After the first ALF Summer, a group of us agreed to hold weekly facilitator calls to connect and support each other. As the earliest ALFs, it felt like we were constantly encountering situations that we needed to newly figure out how to navigate. On the one hand, we had years of experience of facilitators at free schools and adults in non-schooled communities to look to. On the other hand, as new facilitators many of us were practicing mindfulness of our reactions and intentionality in our responses…trying to check that we weren’t just replicating coercive or devaluing patterns of interacting that we’d been raised in. Trying to live in and create the future at the same time, we looked to the calls for appreciation, help troubleshooting, and opportunities to offer our learning to make others’ journeys smoother.
As time flowed on, our community expanded across time-zones and languages. We became more practiced, and new new ALFs arrived with different questions than we were asking. Call attendance dropped, and then the offering ceased altogether.
This past year, as part of coherence-creating efforts, I committed to restart the calls. Tomis created a Zoom room for us to use, and I put together a schedule of rotating topics and regular openings for guest facilitators. It was…overly ambitious 🙂 I’m pretty practiced at figuring out what’s in an individual learner’s ZDP, but I’m still learning how to discern that for a large and ever-expanding movement.
That’s not at all to say I’m disappointed by what the year’s calls have turned into. #notattachedtoimaginedoutcomes
They’ve been really fruitful. Attendance fluctuated a bunch at the beginning of the year, but as time went on a clearer regular cohort emerged. My role a facilitator got lighter and lighter as the group built enough relationship to facilitate itself, with new folks coming in and out as they needed. From the calls, a new duo of co-facilitators decided they have enough rapport to run a training together even though they haven’t practiced in person yet. A new working group emerged, new ALFs took on projects (Bethany set up a CRM for tracking conversations with Starter Kit downloaders, Amber started playing with the Network Instagram account, David started workshopping the wording of our 4th “root” principle). We also recorded 5 conversations with facilitators from around the network, on topics that were coming up in the Slack #support channel around the time of each recording. Those are now on a YouTube channel, free to share:
Looking into next year, I’m anticipating continuing to hold calls, new facilitators stepping up to host//co-host, sharing just the audio from recorded calls for those of us who podcast, and calls starting up (or becoming regular…for those that are just starting now) in other languages and time zones.
For those looking to facilitate calls, here’s what I’ve learned is most important:
- Be clear and consistent. ~ Hold the space reliably, and send people the link so it’s easy for them to join you.
- Be patient. ~ The calls won’t always be well attended. Those who attend will be wherever they are in their processes…as you will be too.
- Release expectations. ~ They’ll become whatever people need them to. They’ll be super rich. Your role is to midwife the conversation that is unique to those people in that moment…whatever that looks like.
- Tend the flow. ~ Do you need to remind a dominating voice to leave space for others? Is it helpful to gently cut someone off and crystalize the question under their ramble? If you invite someone slightly less experienced than you to answer a question rather than answering it yourself, can you support them and increase the learning of the group? Facilitation…it’s a verb.
- Tend yourself. ~ Have you eaten and gotten set up in a place where you can listen in a way folks will feel? Does this still feel like a gift you offer rather than an obligation (time to step back if not)? Are you nurturing the growth of the facilitators who will replace you, so they’re ready when you need them to be? And if you’re me, do you have a notepad with you so you can follow up sending people the resources or notes you promise them during the conversation?