In the many years I worked in social justice education through the University of Cincinnati Racial Awareness Program (RAPP), I’ve been grateful to work with committed and passionate student workers and AmeriCorps Public Ally apprentices. All of these have worked both in co-facilitating educational dialogue programming as well as the administrative work necessary to make these programs run.
Regular meetings, usually weekly, that include both task-oriented work and developmental conversations are part of our supervision routine. Over the last four years, I’ve made a regular habit of structured reflection time where we look at specific tasks the person or we together completed and explore two key questions:
- What went well in the process?
- What is something worth remembering from the process, maybe something great we want to remember to do again or something new it inspires us to try?
Recording responses to the latter question generates a long list of “Lessons Learned” over the year that accumulate at the end of our agendas and are the basis for blog posts the students write. Initially, I asked people to write one post at the end of their tenure; for the last year and a half I’ve asked them to write the posts regularly to share the many things they learn/re-learn/are learning over time.
I started with the first question of “what went well” because nearly every person who’s worked with RAPP in a co-facilitator role has had one overdeveloped skill: Describing what they think they did “wrong.” Our ability to acknowledge things that went well and things they do well was sorely underdeveloped.
Until last year, I’d kept this practice reactive. We always reflected afterward. Outside of structured full staff trainings, I only brought in models & articles to discuss after I identified a deficit in knowledge/skills I wanted us to work on.
This past fall, a student worker Brice and I embarked on a journey together to be proactive around this work. We started with The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflection from Social Justice Educators, edited by Lisa N. Landeman.
I’d previously bought copies of this book for all the student co-facilitators in our programs but had only engaged it in pre-service training. Throughout the fall, Brice would select a chapter from the book for us both to read, we’d read it between meetings, then discuss it at the meetings. Occasionally, Brice would create an activity for us to do together based on the reading.
Inspired by this as well as our disagreements around his skill as a facilitator (I think he does well all-around in the many roles we fill as facilitators; he did not), I pulled out “Effective Facilitation: Self-Evaluation Checklist” by Dr. Kathy Obear. Rather than rush through all the dozens of skills in one go, I thought it’d be useful for us to give them time. So, three or four times a month, we’d discuss just five of the skills at a time. We’d each rate ourselves on each skill and discuss ways we did them, times we hadn’t, ways that the different work we did used the skills in different ways, and how we saw each other demonstrating the skills.
I’d previously used this same list, but as a whole in one meeting or spread over at most three meetings. Breaking the piece up over time like this has given us a chance for deep reflection and created a regular opportunity for feedback and reflection. I’ve since used this spread-over-time technique with other student workers, while still using whole articles, chapters, and videos as before. For example, a student worker and I are going through the Code of Ethics for Antiracist White Allies point by point in preparation for our work with RAPP’s summer intensive on racial justice.
Recently, Brice and I reflected as described in the beginning of this post on the process of taking several months to work through the self-evaluation checklist. In many ways, this post is our Lessons Learned blog post.
If you asked me before I started working with RAPP how important reflection was, I would have said not so much. Now, after working with RAPP, I know it to be extremely important. Though I practice these reflections in the realm of social justice education, I can see their application being useful in any field of work. The exercises and blog posts we worked on over the course of the year boosted my confidence, reinforced my skill set, and gave me a framework for my own student workers (someday).
I remember when we began reading “The Art of Effective Facilitation.” I was thinking it would be some magic tome that would finally prepare me to do what I had always dreamed of doing: being a facilitator. The book did teach me some new things, but what it really did was reinforce how much I already knew. I was already a facilitator! The same can be said about our discussions around Kathy Obear’s checklist. I remember going through the list five skills at a time and being shocked at how many I had successfully demonstrated. We reached the end of the list and I thought, “That’s it?”
As Rebecca highlighted above, I excelled at pointing out my faults. I am my biggest critic, but I don’t often take the time to analyze my mistakes. These mistakes become opportunities for growth once given the time to reflect. Similarly, I rarely take the time to appreciate the good work I have done. Through facilitating our 9-month social justice program, I have seen breakthroughs in the RAPPers and in myself. Being able to highlight these breakthroughs in the RAPP blog boosts my morale and hopefully that of the reader as well.
All of this reflection has been invaluable to my growth as a student, facilitator, and aspiring professional.
Brice is one of 15 recipients of the RAPP Social Justice Peer Educator Certificate this academic year, the curriculum of which is built around this idea: I exemplify social justice education when I commit to continual self-reflection & intentional development work as a social justice educator.
Brice Mickey has been involved with RAPP since 2010. He is currently a senior at the University of Cincinnati majoring in Information Technology. He has also served as the 9-month co-facilitator for RAPP XXVIII and XXIX.
Rebecca Lehman has been involved with RAPP since 2006. She is currently transitioning out of the role of Program Coordinator for the program and is excited to see where she goes next.