BUILD Initiative Blog | (Re)create Community: Meeting Facilitatio
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

BUILDing Strong Foundations

BUILD Initiative Blog



By Jonathan Scott Chapman, Learning Community Specialist at BUILD Initiative 

Two little birds at first. Consumed by a frenzied back-and-forth. Unmoved by the excess of food that hangs in the air, that called them to the perch. They reach a compromise after a spell. Or maybe they hold fast to their oppositions and agree to disagree. Upon compromise or impasse, up, up they go to crisscross the Blue Above and end my afternoon of eavesdropping. Anticipating flight, a squirrel alights on the perch from a leafy branch that overhangs, its carefree acrobatics betraying no consciousness of trespass. Quite the opposite in fact. It belongs there. Many times, it had been there before. It knows where to find it in tiny handfuls pressed up against mouth. To us, that oblong object tethered to limb and stocked with a medley of nuts is a bird feeder. But to the little birds, a stoop where they would finally get to the bottom of this. And to the squirrel, a pantry that is bottomless.

No, I don’t enjoy a fascination with wildlife. Ethology is neither my hobby nor secret area of study. I’m at the Chapel Hill residence-turned-workplace of Maggie McGlynn while surveying this woodland scene. Accompanied by four of my colleagues, we are joined by six other participants at a meeting facilitation training organized by McGlynn Leadership. Like the squirrel, we too are on a lunch break. Before that recess, Maggie and training co-leader Lisa Sutter articulated the importance of observation to meeting facilitation, specifically, how an effective facilitator uses observation to measure the mood and energies in a room, to encourage a group’s self-direction, to organize and synthesize its ideas, and to identify the opportunities that lie at those intersections of thought. Maggie also explained that when we’re not facilitating a meeting, we still can strengthen the skills that effective facilitation requires. During our lunch break, her backyard became my professional development landscape.

Watching, listening, and receiving Maggie and Lisa over four insightful days, what I gathered from our training is that observation and intuition, and not necessarily direction, are the essential and distinctive talents of an effective facilitator. According to Maggie, an effective facilitator is “a host not a hero.” As host, providing answers for a group is not the facilitator’s charge. Rather, the facilitator-host guides a group to answer its own questions, thereby fostering its problem-solving capacity and intellectual independence. The facilitator-host observes a group to understand and fulfill its needs to support the achievement of the meeting goals it articulates. This approach culminates in the group developing a sense of community. That idea resonated with me.

In The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck defines community as “a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to ‘rejoice together, mourn together,’ and to ‘delight in each other, make others’ conditions [their] own.’” Then it is the challenge of the facilitator and, most importantly, the group that she facilitates, to transform their gathering into a communal experience where honesty, truth, vulnerability, empathy, and enjoyment underpin the group’s actions, which, in this field, will ultimately impact the lives of young children.

Facilitating with an emphasis on community seems well-suited to early childhood professionals, whose work requires a focus on family. Throughout the year, my colleagues at BUILD, and all our partners, facilitate or participate in countless meetings. Whether in person, by phone, or over the Web, we frequently find ourselves gathered around the shared belief that improvements must be made to the current early childhood system if all children are to receive the quality care and education they deserve and to enjoy healthy child development.

Imagine if we were to approach all meetings with a communal lens that encouraged us to, as Peck puts it, “communicate honestly with each other” and transcend our “masks of composure.” What effect could this change have on our thinking and solutions? How would application of such a lens influence our relationships with colleagues? Could it draw us together closely and deeply? Could this collegial intimacy produce solutions to systemic problems believed by some too intractable to overcome? Clearly, my current sample size is too small for a reliable deduction. There’s no defensible argument to the contrary. Nonetheless, after four days of McGlynn Leadership meeting facilitation training, I’m hopeful that the early childhood vision that excites our imagination can be the early childhood vision that dictates our reality.

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