The following material outlines strategies for incorporating important
elements of interactions into workshops.
Open acknowledgement of expertise and limitations.
Members of the facilitation team can talk openly about the expertise
of other team members as well as about their own limitations.
For example, a participant might ask a question in a science area
that is unfamiliar to the science educator, and he or she might
defer that question to the Earth scientist on the team. This might
go the other direction if the question pertains to aspects of
assessment in science education. As team members openly acknowledge
expertise and limitations, they implicitly acknowledge the strength
of a collaborative approach, the inevitability of limits to knowledge,
and the mutual respect that exists between members of different
Strive to openly acknowledge the expertise of the workshop participants.
You can do this in several ways:
- Look for opportunities to turn questions over to other participants
for ideas. Many of the participants might have ideas about how
to overcome certain barriers to reform, for example, such as
lack of immediate administrative support. However, the person
who was asked the question should answer so that the questioner
is not frustrated in her or his attempt to find out what that
- Use workshop participants as positive examples whenever possible.
These examples may be from observations you have made in your
workshop, or they may come from your knowledge of that person's
- Acknowledge your dependence on outside information for the
responses to some issues. For example, cite the sources of your
ideas when you know them so that it is clear that you are learning
from third parties and are not trying to present yourself as
Ongoing reappraisal of your approach with input from participants
Consistent with learner-centered approaches to teaching,
workshop leaders should solicit input from the learners on an
ongoing basis. It is not enough to make a general offer that everyone
should feel free to share comments. Have a mechanism for that
sharing so that participants know when they will be able to have
One approach to receiving feedback is the use of periodic "Checkpoints"
Checkpoints are a formative assessment technique that is as useful
in classrooms as it is in workshops. A checkpoint has three broad
questions: What is going well? What could be going better? Where
should we go from here? Ask participants to complete a half-page
checkpoint form when you break for lunch and as you close for
the day. To organize the collection and review process, place
a box in some part of the room labeled "checkpoint forms",
and consider using different colored sheets each day. The next
time the group meets (after lunch or the next morning) share the
input by putting representative comments on an overhead. There
is no need to provide quantitative data, as one thoughtful person
can provide as much insight as a large group. Discuss how you
might respond to each of the issues or comments that have been
raised. This can be delicate because you do not want to be defensive,
nor do you want to make changes that undermine your later plans.
Try to shift the emphasis, timing, and/or your specific practice
as you can. Participants will often see contradictions in responses
to the first two checkpoint questions (such as when someone comments
that the pace of a morning is just right, while another says it
is too fast, and a third says it is too slow). Participants often
spontaneously and openly recognize the difficulty workshop leaders
face in making everything suit everyone's needs.
You can also use less formal methods to reappraise your approach.
For example, listen for comments that seem to be either particularly
emotionally charged or inserted into conversations where they
don't seem entirely fitting. The latter comments often include
ideas that someone is looking for an opportunity to share.
To deal with emotionally charged comments and insertions, you
may find it helpful to use a "back pocket" question;
"Could you tell me more about that?" This non-judgmental
response allows the speaker to have her or his say. Knowing what
to do next, such as opening a discussion about the topic or suggesting
that the topic be saved for later, is a judgment call. However,
many times the person will be satisfied to have had an opportunity
to share the idea, and no further action is necessary. You should
however take these comments seriously and discuss with your co-presenter
how you might respond.
Workshop leaders should use daily debriefing sessions, held immediately
after participants depart, to discuss specific responses to issues
that arise. Begin by discussing the afternoon checkpoints. Then,
consider your goals, whether or not goals were met, your upcoming
goals, and whether or not you need to amend your goals. Review
the plan for the next day and consider appropriate alterations.
The daily debriefing session is vital to reappraising your approach,
so schedule time for it each day.
Demonstrate Respect for The Participants
Your actions and words should demonstrate to each participant
that you value his or her ideas in particular and that you are
respectful of him or her in general. For example, as participants
raise questions, strive to give all participants the opportunity
to provide input. They may decline, but asking an otherwise quiet
person to make a comment may be enough to get him or her to share
insights. Also, if there are a few particularly vocal participants,
you may have to intervene so that everyone can be heard in a timely
manner. One approach is a "speaking stick" strategy
(see below), which places control of the flow of a conversation
in the hands of the participants.
This is a strategy picked up from indigenous peoples of
the Pacific Northwest, but put to use in ways that they
might not recognize at all.
The strategy involves designating a stick or some other
implement as the device by which someone gains the floor,
so to speak. You can use sticks, rocks, or an inflatable
globe (the latter is safest to throw in a classroom). The
person who has the speaking stick may say his or her piece,
but tries to limit it to 3-5 sentences at a maximum. Then
that person passes the speaking stick to another participant.
A participant who would like the stick signifies this by
turning a hand over on his or her lap (or the table, depending
on how the group is seated) so that the palm is up. Two
palms indicate that the person REALLY wants to get the stick.
However, the person with the stick may decide he or she
would like to hear from an individual who is not indicating
a desire to speak. Yet, a person who is handed the stick
may also pass it on without comment.
In practice, the speaking stick strategy works to the benefit
of those who would not ordinarily jump into a conversation,
and helps those who are more likely to speak monitor the
frequency of their comments (i.e. their "air time")
with respect to the rest of the group.
Careful time management provides yet another way to demonstrate
respect for participants. Let them know that you want to start
on time so that those who made sure they were ready will not be
disappointed. You may have to put off your responses to individual
requests (like those made at the moment the day is to begin for
example) in order to maintain the schedule for the group. If you
are late or run over the allotted time, you risk sending a message
that you do not value participants' time. While it is unwise to
chide someone for being late or having to leave early (participants
often have conflicts at specific times), it is best to maintain
the group's overall schedule to the extent possible.
Many participants will be specialists in particular areas of
science (geology, astronomy) or teaching (teaching students with
special needs), and can be called upon to share their expertise.
All participants have a measure of expertise at their own job
and the specific roles that they must fill within their schools
and classrooms. For instance, all teachers have some measure of
expertise regarding their students (the 160 ninth graders they
see each day), and students of the age they teach (the "ninth
grade student"). While this expertise may be based primarily
on their experience, the value of this experience should not be
under-rated. Questions can be turned to the group and to individuals
who might have specific and worthwhile input. One technique is
called the "Delphi technique," which is often used in
collaborative decision-making. This can be coupled with anonymous
timed writings as a mechanism for promoting open participant-to-participant
idea sharing (see box, below.)
This technique is derived from a book for writers called
Writing Down the Bones, called "timed writings."
The process requires three steps:
Step 1: Initial timed writing - Participants are
all given a sheet of paper so that the pages look alike.
They do not write their names on the papers. They are given
a sentence stem to complete such as "The thing I think
is most important about inquiry-based teaching is..."
or "When I think about issues of 'relevance,' what
comes to mind is..." The participants are asked to
write, non-stop, for thirty seconds. During that writing
they do not stop their pen, they do not edit, they do not
worry about spelling or grammar, they do not worry about
the clarity of their expression. They just write. At the
end of thirty seconds, they may choose one idea from what
they wrote in the first episode and expand on it for another
thirty seconds. The same rules apply as before.
Step 2: Response Writing - You can also time this
segment, but make the time interval one minute. In this
episode, collect the papers, mix them up, and pass them
back out. It works well to collect them from half of the
room at a time, shuffling each half, and then passing them
back out to the other side of the room. That way nobody
should end up with her or his own paper. After taking a
few seconds to read what is on the paper, each person gets
to write a response. They can comment in any way they wish,
but we encourage them to explain themselves. Since participants
have a full minute, they can be a little more thoughtful
about how they write. After the minute is up, collect and
redistribute the papers again, and have participants respond
again. It is OK if someone gets her or his original paper
back. This can be repeated a third time.
Step 3: Open Sharing -- After the second (or third,
if you wish) response, participants choose ideas to share
with the group that they think are worth considering. They
do not have to agree with the idea, but they should not
tell the group whether they agree or not. These ideas are
recorded on a board or chart paper. After everyone has had
a chance to share one idea, the workshop leader moves into
a discussion mode by asking such questions as: Does anyone
see any ideas written here that go well together? Or conflict?
Which of these might influence us as we work to implement
This is a brainstorming approach to discussion. As in any brainstorming
session, it is important to accept all ideas, avoid closure, and
keep the tone light.
After hearing participants' ideas and concerns, the workshop
leader can discuss the issues as they relate to EarthComm and
can suggest to the group to watch for how other of the ideas are
factors in what is done in the remaining days of the workshop.
Finally, giving participants input into how they spend their
own time demonstrates respect for their knowledge of their own
needs and interests. This is particularly important when long-term
projects are undertaken. For example, in the workshop itinerary
that is given below, participants spend time preparing and presenting
sets of EarthComm activities. Out of respect for each participant's
interest in addressing specific areas, ask participants to tell
you what activities they would like to work on. You can use a
strategy from marketing research called the "passion points"
technique (see box, below).
In a past life, one of the developers of this manual worked
in marketing and ran across a technique that works well
for giving individuals input into the formation of groups
for projects. In longer workshops, of several days at least,
it is possible to have teacher participants become familiar
with and lead EarthComm activities. After the general work
of the groups is discussed, each participant is told the
options for group placement. In the case of EarthComm these
options relate to which chapters the groups will prepare
to present to the other participants.
After the group has gone over the general content outline
of EarthComm, which they would have looked over the evening
before, the workshop facilitators can ask them to make a
list of their first, second, and third choice of what group
they'd like to be in. In addition, though, they are told
that they each have some number of "passion points"
to assign to the choices they make. The number of passion
points is usually the number of options times three plus
one. So, if there are three options, each participant will
have 10 points to assign (3 x 3, +1 = 10). If there were
four choices then each person would have 13 points to assign
(4 x 3 +1). The participant can assign the points any way
he or she chooses, but each choice must get at least one
point. So, with three choices, one participant might assign
the points as 5 points for the first choice, 3 for the second,
and 2 for the third, while a second might assign 8 points
for the first choice, and 1 point for each of the other
two. That suggests that the second person is somewhat more
passionate about getting to work on his or her first choice
than is the other. Knowing this helps us to form groups
that take individuals' priorities into account.
Avoiding "the Don'ts"
Experienced workshop leaders know that there are several things
that are generally not good ideas. Based on their experience,
resources, and the input from participants, this is a summary
list of "Don'ts":
- Don't go in unprepared-demonstrate respect for the group by
planning ahead, and working the plan.
- Don't be too committed to a particular approach or activity-if
something isn't working, acknowledge that and shift the plan.
- Don't apologize for what was done it good faith by you or
someone else-our ideals sometimes get the best of us, leading
us to focus on how the end product does NOT reach them instead
of how it does.
- Don't gloss over mistakes, but don't dwell on them either-mistakes
are part of any human system, and participants will generally
- Don't get caught up in trying to entertain the group-spontaneous
humor is genuinely appreciated, but forced humor can be seen
as inappropriate, especially if it offends.
- Don't go over time, especially at the end of the day-stick
to the schedule as much as possible, and tell (or, better, ask)
the group if an alteration is needed so it does not seem careless.
- Don't treat all participants or groups the same-get to know
them and their specific needs as much as possible. Acknowledge
differences in background as a strength of the group and encourage
participants to help each other.
- Don't make the workshop "about" you-anecdotes are
often more fun for the teller than the listener, and as much
as possible attention should be turned to the participants,
their actions and their attempts to do things.
- Don't forget that everything you do should be geared toward
conveying specific messages-know your goals for a day and don't
let yourself get distracted, or distract the participants either
through digressions or habits such as pacing.
- Don't neglect "off hours" when participants are
not from the local area-consider how those individuals might
want to spend time. Collect information about local sites and
help participants make connections with others with similar
interests so that off hours are enjoyable.
There is an old saying that "the devil is in the details,"
and that is generally true for any workshop as much as for anything
else. Below are some of the issues that you should be sure to
check into before the workshop:
- What materials are needed for activities? How will they get
to the workshop site?
- If materials are being shipped, is it better to have the materials
go to the workshop leader so they can be checked before the
workshop? (Such as to the facilitators' hotel.)
- Do some participants have specific dietary, mobility, or other
needs? How can these be accommodated?
- Where will participants find parking? Are permits needed?
- Where are some suggested spots to eat evening meals that can
be provided to participants from out of town?
- How should out of town participants get breakfast in time
to be at the workshop on time?
- What form of transportation can be used from lodging to workshop
- What materials can workshop participants keep? What must
- What AV media will be needed for the workshop? Do presenters
know how to use it? Where are extra bulbs and other backups?
- What kinds of activities will be done and what kinds of physical
resources (sinks, windows, doors to outside) will be needed
for those activities?
- Is the physical space large enough for the number of participants
to be as active as is called for?
- Are there special tours and/or other events that are available
for participants to take advantage of during their off hours?
- How can participants keep in touch with their homes and workplaces?
Where can they find telephones? Where can they access e-mail?
- If participants would like to use computer resources, where
are they available (e.g. computer labs)?
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