Facilitating: verbal tools for working with youth

Start shifting your interactions with youth from teacher to facilitator with these five verbal tools.

When working with youth, it is important to not limit yourself to a teaching role. Often youth have unique perspectives and ideas that can lead to positive community change or overcoming a challenge in a creative way. Unfortunately, if youth don’t have the opportunity to share their ideas or perspectives, we don’t have the opportunity to see them grow and shape our community’s future. This is why it is key to keep a facilitator’s role in mind when working with youth, rather than just a teaching role.

What is the different between a teacher and a facilitator? A teacher perspective looks to convey information to youth. In a teaching role, one might self-identify all goals, outcomes and direct learning in a structured, content-based fashion. A facilitator on the other hand, guides the process while the participants determine the goals as a group. Learning with a facilitator is based on critical questioning, active listening and the group collectively taking responsibility for progressing toward their goal.

This is not to say there is not a time and place for both of these roles. A teacher role is very important in specific contexts and with certain types of learners. However, in situations where a facilitator role is more conducive, the following tips will help you shift your role from teacher to facilitator and empower the voice of youth in your communities.

Here are some verbal facilitation tools that can help you collaborate with youth (and adults) as a facilitator!

  • Build in opportunities for quieter group members to contribute. Remember, speaking aloud isn’t always a preferred mode of communication for some people. Use tools like round robin, where you ask each member of the group to contribute to a common question, to make sure more outspoken group members don’t dominate the dialogue.
  • Redirect questions back to the group. No matter what, there are perspectives and experiences different from yours throughout the group. When asked a question, turn the question around and open the floor for any group member to respond. This gives others the opportunity to share their knowledge and you the chance to learn something new yourself.
  • Reference back. It is important to connect the dots between previous stages of dialogue and what is happening in the discussion now. Building bridges between what you’ve already gone through as a group and what is ahead reinforces potential learning opportunities presented through the process of group discovery and decision-making.
  • Encourage other points of view. Groups often become focused on one common perspective or point of view (POV) on a topic. Encouraging your group to consider any perspectives not represented at the table, or what a contrasting POV might be, can result in more dynamic dialogue and inclusive decisions.
  • Ask probing, open-ended questions. Remember, youth have a valuable perspective that is often ignored. Asking questions that elicit critical or creative thinking can keep youth engaged in the group process while providing deeper information to the group as a whole. The key is to make sure you’re actively listening as a facilitator so participating youth feel their voice is valued. This would be a great opportunity for positive reinforcements such as “thank you for that insightful thought!”

Michigan State University Extension offers a training called “Facilitative Leadership” that is held twice every year. This training can help you develop your skills as a facilitator, regardless of where you might apply them. The MSU Extension Children and Youth Institute (CYI) also has educators that can facilitate programs on group decision-making, active communication and youth-adult partnerships for youth and adult volunteers in your community. For more information on such CYI programs, please e-mail 4-hleadership@msu.edu.

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