blog entries related to facilitation

Inclusive Meetings for Professionals


I recently attended “A Guide to Inclusive Meetings for Professionals” facilitated by Cicely Belle Blain (love their name!).

My goal was, of course, to learn more about this topic so that I can create, host, and lead more inclusive meetings.

One of my favourite ways of processing information is to write about what I’ve learned. To that end, here are a few notes from the workshop.

Inclusive meetings are needs-based, foster trust and honour intersectionality

Some questions to ask myself when I design a meeting:

  • If trust is built when people’s needs are heard and met, how do I determine people’s needs and then help them meet these?
  • If trust is built when people are able to contribute, what do I need to do to allow for this?
  • How do I plan for and foster trust within my meeting design?


The facilitator created a helpful visual that summarizes 3 types of power: social, systemic and personal.

(shared with permission from the facilitator)

Inclusive meetings redistribute power 

Personal power is the easiest to re-distribute. Therefore, we need to think about how we can instill personal power onto others. The facilitator provided some ideas:

Ways to redistribute power

  • Collaborate on the agenda
  • Notice what is selected as a priority and what is put on hold. Question.
  • Value lived experience as knowledge
  • Take a needs-based focus
  • Practice mentorship as a value rather than restricting it to a formal process

Practicing mentorship as a value, within the context of inclusive meetings, can look like:

  • recognize when to advocate
  • notice harmful dynamics and step in
  • uplift and spotlight others’ ideas
  • give frequent and consistent praise
  • help other prepare for a meeting and debrief
  • give people time to plan

Honouring people’s lived experiences in a meeting 

  • honour what people bring
  • accept (welcome) vulnerability and chaos (e.g., working from home during COVID)
  • encourage sharing personal stories
  • open with a meaningful check-in and close with inspiring check-out
  • affirm people’s decisions around boundaries (note: we have a lot of notions about what “professionalism” looks like)

Needs-based resources in a meeting

  • ensure people have the right set up to be present
  • schedule when it works for people
  • encourage feedback during and after
  • circulate the agenda
  • be willing to shift and change plans
  • allow people to participate in a way that makes sense for them

Favourite quote from the workshop

“Urgency is often more of a mentality than a reality”

Unconscious Bias 

  • Deeply rooted
  • We can’t eradicate

Question to ask yourself: “Do you hold onto that bias because it keeps you safe or because it keeps you comfortable?”

Some forms of bias

  1. HIPPO Bias (looking to the highest paid person for their opinion)
  2. Affinity Bias (seeking comfort in those who are like us)
  3. Confirmation bias (We seek answers we already believe are true)
  4. Dunning-Kruger Effect (Overconfidence in skills we lack)
  5. Bandwagon Bias (We’re more likely to believe something if many others believe it too)

Biases don’t have to be harmful, but they can be. The intention is often to preserve status quo.

Workshop follow up resources

  1. Detour spotting (form of micro aggression; “Attitudes or behaviours that signal a detour or wrong turn into shame, denial or defensiveness” – Jona Olsson). See the Cultural Bridges to Justice Website
  2. White supremacy characteristics
  3. Book: Crucial conversations

Insights from facilitating outside of higher education

As someone who facilitates workshops regularly, it is a treat to watch/experience someone else’s strong facilitation.

Last month, I had the occasion to collaborate with Isabel Budke to offer Leadership Principles, a 3-part course at Vantage Point for those in the non-profit sector. Isabel facilitated the first and last session, and I did the middle one.

This was the first time I had facilitated outside of a higher education context in 15 years, and on a topic (leadership) that I had never presented on in a group.

I have noticed that many educational developers share similar facilitation approaches, so being part of a session outside of higher education and also led by someone with a different professional background gave me a few insights/reminders. These are presented below.

Extensive group sharing can work.

I tend to plan many small group activities and incorporate only limited large group sharing. Isabel did the opposite and I was surprised at how much and how easily the participants shared in the large group. I thought their sharing would dwindle quickly, but it didn’t.

Inspirational quotes don’t need to be avoided.

In my facilitation (including conferences, workshops), I don’t think I’ve ever used a motivational quote. My assumption has been that an academic audience would not take me seriously and/or would be turned off by these. In the Vantage Point sessions, Isabel used a few inspirational quotes and I noticed that the participants enjoyed and reflected on these out-loud and without prompting.

Trust, and plan for fewer activities

I am prone to worry and plan all my facilitation sessions extensively. Session #2 (the one I facilitated) was no exception. Isabel, too, plans extensively. The difference is that I normally incorporate many activities (for fear that there won’t be ‘enough’) and, in her sessions, Isabel selected only a few activities and allowed more time. It felt spacious, productive, and more relaxing.

Be warm and less reserved

I consider myself a warm person and I like to connect individually with others. When I facilitate in a group, I think, however, that some of my warmth may be “lost” because I get concerned with The Plan (which tends to be overly ambitious when I’m facilitating something for the first time). I enjoyed seeing how Isabel exuded warmth throughout.

What have you learned lately by watching others facilitated? Let me know in the comments–I’d love to hear from you.


(This photo was taken on Day 3, during an activity that Isabel facilitated)

Ice-breaker for facilitation skills workshop

Team Building & Leadership w LawNY...Rochester, NY. Canandaigua, NY (16)

Last week, Lucas Wright and I co-facilitated a session titled “Facilitating Teaching: Approaches and Skills”.

For our ice-breaker, we led a speed-friending* activity in which participants had 45 seconds each to respond to the questions below before they switched partners and answered the next question with a new partner. The questions we developed all pertain to the theme of facilitation. (We used only 5 questions because of time limitations).

  1. What are 2-3 ways you help learners get to know each other?  
  2. What are 1-2 things you currently do in your teaching that you think draw on “facilitation skills”. Which ones come most easily to you?
  3. Do you have any words you’re careful with when you teach? Say more…(if you don’t have any particular words you’re careful about, talk about that)
  4. Do you like moving fast or slow when teaching? Say more about your pace as an instructor.
  5. These words are often heard in the context of teaching and learning: “I want my classroom to be a safe space for learning”. What is your reaction to these words?
  6. As a learner, what do you like most about the use of discussion as a teaching approach? What do you like least?
  7. What are some techniques you use to memorize your learners’ names?
  8. How, if at all, do you use silence, pauses, and/or or reflection in your teaching? (pick one or more. If you don’t use any of these approaches, consider how–as a learner–you use silence, pauses and reflection to further your learning).


The full workshop plan, including all our resources, can be found here.  Everything is in the open so you are welcome to use this.

*Called “speed-friending” only because I have a reaction to the words “speed-dating”. But, on thinking about this more “speed-friending” isn’t much more palatable!

Photo credit: Mike Cardus (cc-by-2.0) https:  //flic.kr/p/8FmMaN

Using stick figure narratives in educational development

This blog describes how we can use stick figure narratives in our educational development (ED) work.

My thoughts on this were inspired by a workshop facilitated by Dr. Jessica Motherwell McFarlane who presented at Symposium 2018.  Dr. Motherwell McFarlane uses stick-figure narratives in her role as an instructor and counsellor to explore resiliency.

One of the premises of her work is that everyone can draw stick figures; consequently, it is not something that needs to be taught. Brain researchers, she explained, show that we instantly know when we are seeing stick figures and it is as if “a stick figure visual language app” comes with our brain. “Why not use it?!” she asked us playfully.

Dr. Jessica Motherwell McFarlane led us through several experiential exercises at the Symposium. In this post, I’ll describe these and consider how I could use these in ED.

Materials Needed

Each attendee received:

  • 3 coloured markers, including one gel pen for writing on black paper
  • Coloured donut-shaped reinforcement stickers (the kind used for loose leaf paper holes). Also called “loopy” stickers in the workshop. (10 or more)
  • 5×8 blank index card (1)
  • 5×8 black card stock (1)

Activity 1: “Something unexpected happened…”

Within a few minutes of sitting down, we were asked to “show an image” or “make an image” depicting something funny and unexpected that had happened in our teaching.  We were given a short time (I think it was 2 minutes) and one rule: We had to use at least one loopy sticker in our image–and we could use as many loopy stickers as we wished. We then got into trios and shared our stories and drawings.

I do not remember what I drew; nor what my story was. What I recall is feeling stressed at having to draw right away, having to come up with something “funny”, and the requirement to do so within such a short time limit. I had gone to the workshop because I anticipated it would make me feel uncomfortable–right I was!

When debriefing this activity, Dr. Motherwell McFarlane emphasized the importance of getting participants to draw almost immediately and of giving people only a short time to do so. She also intentionally avoids using the words “draw an image” because the word “draw” can generate a feeling of anxiety in people.

Application to educational development: The activity could easily become “tell the story of something funny or happy or unexpected that happened in your ED work”. This, and the two activities below, could be part of a session promoting reflective practice in ED.

Activity 2: “Emotional X-Rays…”

This was my favourite!

The instructions went something like:

“You are going to create two images using stick figures and at least one loopy sticker. Use the white index card to show a situation in your educational development work (she used teaching), as it might be perceived by the people around you. Use the black card to show the same situation, as experienced internally by you.”

We had approximately 3 minutes to create both images and then shared the stories in trios or pairs.

Below are the two images I generated:

Image 1 (the “outside” view) Explained: My Fall has been very, very, very busy. I’ve had so many projects and have been applying my sharpest organizational skills and efficiency to complete these. The figure in this image is me flexing my ED muscles to keep various projects moving.

What I am projecting to the outside

Image 2 (the “inside” experience) Explained: This fall has been one of the most difficult periods in my life as I have been providing intense support to my daughter in her recovery of anorexia (I am sharing this with her permission). I have been drained and sad much of the time.

What is happening inside me

Activity 3: “Then and now…celebrating change”

This activity invites the image-maker to show and celebrate an aspect of one’s professional evolution.

The instructions went something like:

  • Think about your role as a __________ (you could use ‘educational developer’; Dr. Motherwell McFarlane used ‘educator’; I considered my role as an adult educator).  In the small, middle box, write the number of years that you have had that role (for me, 24 years as an adult educator).
  • Think about a change in you over that period of time.
  • In the top section, make an image that shows a way you used to do things/how things used to be…
  • In the bottom section, make an image that shows what things are like now…

A few people were then invited to share* their Then and Now narratives using the document camera at the front of the room.

*Tip: Dr. Motherwell McFarlane has her own travelling (iPEVO HD USB) document camera and advised that it is helpful to assign one person to be collecting images and positioning them properly so that you, the facilitator, can focus on the storyteller and not on futzing with the image/direction/camera.


This session was my favourite at the Symposium. If you decide to use stick figures or have thoughts on how you might use them, please send me an email or write a comment — I’d love to hear from you!

I’d like to give a BIG thanks to Dr. Motherwell McFarlane who so kindly read through a draft of this post, added details that I had accidentally omitted, and provided other helpful feedback.

3 Quick and Easy Energizers

In a course I recently taught, I used and/or learned a few energizers. Since I love having these types of activities in my ‘back pocket’, I wanted to share them with you:

Ping Pong Ball

Good for a large group energizer.

Divide the group into 3 and have each sub-group stand or be in a separate area of the room.  Position yourself where everyone can see you and assign one group “Ping”, the other group “Pong” and the third group “Ball”. Let the group know that, as you point to a particular group (area of the room), you want the members to shout out “their” group name. As the conductor, you then point to different groups and can have fun creating combinations of the three words (ping, pong, and ball), i.e., “ping, ping, ball, pong” etc.

Stand In The Circle If…

Good as an energizer or icebreaker for 6 people or more.

Everyone stands in a circle. Let people know that the activity consists of taking turns uttering an inclusions statement out loud and stepping into the circle if that statement applies. For example, one person might start by saying “Step in the circle if you prefer going to the beach over going for a hike on a sunny day”; those who feel this is true of them step into the circle. Then they step back out. The next person might say “Step into the circle if you plan to have a glass of wine this weekend” etc. People normally come up with fun statements and this activity always generates laughter.

The Rain Game…

This works well in a group of 25 or more people and is a powerful auditory experience.  I know of people who have led this in a large (100+) class,but haven’t tried that myself.

This game signifies a rainstorm starting softly and getting louder until it is pouring, with lightning and thunder. The storm quiets down again.

  1. First, you silently rub your fingers together, and the participants do the same.
  2. Then you rub your two hands together, making a very soft sound, and the participants follow.
  3. Next, you clap your hands very softly while the participants follow (it should still be quiet-ish).
  4. Then snap your fingers. (in each of the steps below, the participants follow what you are doing)
  5. Now go back to clapping and clap a little louder than you were snapping.
  6. Then a little louder.
  7. Then clap loudly.
  8. Then stomp your feet and clap, making a lot of noise.
  9.  Now do it in reverse until it is silent again.

The instructions above were taken from here.


Do you have some fun energizers and/or icebreakers to share? If so, let me know!

Photo by Ingo Joseph from Pexels