Basic Elements of how to Start a Session
Taken from the Facilitation section of the Leadership and Facilitation module
- Welcome & Housekeeping: This is where you welcome people to the workshop. Let them know any details they might need to know including timing of breaks, where the washrooms are, whether there are snacks and food provided, where they can buy coffee or snacks if they aren’t provided, etc.
- Share a Land Acknowledgement
- Introductions: Depending on how many people are in your group, introductions are a great warm-up. If it’s a large group (more than 20) then introductions will take too long. You can instead ask people to introduce themselves to the people beside them.
- You must give people some very specific questions to answer in their introduction.
- The number of questions you ask will depend on your topic and the amount of time you have.
- Remember that some people might be nervous or uncomfortable, so don’t ask anything too personal or deep at this point.
- Don’t call on people ever. Make introductions voluntary. If someone chooses not to say anything, don’t make a big deal of it, just move on.
- Get people to share popcorn style. Which means people choose to talk when they want to, instead of going around in a circle. This is a more trauma-informed approach, because it’s easier for someone to pass. They also speak when they are ready, as opposed to being put on the spot.
- Here are some sample questions:
- What do you hope to get out of this workshop? (This question is really important for you as a facilitator, as it helps you to manage group expectations. You can address some things right then and there if expectations are different than what you are providing, or you can make spontaneous adjustments to your agenda.)
- What are you studying?
- A fun question. (What are you watching right now? What’s your favourite ice cream flavour? What is one of your hobbies? What do you do when you have a break from school?)
- Icebreaker: If you have time, this can be a fun way to start a workshop. An icebreaker can be a little game or challenge that gets the group relaxed, talking, and comfortable. The workshop will flow better if people are warmed up. There are many websites that share ideas for icebreakers. Perhaps at a peer support meeting, together your whole team can brainstorm some ideas of potential ice breakers that will work with the groups you are working with. It can be helpful to have a list to pull from. Some people choose to have the ice breaker related to the topic, but that’s not necessary.
- Talk about Safety:
Sometimes a participant in your workshop might feel triggered or overwhelmed. At the beginning of the workshop talk about what people can do when they are triggered. Let people know that it is ok if big emotions come up. As a group you can make an agreement that if someone leaves the room and wants support, then they give a signal. If you are co-facilitating, the person who is in the support role can leave to go talk with the person. Another option is to ask if someone in the workshop wants to be a volunteer support person, and they can go speak with the person if they want support. It’s good practice to have a box of tissue in the workshop space, just in case someone needs it.
- Check-in: If you are meeting more than once, do a check-in at the beginning of subsequent sessions. You can ask questions like:
- What’s one thing you did to take care of yourself this past week?
- Describe how you are feeling today in one sentence?
- Community Agreement: Take a few minutes to create a safe space by talking about what people need to be able to fully show up in the space. (We cover this in more detail above.) Encourage people to do what they need to do to take care of themselves. If they need to step out and take a break, even if it’s not break time, that’s ok. Since this isn’t a class, the guidelines are different.
- Preview the agenda: Like we mentioned, it’s great if people have a physical agenda in front of them. Share a little preview of what you will cover in that session
- Prepare and Plan: Be very clear on what topics you are covering in the workshop, and be prepared: New facilitators can sometimes go into a workshop underprepared and frazzled, or overprepared and rigid. The more practice you get facilitating, the more you will get to know your facilitation style. As a rule of thumb when you are presenting on a new topic, you will likely need to spend at least a few hours preparing.
- If you are co-facilitating, be clear on who is presenting what topic: Divide up the agenda in a way that feels good to both facilitators. This way you can spend more time preparing for the topics you are facilitating on. (However, there is always a chance that someone could be sick, so it’s a good idea to be familiar with all of the content.)
- Know exactly how much time is available for each topic: We mentioned time-keeping earlier, as it’s an important aspect of facilitating. Have a few questions or exercises up your sleeve in case you end early and need to fill some time. If you are co-facilitating, and you end your section a ½ hour early, that means your co-facilitator needs to fill that time. Also if you go over, you will be taking time away from another topic.
- Facilitate group connection:
- Avoid talking all the time, as it can get boring for participants
- Have some group activities planned
- Use small groups of 3 or more
- Ask lots of questions, and get lots of group interaction going
- Summarize, debrief and check out at the end of the day Give yourself about some time at the end of the day for this. You’ll want to summarize everything you covered. Ask if there are outstanding questions. Spend some time debriefing the day (“how was today for you?”). You can do a check-out as well, asking questions such as:
- What was a takeaway from today?
- What will you do to take care of yourself tonight?
- What was something fun that happened today? As well as debriefing, and checking out, it’s a great idea to create some time for self-reflection at the end of the day. Self-reflection promotes learning.
Find Ways to Make it Fun!
Having fun and laughing together is so important! Find opportunities to have fun! Here are some ideas:
- Have fidget toys, pipe cleaners, or play dough at the tables for people who are more kinesthetic.
- Have markers or pencil crayons and colouring sheets available for people who like to doodle.
- Use movie clips or YouTube videos when it works with the topic.
- Have dollar store stickers for name tags.
- Play music when people arrive and leave. (Pick something as neutral as possible.)
- Some people might like doing something crafty. (Although if you choose this, make sure to let people know ahead of time. If they aren’t interested, then they don’t have to come.)
- Add in a group meditation, but again make it optional, as it may not appeal to everyone.
- Serve snacks and beverages if you have a budget to be able to do so.
We cover Community Agreements in detail in the Creating a Safe Learning Environment section of the Leadership and Facilitation module.
At the beginning of the first day, it’s important to take some time to create a Community Agreement. This is a set of intentions that the group creates together to help ensure a safe learning environment. It’s best to keep this agreement strength-based. It isn’t a set of arbitrary rules but instead a commitment to intentionally uphold the core values.
- Set aside about half an hour to create this agreement.
- Explain the purpose (this agreement is to support a safe learning environment).
- Explain what strength-based means in this situation. Given past experiences, when some people hear “Community Agreement” they jump to old ideas of “group rules” and negative statements (e.g. don’t be loud, don’t interrupt, etc.). You may have to kindly and compassionately support someone to shift their language to become more strength-based.
Agenda for Participants
We are covering a lot of material in this training, and it can be overwhelming for participants to keep track of where they are in the grand scheme of the training.
- On the first day of training, give each participant an agenda with the basic topics you are going to cover throughout the training
- Go over the agenda, and give a brief overview of the topics you will cover, and why they are included in this training
- At the beginning of each new session, briefly review what you have covered so far in the training, and then preview what is to come in that session
- Make sure people are aware of – and celebrate – the progress they have made along the way!