of geography. I replied ‘To be totally honest, no. Effective facilitation has no hierarchy or need for specialist knowledge attached to it – but it’s never been tried before, the mix between key support and teaching, in terms of giving facilitation support. Might be a worthwhile exercise!’

So the facilitation relationship between Jean and Graham took shape. Over the following few weeks, Jean, the finance manager recruited Graham, head of maths as her practice facilitation partner. This took courage – a ‘daring to be different’, as Jean said afterwards. In turn, Graham was curious to see what Jean could offer that could be valuable to him in his maths role but she assured him he had everything to gain. First of all, Jean had to move beyond the thought that Graham was a teacher. ‘It stood in the way for part of that first session’, she said afterwards ‘and then, when I decided I just needed to work with the idea that he was just a peer professional in school – just doing a different job – the floodgates opened for both of us. We really got going and I was able to both manage and affect Graham’s work so that he achieved incredible differences, quickly’.

The full depth of Jean’s facilitation effect on Graham was not realised until, as part of the presentation she had to give within the assessment for her facilitation skills qualification, she shared what Graham had been able to do. Ever creative, Jean had decided to use a jug of water and a bowl to get her message across. ‘I thought it was a long-shot, but I practised what I’d learned and come to believe in: the questioning skills, the projective listening, the challenging and making links with what I heard and saw. Pretty soon, I was able to offer another, valuable perspective to Graham that he couldn’t see for himself – and it didn’t matter a jot that I wasn’t a teacher because it wasn’t about knowing maths or even teaching! It was, however, about behaviour; being ‘stuck’ in some of them, seeing and doing things differently and making different impact because of it.

I became a stronger leader in our sessions – all without telling him what to do – but I helped him to realise he had the answers, himself, through working in different ways, using different techniques.’ She poured some water from the jug into the bowl and dropped a small stone in the middle, making ripples spread outwards. ‘The impact of my work with Graham is that he’s now doing new things, or doing things differently. Some are small things, but they’re making very big differences to his stress reduction, creativity, confidence and improved relationships. I’m totally astounded – I never thought I could influence teaching through being in the finance office! Graham and I have proved that key support personnel and teachers can really integrate their work.’

Two weeks later, Jean was asked to repeat her presentation to a wider audience across school. Eighteen months down the line, an Ofsted report commented on the unusually excellent relationships that exist between all school personnel and how this effected a new, dynamic ‘can do’ culture in school.

Jean now helps to coordinate all staff development and continues to use her facilitation skills, on a regional basis.

Taking the shades off

The second story – moving away from stereotypes

Richard, an administrator, had trained as a school facilitator and had gained his Certificate in Facilitation Skills. He was, however, now without anyone to facilitate. ‘I really want to use these skills,’ he said, ‘and I can’t access anyone in school, for the moment, who would like or need facilitation support – it’s frustrating.’

Five weeks later I found myself talking to Lillian, who was due to take up an acting headship and was terrified, despite the many years she had experienced as a teacher and then head of a department. We explored possible avenues of support and then Richard popped into my mind. I weighed up the pros and cons of this potentially unique situation and then sounded Lillian out. ‘I don’t know what I could gain, I have to be honest,’ she said, ‘if you think it’s worth trying, then I’ll commit to one meeting and suspend judgement’. Richard was not at all sure he saw it as an opportunity. ‘I know I wanted to facilitate soon but I can’t say I feel confident about this one – it’s quite a bit different – she’ll be a head!’

There was no reason why it couldn’t work but it did need both people to get away from stereotypes and approach it as just two people working together, using facilitation techniques. Richard would have to believe this and lead it from the start, instead of giving way to his natural feelings of awe. The only thing would be to try it out: to introduce them and watch how Richard started to work with the situation for one meeting.

‘We’ve had two hours together,’ Lillian reported back some three weeks later, ‘and, do you know, I’m really hoping Richard will feel able to continue with the facilitation – it’s quite astounding what’s obvious to me now in terms of taking up this post – and I’m more confident! I’ve got a plan.’ Richard and Lillian did continue to work together: the administrator facilitating an acting head, for four meetings. Richard was able to present different perceptions of how Lillian could see herself – and help destroy fictitious barriers that existed for her. The final analysis from Lillian was that the facilitation had been simply a most powerful, accelerated human-to-human skill, with no bearing on roles from either the facilitator or facilitee’s stand-points. ‘I owe him such a great deal,’ she said, ‘and it seems he’s learned a great deal from the experience, too.’

Lillian is now the successful head of a primary school and Richard has a senior post in his local LEA. I’m pleased to say they are both qualified facilitators.

Both stories prove that with a bit of courage, creativity and ‘daring to be different’, extraordinary things for individuals – and for schools – can be achieved through facilitation. Is there a place for facilitation in your school? You have the power – and the resources – you only need to accept the challenge. TEX

Philippa Bogle would be delighted if you contacted The Bogle Consultancy for a free one-hour consultation on the development of facilitation, mentoring or coaching skills and to find out more about the Certificate of Facilitation Skills in Education.