Getting Better

Monday night, hotel lobby, and eventually Tuesday night
The day’s not over yet. The workshop ended at 5:30, followed by the first facilitators’ debrief until 6:30. That’s right, I said the first debrief. It’s become a habit to have 2 such meetings per night. The first one is with 3 participants who share their thoughts on the day (and identify ways to improve the next day). The second one, scheduled for 8 tonight, is only with the facilitators and I in order to plan tomorrow’s activities. Last night we ended near midnight.
The pace is tiring but the participants are learning and appreciating things so far, although they did admit to a bit of confusion at some points during today’s work and a willingness to adhere more to the time alloted for activities. One facilitator expressed frustration this evening because we did not follow the process as planned. We’d made – I mean I made the decision to postpone the last activity until tomorrow and give participants more time to focus on writing objectives for a training session. I maintain it was the right decision, but it caused some tension among the facilitation group. Nothing that is unresolvable, however.
Working with 4 facilitators is not easy. They are all facilitators, there is no distinction of facilitator and co-facilitator. All have an equal say in things, and all are meant to contribute equally, despite a range of experience in facilitation. And the discussions during the second facilitators’ debrief at the end of the day takes places almost entirely in Arabic, making my contribution a challenge.
They have at times taken the description of an activity in the manual and changed it in ways they thought would be better but made me squirm a little in my seat. I wasn’t fully satisfied at how some activities unfolded, and by lunch I needed to take some fresh air. It probably showed that I wasn’t my usual self, but hopefully not too much.
I try to look at matters from the facilitators’ point of view. They come to this workshop with their own experiences and we provide them with a manual with activities already laid out. If I were in their place I would feel a little restrained. But nonetheless, I’ve seen this type of workshop unfold enough times to know with confidence what works and what probably won’t.
Let me write a bit about what this workshop is, isn’t, should be, but won’t be. Some participants have said that this training of trainers is not a TOT. It is a comment I have heard a few times when undertaking this type of TOT in different countries. “There’s no facilitation,” some say, or “We’re not learning about training.” My answer to that is a bit long but let me give you the short answer: a TOT implies more than knowing how to stand in front of a group, or how to lead a brainstorming session, or how to get people moving with energizers. Being an effective human rights educator who can design, develop and implement HRE training sessions has to know a lot more than speak clearly in front of a group (please do), use the right size font for PowerPoint presentations (minimum 18 pt, and keep it to a maximum of 4 bullet points per slide, and do skip the fancy animations), and stop swinging the mike back and forth as you speak (and also don’t hold it close enough to lick it). Don’t forget eye contact, and please stop waving your hands so damn much.
It’s now a day later since the last sentence. I can’t believe it’s just past 7 PM and the day is over, including both debriefs.
…And now it’s past midnight, the previous train of thought interrupted by a sumptuous dinner courtesy of our guests in Erbil, and a brief and enjoyable meeting with our resource person who thankfully made it after a delay in Baghdad. At the end of the day today, a couple of participants were emphasizing that today marked the first day they thought was a true “TOT”. I have to admit that the title of this workshop, and other TOTs my organization conducts, is slightly misleading. This workshop is far more than a TOT because the people we work with are far more than trainers, they’re human rights educators who do a multitude of tasks. But to call this a TOHRE just sounds a bit off. There are enough acronyms I have to deal with, FYI. A lot of this workshop’s content falls more accurately under the umbrella of “HRE curriculum design” (which was the workshop in Indonesia last week).
I took the microphone today and gave a long-winded presentation at the end of the day. Perfect for the participants to gently shut their eyes as the lights dimmed. A couple of months ago in Lebanon with participants I asked them what things I did that I could improve as a facilitator. (Try it, go ahead and ask someone who’s seen you facilitate, it’ll be more useful than you think.) One person told me I overexplain at times (true that). Another one said I talk too much (I’m a failed stand up comic, I love the stage). Someone else told me I move my hands too much. I was painfully aware of all three things this afternoon while presenting, especially when I realized I moved my hands so damn much it looked like I was swatting a dozen flies around me. In the end, I did nothing to improve these bad habits, but maybe being conscious of them will help me to improve eventually.
A final note on problem participants and other wacky characters in a training session. I went through the list of participant types with the group. Quiet, shy, loud, dominating, forcing opinions on others, disruptor, and so on. Then I said that we, as facilitators, all have to face these types of participants when we train. I told them that we likely have all these types in this training as well. After that I asked them to reflect on what type of participant they see themselves as. After a minute, they mingled around and talked to others about what they thought. If we’re lucky, it might have given some people food for thought and enable them to either talk more, talk less, listen more, or give space to others. If they don’t, well I’m not worried too much. This group knows each other so well we are beginning to act like family, where idiosyncrasies are tolerated either with gentle amusement or candid frustration and we somehow manage to move forward.

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