Teacher and group facilitator Celia Baly describes the challenge of getting out of the way so that children and young people can talk about how emotions affect their experience.
I am an experienced teacher who some years ago took a diploma in humanistic group facilitation skills. I felt that this type of emotional literacy group work would be invaluable in helping students deal with the emotional issues they face in life.
My teaching experience, from very early years up to sixth form and adult education, had convinced me of the very real need for students to be able to express themselves emotionally within their peer groups, and in a safe environment within the educational system itself. Teachers are ideally placed to facilitate this process, but many do not feel capable of doing so.
My most challenging task during my facilitation training was learning how not to teach – to learn to steer the group and individuals towards their own answers and resolutions, without problem solving for them or giving what might appear to be ‘obvious’ answers.
My workshops aim to provide a safe, supportive environment in which group members can explore, and take respectful responsibility for, their feelings:
- about themselves
- in relationship with other people
- in dealing with staff and peers.
The activities involved creative tasks such as role play or storytelling, which stimulate a plethora of different emotions for the individuals involved. The opportunity is then available for discussion and exploration of those feelings.
The workshops result in a greater understanding of, and respect for, self and others, with outcomes that include:
- greater trust and cooperation between group members
- improved communication
- heightened self-esteem
- a positive sense of wellbeing.
Students say that the experience of working in groups:
- is very different from their classes
- is enjoyable and revealing
- enables them to feel closer to group members.
Workshops along the same lines are run for staff. These address topics such as working relationships between staff members and staff-student relations. An activity as simple as asking teachers to jot down a list of four positive and four negative statements, directed towards them in relation to their work situation over, say, a period of six months, can generate useful discussion. Feedback from staff is that the workshops are supportive, stimulating and empowering.
The workshops operate to a simple structure:
- Members introduce themselves to each other.
- The group members agree a number of ground rules or principles by which they will abide, in order to maintain a ‘safe’ environment for frank discussion, eg respect, confidentiality, integrity, etc.
- The facilitator introduces an activity to be carried out individually or in small groups. This might be a trust exercise or writing task, a team activity or role play.
Small group discussion
- There is then a small group discussion stimulated by certain questions. For example, a team-building exercise focused around an activity requiring one team member to wear a blindfold might include group discussion of the question ‘How did it feel to be blindfolded and receive instructions?’ This often raises revealing issues around frustration, anxiety, failure, as well as ‘bossiness’ and turn-taking.
- then encourage contributions to a whole group plenary from anyone wishing to discuss their own process and experience of the activity as well as the subsequent small group discussion. Involvement in both activity and discussion is entirely voluntary.
I encourage each participant to consider their feelings as well as thoughts, seeking neither to give advice nor problem-solve, but rather invite the group and individuals to question and respond as appropriate themselves.
Discussion of the findings and outcomes is then steered towards real-life issues related to the theme or topic for the session. Practical applications may then be considered and, where appropriate, agreed.
In closing, each individual member is invited to briefly express their response to the proceedings, so that all may hear and be heard.
Checking out with an emotional response encourages emotional awareness and reinforces the value of the emotional literacy skills practised during the session.