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By Kat Barton, Turning the Tide Trainer

This article has been adapted from the Rhizome Collective’s blog, originally posted in May 2016.

Back in April 2016, Turning the Tide (TTT) played host to two fantastically skilled and experienced facilitators from well-known US-based training organisation Training for Change (TfC). Teaming up with our long-standing collaborator and voice of the UK peace movement ‘Peace News’ as well as dynamic campaign skills experts ‘Campaign Bootcamp’, we had arranged for Erika and Nico to run two groundbreaking courses at Friends House in London. The initiative was all part of our commitment to ‘skilling up’ the volunteer trainers who make possible our important work supporting Quakers and others taking action for social change.  And more generally to support the skilling up of other UK grassroots trainers in our field.

Direct education

Having been a trainer with Turning the Tide for nearly seven years – and now a member of Rhizome training for social change coop as well – but having little formal facilitation training, I jumped at the chance to join 20 other grassroots trainers and facilitators in developing my skills. The two-part course comprised a Training for Social Action Trainers (TSAT) followed by an Advanced Training of Trainers (AdToT). TfC uses the phrase “Direct Education” to describe the participatory approach they use. It is an approach which views participants not as empty vessels engaging obediently with course content as a means of soaking-up knowledge offered by a trainer. Rather, it recognises that every group of participants already possesses, between them, the knowledge needed to advance their learning on any given topic. As Turning the Tide has been committed to participatory ways of working since it’s inception, it is a natural fit for us and we recognise that the core frameworks, theories and tools which TfC employs as a means of drawing learning directly from the participants have much to teach us.

What we did

Over the course of ten days, we got to experience engaging tools and activities, we used reflection and generalisation to deepen our understanding,  and we applied our learning by trying things out for ourselves. This explicit use of the experiential cycle – Experience, Reflect, Generalise, Apply (See David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model) – was both central to the way we learnt and a key framework for us supporting others’ learning. The fact that we were on a training course to learn more about Direct Education, for which we were using the Direct Education model, made the whole thing very ‘meta’: a Direct Education training course on Direct Education! But whilst the self-referential way of engaging took a lot of brainpower at times, it was also extremely revelatory.

Emergent design

We were challenged throughout by constant engagement with the group dynamics in the room, working directly on race and gender and exploring other ways in which structural oppression plays out in groups. We practiced what TfC calls ’emergent design’ (basically how to change your plans ‘on the hoof’ in response to what is happening in the training room) and elicitive questioning – an essential tool in the facilitator toolbox. Whilst the TfC trainers had outlined their stated goals at the start of the workshops, the focus of what we learned was most definitely directed by the group. This made it extraordinarily valuable for everyone in the room; whatever level you were at, you benefited in whatever way was right for you. Particularly in the Advanced Training of Trainers, back-to-back practice facilitation by groups of two co-facilitating participants ensured that it was always the participants who were ‘reading the group’, diagnosing its needs and designing and delivering the sessions according to what they deduced was needed to move things forward.

Risk taking

Of course that’s not to say that the Training for Change facilitators didn’t have a key role to play. Far from it. The skillful facilitation of our trainers Erika and Nico represented both inspirational modelling and an essential part of the thoughtful holding of space and building of trust required for such deep transformational work. The degree to which they were able to ‘build the container’ of group trust in the room was evident from the risks we as participants were willing to take to further our learning.

It seemed to me that every one of us made ourselves vulnerable and open to the extraordinarily personal challenges we were invited to encounter. And, from evaluations, general feedback, and my own observations I think we each came away feeling empowered, energised and more confident trainers and facilitators as a result. We’ve also emerged with a greatly enlarged facilitation toolkit, a deeper awareness of how structural oppression and our own privilege can inhibit our attempts at movement building, and are already implementing our learning into both our own facilitation and our activism.

I spent 10 days getting to grips with direct education. I will spend a lifetime making use of the lessons I’ve learned.

Try out some of our facilitation tools by browsing our online toolkit – turningtide.org.uk/toolkit

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