15 Mar

Beyond The Pages ECE Book Study: Chapter 4 (Week 7)

betsy carlin photo

by Betsy Carlin

Over the course of the last month and a half, while discussing the book Professionalizing Early Childhood as a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era, we as a diverse group of people who are committed to the field of early childhood, have considered…

  • What brings us as individuals to the conversation about organizing ECE into a professional field of practice?
  • What are our individual beliefs and assumptions about ECE currently?

And we have…

  • Entered into a process of collective inquiry, expanding what we each thought to be true, so together we can begin to imagine the next era of ECE.

Now the time has come to put all this deep thinking and discovery to good use, to step up as leaders and advocates, and realize our role in the work of launching conversations with intent where we work and live.

In chapter 4 of the book, Stacie Goffin identifies roles that need to be filled in order to have a successful conversation with intent: the convener, the facilitator, and the designer of the conversation environment. The roles can be filled by an individual or a group of people who have read the book (like us). Each role has great value. For this week’s conversation, I would like us to focus on the role of facilitator.

Let’s start with a common understanding of the term. To facilitate means A) to make easy or less difficult and B) to help forward a process or action. Based on this definition and through experience, I have come to believe a facilitator’s role is to break down barriers and be a catalyst for deep thinking so collectively a group can make forward progress. Facilitators provide clear focus on the purpose of a process while being flexible in the route taken. Facilitators create a space where individuals feel trusted, respected and safe to share their perspective. Facilitators need to listen, question for understanding and weave together varying, even opposing ideas, to create shared understanding, all while ensuring the strongest possible outcome.

For each of us, our ability to take the role of facilitator began when we entered this book study and committed to participating in a conversation with intent. It continued as we committed to self-reflection and shared in conversations to gain new insight on the current challenges that face the field of ECE and to imagine the possibilities for co-creating something better. This book study has not only provided each of us with the background necessary to facilitate a conversation (or two) with intent; it has challenged us to do so.

For some of us, taking the challenge may be exciting or simply an extension of what we already do, for others it may be daunting and taking us out of our comfort zone. This week, for our discussion, I would like each of us to set and share goals for facilitating a conversation with intent within the next 6 months.  Along with the goals, I would like to invite you to share at least one insight, challenge, or question you have about the role of facilitator. Through the week we can collectively respond with our experience, wisdom, and expertise to prepare ourselves to be the facilitators of the next wave of conversations with intent.

Betsy Carlin

*New here? You can find all the book study details HERE. Happy reading!

Book Study Timeline!
(click on chapter or name below to access that content)

This book study is sponsored by Redleaf Press

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28 thoughts on “Beyond The Pages ECE Book Study: Chapter 4 (Week 7)

  1. Betsy, for me the challenge is to remember that if I get someone defensive about their beliefs I am not facilitating any good. I have to work at being satisfied that getting someone to even discuss an approach to early childhood education that is new to them is productive. I’m good at not expecting children to understand things right away, and it’s easy for me, but I have to work at treating adults the same way.

  2. My challenge as a facilitator would be people that think things need to go or work a certain way. Not everyone has the same thought process and there are several ways to reach the same conclusion.

  3. Thank you Jack and Mitzi for responding,

    Before I respond with my thoughts and examples of how I might face the challenges you have identified, I would like to ask you to share some examples from your past. Tell us about a facilitator(s) you have observed. What did you see them do that really worked? What did you see that you were challenged by? Did they face your identified challenge and how did they handle it?

    I look forward from hearing about your experience and those of others who want to join the conversation this week.

  4. Betsy, before consulting with Early Head Start/Head Start I was a licensed psychologist for over four decades. My eyes, ears, and gut are so experienced that my observations, both positive and negative, are unavoidable in my mind. On top of that my empathy is highly developed. I prefer to facilitate change by making presentations with discussions for engagement, and for refinement of my thinking as well as the listeners. One on one, my best approach has been to ask a caregiver how something went, and carefully discuss what they responded, seeing if I can move their thinking. I have to work at keeping a lecture out of the occasion. Having a relationship with the caregiver is crucial. I once asked a caregiver how the day went. She looked sad, and said, “It was chaos.” She was used to me saying more after one of her responses, but I told her I didn’t need to say anything if she recognized the chaos knowing that she could have been better prepared. She gave me a hug, and I never saw chaos in her class again.

  5. I do not have the same education or background . I have always been a caregiver and my best approach has always been being direct and honest with my families. I have seen deafness, blindness and chronic illness and have diagnosed through knowing my babies and encouraging parents to pursue the unknown and have things checked out with family doctors. Very proud of my roles in helping children and families overcome obstacles. my only role as facilitator has been for own children.

  6. Thanks for your responses again,

    You both have described your ability to successfully facilitate conversations, often difficult, with respect and empathy.

    For me as I have grown to include facilitation as part my professional work I realize I have learned the most from observing other facilitators. I have to sometimes be careful to pay attention to the content of the meeting because I become so fascinated by how the facilitator works the room encouraging everyone to share and while managing conflict. What I have come to believe is a master facilitator sets the stage at the beginning just to get people thinking, but they then know when to stop and let the group take over.

    In regard to the challenges you identified, I have just returned from facilitating a meeting this week and I happened to incur both the challenges you described. So I had been reflecting on this already.

    During conversations of intent we will be asking people to expose themselves through their existing assumptions and beliefs, which will naturally cause some frustration and defensiveness. As part of my role as facilitator I like to identify this possibility from the start and help to divert as much of it from the beginning. I would have clear ground rules that would include opportunities for all voices to be heard. Recently I have been asking people to be curious about the possibilities rather then focusing on their frustrations of the present. And based on some of our conversations in this book study 2 weeks ago, I might remind people to listen for understanding rather then listening so they can respond.

    As a facilitator, I try and act as a catalyst to deeper thinking. So if someone begins to become defensive I would try and ask opened ended questions to gain clearer understanding and would look for commonality in all the varying perspectives. In order to have all perspectives represented everyone needs to have a chance to respond and if one person is dominating the conversations this is not possible. In that case I would begin to help pull people in, asking them to take a risk and share. Of course some people will want to listen and that is ok with me too.

    Recently, I have been facilitating some meetings for NAEYC in various states. I have been using the same basic agenda and content however no 2 meetings have been the same or have had the same out come, but each conversation has been successful because it moved the work of the group toward their end goal. This will also be true for our conversations with intent, however it is the collective inquiry and understanding that comes from these conversations that the will allow us to propel what is now mostly undefined on to become a professional field of practice.

    So I ask….What are your goals for hosting a conversation with intent?

  7. Betsy, I’m concerned about where the other voices are for this discussion, but I’ll respond to your question. I’ll be presenting what I believe to be some new ways of thinking about early childhood education at the McCormick Center’s Leadership Connections conference. I will be discussing using four factors of happiness to keep in mind while we work at educating young children. I will try to make it clear that I could be wrong believing in these new, at least to me, ideas, and there will be three or four opportunities during the two-hour presentation for discussion and feedback, depending on how involved the discussions become. I see myself as a learner, so being wrong isn’t as difficult for me as it is for those who have become performers more than learners. However , if this stuff isn’t new and valuable it will be a very long two-hours for me.

  8. Betsy, my presentation will not be neutral as I am intense when I present an idea that I believe to be new. However, I intend to be a neutral facilitator when small discussion groups reconvene and share the thinking that they have come up with. I value disagreement. I have a handout prepared of what I intended to say, as I won’t mind if the discussion of any one of the four sub-topics gains significant discussion and needs extended time. Stacie’s chapter, l like the rest of the book, is well written and well thought through. I would like to be seen as following her suggestions.

  9. I had an experience where the facilitator did such an awesome job of keeping the conversation going to help everyone have an opportunity to participate. She also was able to keep the conversation moving forward even when someone was beyond the focus she could redirect the conversation back to the topic without much effort. I later realized this is a strength gained through experience not just a natural talent. To move forward I also see the need to help the conversations be directed toward the future imagining how we can move ECE to a more professional field of practice.

    1. Jane this is a great point. I think in conversations about professionalizing the field we often get stuck in what is currently frustrating. People need to share assumptions and understand where we are, but to get to where we are going a facilitator will need to keep a group focused on how we can be something more.

  10. I have thought most of the week on this chapter, questions and what I would do. I most likely will never have the opportunity to be a facilitator of adults since I am a in home childcare provider. I have attended some sessions that have been both good and bad. If I ever get the chance I will take it.
    The possible issue I see is when one or a few people who are there for their own personal agenda take over. I have been in attendance when this has happened in the past, once so bad that over half of the group left because they were over talked and told to be quite they didn’t know what they were talking about and the facilitator did nothing. This is not acceptable or productive.
    I think the information in this chapter can be used also with the children in our care on a smaller scale. I consider myself an observer, teacher and facilitator in my job both with the children and the families.

  11. Cindy – I agree that good teachers possess the skills of being a good facilitator… Or really good teachers are good facilitators encouraging children to learn through inquiry and exploration.

    As a facilitator of a conversation with intent it is very important to allow all views and perspectives be heard and lifted up. Then using the information on the table to find common ground and possibilities can be uncovered. It can be difficult to stop people who have a personal agenda but it is something a facilitator should anticipate and think about in their preparation as well as leaving their agenda at the door too.

    I wonder if you have a providers group in your area? You might consider using that arena to host a conversation with intent on professionalizing the field. I hope you can find a place to continue the conversation with your colleagues in your community.

  12. Facilitating a conversation is definitely out of my comfort zone, I usually like to hang back and listen and then quickly throw my two cents in. But I’ve had to learn how as a teacher, especially in interactions with parents. I will admit it took some practice (My first parent teacher conference was sufficiently awkward for me.) I think my biggest challenge is to stay on track and keep the dialogue moving in a meaningful direction. Too often I have seen the lack of a good facilitator in a group discussion. For example, I just attended an all staff meeting that included the center’s board members. What was supposed to be an hour and a half of purposeful ideas and conversation soon descended into a 3 hour free for all ranting session of everything bad going on. Needless to say, I felt like the meeting was a major waste of my time when almost nothing was accomplished.

  13. I’m not sure I would have an opportunity to facilitate a conversation, because I am a teacher in a corporate setting. There is an opportunity at our annual educators conference in October, but i would only be able to conduct it in an informal setting. I would love to sit at a table of teachers and directors and just ask some of the questions that Stacie has posed. “What does it mean to professionalize” and “What challenges do you see that lie ahead?” My “panel” would not be very diverse as we are in this corporate world together. Possibly, just beginning to talk about it with peers and supervisors, people will start to ask more questions. The company I work for is dedicated to professionalism and being the best we can be. They offer tried & true topical and cutting edge training sessions and help to elevate teachers to higher education levels My goal would be to keep asking Stacie’s questions of leaders and policy makers in our company, whenever I have the opportunity and suggest that one( or more) of them, read this book and offer a facilitated conversation at the same conference.

  14. I’m not sure I would have an opportunity to facilitate a conversation, because I am a teacher in a corporate setting. There is an opportunity at our annual educators conference in October, but i would only be able to conduct it in an informal setting. I would love to sit at a table of teachers and directors and just ask some of the questions that Stacie has posed. “What does it mean to professionalize” and “What challenges do you see that lie ahead?” My “panel” would not be very diverse as we are in this corporate world together. Possibly, just beginning to talk about it with peers and supervisors, people will start to ask more questions. The company I work for is dedicated to professionalism and being the best we can be. They offer tried & true topical and cutting edge training sessions and help to elevate teachers to higher education levels My goal would be to keep asking Stacie’s questions of leaders and policy makers in our company, whenever I have the opportunity and suggest that one( or more) of them, read this book and offer a facilitated conversation at the same conference.

  15. Thank you Heather for thoughtful response. I would suggest you make a personal commitment to hold a conversation with intent at you October Educators Conference. Perhaps you could invite people to join you for breakfast or in the afternoon after sessions are over to discuss the questions that most resonated with you. As important as it is to have diverse perspectives at the table it is also important to have these conversations so more people are thinking about the current state of the field of ECE and how it can be raised to a professional field of practice. Sometimes when we work in environments that are dedicated to professionalism (like the one I worked in as a director) it is easy for individuals to not realize that kind of support and focus is not the case for all people working with and on behalf of young children. Good Luck!

  16. My goal for facilitating a conversation with intent in the next 6 months is to have a conversation with more daycare providers. I have a close friend that has very different opinions than I do. I am really grappling with trying to understand how she has formed these. I would also like to become more involved with my local association as I have not had any involvement with them but think it is important.

    One insight, challenge, or question I have about the role of facilitator is that of challenging others to acknowledge their agency (potential for power) and to sometimes challenge others to take accountability. I do think this is a facilitator’s responsibility. I have led teams that claim to want a particular outcome, but do not want to invest or acknowledge they have a role in developing strategies toward the outcome or are critical about the input others’ give in this regard without providing constructive suggestions. It is easier to be critical and negative; people have to be charged with coming up with solutions or accept the status quo. Sometimes a facilitator has to call others out publicly in order to maintain the integrity of the conversation.

    1. Hello Sarah,

      Thank you for participating in this ongoing conversation. I agree that often complaining and being negative can be easier then putting time and energy in to contributing to positive change. I believe it is the role of the facilitator to guide participants of a conversation by listening, asking questions, and summarizing so the participants as a group can develop a plan to move forward to something better.

  17. Sarah, thank you for you energy in support of early childhood education. Facilitating conversation is very important in this regard. I have one disagreement already with your statement. I don’t like saying, “Sometimes a facilitator has to call others out publicly . . .” I totally agree that we shouldn’t go along with issues with which we have disagreement, like I have done here, but “calling out publically” feels like punishment to me, and I think that we are trying to get rid of punishment in early childhood education. I know that this venue is pretty much public, but I mean to be just telling you that I disagree, not that you are necessarily wrong.

  18. I use my role as a facilitator to have a good relationship with families. I ask open ended questions that might give me insight to the health and well-being of a child. I try to look for ways to help, sometimes they just need advice. I try to gather information that I feel will be helpful to them. I also express concern and try to offer advice (when to see a doctor) when necessary.

  19. The role of facilitator or host can be difficult and the reminders in chapter 4 really help set up the environment for conversations with intent. This book would have been so useful when I was a teacher at centers. I will definitely be looking for more conversations on professionalizing ECE and hopefully participate.

  20. In the coming months, I will be able to facilitate an intentional conversation at our annual professional development days conference. One of the topics we have planned is on professionalism in our particular setting and I have been volunteered to lead the discussion.
    I’ve done my fair share of facilitating conversations in my everyday role as the assistant director and I think the most challenging part of it is that I am very flexible and open to new ideas or ways of doing things and I struggle a bit when I am met with inflexibility; it makes it difficult to move forward.

    1. HI,

      It is difficult when a conversation gets stalled due to lack of flexibility of a participant. I think if you set ground rules as you go into the conversation you have more leverage when a participant becomes inflexible. I hope your conversation goes well!

      Thanks for the comment,
      Betsy

  21. I am a facilitator as a provider. I have to have a good relationship with families as I deal with them on a daily basis. If I can not have a good relationship with parents that is going to cause problems within. Sometimes it may be hard if there is not much engagement from the other participant when in conversations about the child or issues at hand.

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