Philippa Bogle desribes how skilled one-on-one facilitation can lead to personal empowerment and transformation within your school

I’m not talking about power struggles, perfect people or some pure right of behaviour. This ‘perfect power’ can’t be awarded amid applause or congratulation either, although you may want to celebrate when it’s unleashed in you. This is the power that is ignited in those who experience skilled one-to-one facilitation, and have subsequently burst restraints and shackles for themselves. Why ‘perfect’? It’s ideal, it’s untainted – it’s pure – it’s all yours!

What is this type of facilitation?

It’s working with one other person to explore how barriers, perceptions and behaviours block or slow down situations or opportunities that are not being maximised. It’s about unblocking a person to unleash unrealised or hidden possibilities that have always been there. Often called ‘a journey’, both the facilitator and the person being facilitated (the facilitee) have no pre-conception of what may occur until they start to work together. Startling realisations for change can occur quite dramatically and suddenly, or they can be awakened in a small but succinct way. These often invoke real surges of motivation for the facilitee. Those who facilitate regularly, enthuse about the understanding of people and insights they have gathered through working with these skills and then choose to introduce the skills more widely, perhaps into the classroom. Essentially, it’s about human experience and how we all use judgements and decisions for making sense of it all!

What takes place?

From the facilitator’s point of view, it’s a managed conversation that can only be structured at the beginning and the end. The facilitee is totally in the driving seat for where the conversation will go and what parts of it are developed. Classically, a facilitator may start at the very beginning of the relationship,by asking ‘what do you want to bring to this session most of all?’ This is a general trigger that starts the journey for unravelling thoughts, views, values, feelings, ideas, and perceptions. The facilitator works, at first, with what is emphasised, how feelings link with other things,and even what is not said. The journey starts because the facilitee knows the beginning so well – it’s their status quo! Before a facilitation session takes place, a facilitator will meet their facilitee for a ‘prepare to work’ session.This will involve encouraging their partner to develop some ground rules for their particular pairing and in explaining what sort of experience the facilitation is. Ground rules can differ greatly between pairs but are there to build a foundation of understanding for the two people (e.g. total confidence around our work together, our sessions will be honoured as a priority for us both, it’s OK for the facilitee to show emotion, etc.). It’s a blueprint for building vital rapport and understanding of how the other works. Learning styles and practical issues such as best time for facilitation and venue can also be explored. It’s up to the two individuals to make it purposeful and exacting, as an overture to effective work.

How does it work?

A facilitator takes time to absorb the important details of their facilitee’s world and allow them to take these things apart and challenge reality. Once this is done, the facilitee is able to look at potential courses of action that they may take. Some will be far more challenging than others, but the outcome may be worth it and can add to a new level of self-esteem.The ‘magic’ of the transformation comes as a result of many skills and things working together, which causes the synergy effect: the total sum exceeds the quantity input. Without exception, all facilitees emerge from the facilitation process with more confidence, more purpose, new and valuable ways to behave and new-found energies. All of this makes big and different impact with those around them in school! Now let’s hear about a couple of people who have experienced it first-hand.

Sarah’s make-over

Sarah was a part-time agency teacher, working at a primary school. She was frustrated, angry and de-motivated. At the beginning of our facilitation journey, she couldn’t understand why the Head was barring her from taking on extra responsibility, when she wanted to do more and why she was becoming unpopular with other staff. There was so much to change and she felt ready to do it. Her break-through came when she was able to change her relationship with the Head. This was a pro-active step and the result not only gave her the missing pieces of the jigsaw to make sense of her experiences, but also propelled her towards doing things that hadn’t occurred to her, which linked very appropriately with the school’s own aims. She is now a full-time teacher at the same primary school and has led an overseas group visit abroad, mentors other staff, has earned much respect throughout the school (especially from the Head) and is thinking of applying for a Deputy Headship soon. Most of all, her frustration is gone and she sees things totally differently. She now feels that she’s making a difference to others as a result of her new positive passions!

Gill’s ‘U’ turn

Gill was ready to give up teaching when I met her. She was second in her Department and loved her job, but she was bowed down with pressures, especially as she juggled three young children at home. Gill came to facilitation with a heavy heart and in tears. The early work we did revealed ‘unreal’ pressures – things that she had given to herself, rather than were genuine. This surprised her enormously and gave her a glimmer of hope to continue. Her own approach to her routine was the cause of actually building some of her barriers! With support (and a feeling of some excitement) Gill tried a few exploratory things, altered her conversations (a brave step) and took a few little risks. Within a term, she was making her very positive impact felt around school. She became a role-model for leader-ship and took on new and creative projects of her own design which helped the school to attain ‘Training School’ status and were mentioned in an OFSTED report. Now taking responsibility for pastoral care for upper school, she is recognised within the region and, in turn, has changed lives just as dramatically for other staff and, of course, for students. This was a lady who was due to leave the teaching profession until facilitation rescued her potential!

Facilitation skills

  • Pro-active/projective listening – a vital skill!
  • Reading the body language and using
  • Summarising. the signals.
  • Paraphrasing.
  • Giving encouragement / cheerleading.
  • Confidence with extensive questioning
  • Finding emotional roots / articulating emotions.
  • Allowing silence.
  • Staying calm and focused, especially when observing emotion.
  • Making statements to clarify.
  • Demonstrating warmth and humour.
  • Empathising; showing sensitivity, without judgement.
  • Challenging perceptions, values, beliefs and behaviours.
  • Using metaphors and imagery.
  • Enabling problems to change into breakthroughs
  • Tuning in to the other’s ‘expression waves’.

I have witnessed what startling changes can take place through combining the specific skills I have mentioned in this article. Seeing what can happen has given me another layer of experience to draw upon when trying to mix the magic again. What inspiring and uplifting learning! Like riding a bike, facilitators have got to get on and ride it and not expect to learn by reading the book! TEX

Philippa Bogle works at The Bogle Consultancy for the development of facilitation, mentoring or coaching skills

First published in Teaching Expertise magazine, Issue 10 Winter 2005