Why have a facilitator who is not a group participant?
There are many good reasons, but the very best one is that it is extremely difficult to be a facilitator and a participant. Facilitators who are not participants can help the group set guidelines for the equal use of group time, track the amount of time each group member uses, and intervene and/or mediate if there are conflicts or misunderstandings within the group. A facilitator is there to plan and describe activities, to move discussions along, and to see that timelines for an agenda are honored, that fair attention is paid to each person, and that the group honors appropriate boundaries and covenantal agreements.
The facilitator may also be asked to be responsible, directly or indirectly, for making arrangements such as registrations or reservations, conference room set-ups, gathering program supplies, conducting evaluations, and so on.
Choosing a Facilitator
There are several possibilities to explore. People interested in participating in the program or congregational leaders interested in sponsoring it may be familiar with skilled facilitators. A religious professional or an experienced lay facilitator may be possibilities. Your UUA district staff may know of ministers or other religious professionals who are not currently serving a congregation and might be interested in facilitating From the High Hill. You might form a "search group" to contact and interview prospective facilitators. Point any potential facilitator to the From the High Hill resource online or print them a copy. If your group or your congregation will engage a paid facilitator, discuss fees and dates, and document your agreement. When preparing to meet with prospective facilitators, consider:
- Who will go to the meeting?
- Have you provided From the High Hill to the prospective facilitator ahead of time?
- Have you prepared to present the program, including your goals for the congregation and for participants?
- Have you prepared questions for the prospective facilitator?
- What support can the facilitator expect from the congregation and/or its professional staff?
Take notes on what you have agreed to do—and not to do. Keep a copy for yourself, and send one to the person you met with. Don't forget to enclose a note of thanks for their time!
Notes for Facilitators
If you have been invited to facilitate a High Hill group, congratulations! Or you may have decided to organize a group as the facilitator. Again, congratulations! It's a wonderful privilege to be invited deeply into other people's lives; to be deemed worthy of their trust; to bear witness to their history; to hear who and what they are and to learn how they became that way. You have an awesome responsibility, not to be an expert or a guru, but to be present to the people of your group.
To facilitate, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us, is to "render easier the performance of (an action), the attainment of (a result); to affect facilitation for, promote, help forward (an action or a process)." Facilitating is not always easy. Each person in your group, whether they know it or not, is embarking on a journey to explore the landscape of their lives. Some may, at the last moment, choose not to come; some may turn back. Most, however will take the whole journey, traveling in a small supportive company with you as guide. Your role is to keep things moving and create spiritual and emotional safety for the journey. You will guide the group in making a covenant that establishes how people will work together and be together.
However, tangles, problems, and difficult behaviors can sometimes emerge in a group setting, even among well intentioned people who care deeply for one another. Feelings and discomforts may be stirred that reflect a person's past. In the group setting, a participant may infer "permission" to ask or say something they would not under ordinary circumstances. Your task is to recognize such moments. Gently but firmly, invite the group to honor the covenant they have made.
A good facilitator:
- Works with the agreed-on covenant and sets boundaries as needed
- Models caring and supportive conversation
- Encourages participants to explore new or unexplored ways of interacting
- Invites participants to "try it another way"—if necessary, in private conversation—if their behavior is disruptive to the group process
- Calls participants to profound listening
- Invites the group to be supportive rather than judgmental, affirming rather than critical.
In the 13th century, poet Jelal ad-Din Rumi wrote: "Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I'll meet you there." Rumi understood the possibilities of human interaction, and that the real conversations begin in the absence of judgment. This liberating concept is well worth discussing with your High Hill group as you begin your time together.
It is a great thing to have two facilitators: You bring two points of view, two personalities, and two sets of ears and eyes and hearts to a process. In mixed gender groups, having people of different genders co-facilitate can build trust and deepen the level of support in the group. Here are some suggestions for smooth co-facilitation:
- Go through this resource together, deciding who will do what.
- Agree who will take care of specific preparation tasks, such as composing letters, managing registration, managing reservations, purchasing supplies, and making sure electronic equipment is available
- Decide who will be responsible for facilitating which activities
- Decide whether, if one person is facilitating an activity, the other may join the conversation
- Decide who will open and who will close each day
- Decide who is responsible for opening and closing ceremonies for the entire program. If group members share in this responsibility, will one of the facilitators work with them, or will they be on their own?
- Decide if one or both of you will be available to small groups as they work. In what way will you circulate?
- Agree how you will interact, if at all, with participants during the writing interlude and following the program.
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