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Foundations | D-Lab
 
 
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Foundations

Tell people what to do, as opposed to what not to do.

Practice

When you give instructions, notes or corrections, phrase as much as you can in affirmative terms. For example, rather than saying “Don’t let go of your partner,” say “Be sure you always maintain contact with your partner.”

When people opt out of an activity or are sidelined, emphasize what they can continue doing: “Keep breathing.” “Be our audience.” “Help us edit this.”


Principles

  • Positive not punitive.

  • Affords participants a sense of direction. They have options on what to do next rather than feeling suppressed or inhibited.

  • Pushes the leader/teacher/choreographer to think harder and to work to articulate what she wants.

  • When people are told what not to do, they have to take an extra step as they ask themselves “Well, what should I do?” Hearing what to do allows them to move immediately to a solution.

Form a Circle.

Sidelight


Practice

Form a circle. When starting a workshop or leading an exercise, discussion or other participatory activity, gather participants to stand or sit in a circle.

Principles

  • Establishes less hierarchical, less authoritarian structure.

  • Facilitates interaction by positioning people at a relative distance and within easy view of each other.

  • Facilitates listening and observing.

  • Conveys this idea: “We are going to share an experience from which we all will learn,” rather than, “I’m the teacher and you’re going to learn from me.”


Let meaning be discovered.

Practice

You could state the outcome of an exercise in advance (“This is an exercise in trust” or “I’m going to show you a new way to think about partnering”). But you will probably have more impact if you give participants a chance to have the experience, then to state for themselves what was meaningful or significant about it.

Principles

  • Affords participants room in which to discover their own experience of the exercise.

  • Allows meaning to be voiced by participants rather than dictated by leader.

  • Enables participants to learn from each other.

  • Keeps experience broad by not “programming” the participant on how to experience the exercise.

  • Gives the leader a chance to learn new things about the exercise.

Don’t wait to be introduced.

Sidelight


Practice

When encountering a new group of people whom you will be teaching, leading, or facilitating, don’t wait to be introduced. Approach, greet and talk to some of the participants before the formal start of workshop or other event.

Principles

  • Breaks down facilitator/participant barriers; by the time you start you and your group will no longer be strangers.

  • Relieves your own anxiety; you are more secure as a facilitator because you start the event already knowing some of the participants.

  • Offers a chance to start learning names.

  • Helps gather practical information that you can use in leading: context points, expectations, people’s motivations for coming.

  • Private encounters with participants offer information you cannot gather in the group context.

  • How people stand in relation to you, how they shake hands, and other bodily cues allow you to “take the temperature” of the participants and give you additional information with which to work.

Stop. Reflect. Continue.

Practice

Pause between steps to have group reflect on the experience.

Principles

  • Consolidates learning.

  • Respects multiple perspectives and different learning styles.

  • Draws meaning and significance from group’s experience.

  • Allows the experience rather than the leader to do some of the teaching.

  • Allows leader to teach by shaping the interaction: a comment may afford a chance to pose a question that leads to additional insights being stated.

  • Gives leader insights into what is really happening for the group. This may be helpful in suggesting shifts in the plan, e.g.: to teach needed skills or to jump ahead to a new level of challenge.

  • Allows everyone to practice skills for noticing what they are experiencing while they are experiencing it.

Turn discomfort into inquiry.

Practice

When you feel uncomfortable, you might be inclined to retreat, shut down or find a way to dismiss or diminish the experience you’re having. Instead, ask yourself why you are feeling uncomfortable, what your options are, or how you could stay in the situation but change your response to it.

Principles

  • Discomfort is information. Noting this can allow you gain useful insights about yourself and information about how to interact.

  • Channels discomfort into a useful activity; this is as important for the group as it is for the individual.

  • Can lead you to new kinds of action.

  • Allows you to notice your experience while you are having it, always a useful muscle to build.

Turn defensiveness to learning.

Practiceaa

When you need to challenge someone, try asking a neutral question rather than stating an opinion, imposing an imperative, or asking for a justification. aa

If the shoe is on the other foot, and you feel the impulse to respond to someone defensively, ask yourself “What’s the question this person could have asked me that would interest me and get at the issue they are trying to address?” Then answer that question. Or start by saying “That’s interesting,” and think about ideas falling on a spectrum rather than in opposition to each other.a

Principlesaa

  • When defensiveness starts, learning stops.

  • aOne defense can lead to another, diminishing the opportunities for dialogue and listening.a

  • Defensive encounters within a group can lead the group to choose sides and frame their learning only in combative terms.

Nothing is too small to notice.

Sidelight


Practice

Watch for details in the outside world and in your own thoughts and responses. When leading or facilitating, encourage others to notice small things.

Principles

  • Promotes discovery.

  • Allows us to keep an eye on the parts as well as the whole.

  • Accords value to things often overlooked.

  • You feel empathy when the details of your work are noted.

  • The small is a gateway to larger discovery.

Engage discomfort.

Sidelight

Practice

Participant voices discomfort about something that has happened. Leader asks what participant did to manage their discomfort.

Principles

  • Turns discomfort into inquiry.

  • Offers insight into the process and models possibilities for other participants.

  • Gives participants a chance to take charge of their own experience rather than relying on the leader to make it either a positive or difficult experience for them.

Start where people are at home.

Practice

Consider what it means to be invited to someone else’s home space. Acknowledge the place and its people when you go. If you ultimately hope to bring participants together from multiple places of origin, engage with each group first on its own turf, then invite them to come together.

Principles

  • Allows people to be literally on familiar ground.

  • Respects what people bring to the experience.

  • Enables you to establish common experiences and knowledge among diverse participants before you gather them together in one place.

  • Affords a chance to practice reshaping activities and to test ideas for different spaces.

Just keep dancing.

Practice

Strong emotions may surface when we are engaged in artmaking. This is normal, expected, desirable. People sometimes cry. When this happens, recognize it, but keep going: “You can keep crying, but just keep dancing,” “…just keep talking,” “…just keep writing,” “…just keep breathing.”

Principles

  • Emotions are a natural partner to artmaking; if we really believe this we can accept them and keep moving forward.

  • Emotions hold important information.

  • We’ll learn more from the emotions if we stay with the activity that evoked them rather than shifting to comforting and care-taking mode.

  • Comforting and caretaking can ultimately be stultifying and place undue emphasis on the individual to the detriment of the group.

Resistance is information.

Practice

When you encounter resistance as a teacher, leader or facilitator, it is often because you went too far too fast. But don’t waste time feeling bad; get information from the resistance and use that information to put down smaller steps, that will allow your participants to get to where you want them to be.

Principles

  • Respect discomfort because it is a learning place for everybody.

  • Thinking of resistance as information can neutralize its emotional impact for the teacher or leader.

Practice active belonging.

Practice

Sit in the circle, not outside it. If a question doesn’t apply to you, change it so it does. Adapt the phrase to your body if your body cant do the phrase. If you feel excluded, participate anyway. Collaborate on your own inclusion.

(Important note: This is a corollary, not a substitute, to the work that institutions, leaders, and teachers have to do to promote inclusiveness.)

Principles

  • Not all the work of being included rests with the powerful.

  • In order to belong, you sometimes have to break your own habits, or go against the grain of your own sense of comfort.

  • In order to belong, you sometimes have to break the rules, or step outside of history.

  • Belonging may start with an attitude of the mind, but it ultimately requires action.