Facilitation, Education, and Transformation

Stories from my Experience

Script of a presentation given on Zoom to a group of teachers and facilitators in China on June 29, 2021


I grew up on a farm in Iowa.

I was a teacher from childhood – I taught my sister to read when I was 6 and she was 4.  And I used to gather all the neighbourhood kids to do science experiments.

My mother was a teacher, my father had a strong global awareness – both shared these with us.

I have a BA Degree in Education and Anthropology from the University of Iowa.

I joined ICA the same year I started teaching school, right after graduation.

Washington, DC – 1970

How to be respectful and fair, yet firm

This was my first experience in a culture not my own – Black inner-city, grade 3.

Given the history of blacks and whites in the US, I struggled with how to do fair and respectful discipline in my classroom. If the kids were disruptive, I didn’t know how to be firm and respectful at the same time. 

Eventually I was given an ultimatum from the principal: manage your class or you are fired– my transformation was the same afternoon.  I couldn’t afford to be fired!

That year I discovered learning from the students – there were 2 boys named Emmanuel.

They were in Grade 3 and neither could read

I developed a way of learning to read adapted from Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s work with Maori kids in New Zealand.

They asked for words they wanted to read,

I wrote them on cards,

They traced them, said them out loud, wrote them. 

The next day, if they remembered the word on the card, they could keep it.

 If they didn’t, we threw it away, and said it was the wrong word, not that the child was wrong for not remembering. 

After a few words, we built sentences.

Chicago, 1971-2

Forming curriculum around what the students need – facilitating their voices

Black inner-city, grade 7-8 – 7 classes of 30 kids every day – taller than me

Assigned to teach music – kids needed to learn to read

First year – disaster – kids out of control – again a principal gave me an ultimatum to improve

Second year –  on the first day, I had each student make a private 10-year life plan.


How old are you now?

How old will you be in 10 years?

What do you want to be or be doing in 10 years?

What are 10 things you need to do to get where you want to be in 10 years?

What are 10 things you need to do this year to get to where you want to be?

And finally, what do you need from my class?

Their plans were private – the only thing I asked them to share was what they needed from my class.  I wrote every one of them on the blackboard and had someone copy it.  Then I clustered it all together along with the curriculum I was given, and what I knew they needed – to learn to read and believe in themselves. 

This foundation became the creation of Black Music History course – I learned a lot!

Transformation of kids – they were eager participants in my class

Transformation of me – I realized that I was successful when I could relate what I was teaching to what the students needed for their own lives

Commendation from the principal

Grade 6 Rite of Passage Journey, Summer 1974

Transforming children into youth

35 6th graders, children of staff and colleagues

Camping in tents for 6 weeks, mostly in the wilderness

Intention was to provide a rite of passage from childhood to youth, with greater responsibility

Challenging activities, such as a week-long hike, carrying all camping gear

An overnight solitary vigil for each student, with some questions to ponder

Watching the Northern Lights one night until very late – awesome

Peoria, 1974-6

Facilitating mutual learning

Group facilitation started to be known – we started to use it in facilitating community planning meetings

From facilitation and my experience in Chicago, I stood in respect for the students – they learned from me and I learned from them.

Lesson plans became session plans – a way of putting an agenda together

Egypt, 1975-78

The long-term value of building on what the community needs, creating personal and community transformation

Facilitated community planning – including all villagers

Community wanted good education in the village

Started the preschool – facilitating young non-literate village women to plan and teach

Demonstrated how to build curriculum and lead conversations

Encouraged the teachers to take literacy classes

The next year – community teachers running the preschool

Kids on the first day in the public school were not afraid

45 years later there is still a village-run preschool in the village

There are university graduates from the community, and several still doing participatory community development


Texas, 1979-81

Facilitating as creating bridges of understanding between groups in a community

Two cultures not my own simultaneously – Mexican and Texan

In the school I did informal facilitation – creating bridges of understanding between cultures

Facilitating on-going community planning

I built the remedial reading curriculum on what kids needed – testing, talking with them – addressing underlying contradictions where they were blocked rather than creating a set lesson plan


Murrin Bridge 1981-83

Facilitating as cultural reconciliation

I took aboriginal elders into the schools – since I was neither black or white Australian, both sides trusted me and I was a liaison between the teachers and the Aboriginal elders

The community wanted to preserve language and culture – the elders were the only ones who spoke the language – they taught black and white kids together to create self-confidence and respect.

When we did this, I facilitated conversations on what students were learning

My work was to create bridges of understanding between cultures

Chicago, 1984

Supporting youth to thrive

Student house – place where Grade 7-8 students lived while their parents were working overseas

Jamaica, 1984-86

Supporting local leadership

Worked with village preschool teachers again, and trained school teachers on request

Canada, 1986 – 2021

 Facilitation as a way to change school systems

Regina Public Schools

I trained 10% of the teachers and principals in facilitation – Focused Conversation and Consensus Workshop Method.  Many of them used the methods in their classrooms and in teacher’s meetings.  They also facilitated input into a school reorganization plan.

Eeeyou Istchee (James Bay Cree) School Board – Quebec

I facilitated strategic planning for the schools in 10 remote indigenous communities.

Then I facilitated the leadership team to bring the plans from the communities together for the whole indigenous school board.

This created a school board plan that held indigenous values.

This plan guided the school board’s decisions for more than 5 years.

Treaty 4 Education – Saskatchewan

I facilitated a strategic plan with the school board and leadership (several indigenous communities).

This facilitation included community consultations.

They created a school board that met their values as an indigenous board.

I continue to do follow-up and train staff in facilitation.

They use facilitation in all their interactions with community.

OISE – Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

OISE is the education department at the University of Toronto

The new dean wanted participation in decision-making, not something often done in universities.

500 people – faculty, staff, administration, and students participated in small groups to create values, vision, obstacles and strategies, and then representatives of those groups clustered all the results together to make one strategic plan for the department.  For each strategy, there was an action planning team to make plans for how to move forward on the strategies.

This project won an IAF Facilitation Impact Award.

The university provost commended the department for its planning, and suggested that other departments do something similar.

About jofacilitator

On Sept 1, 2020, I celebrated 50 years of work with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, facilitating meetings, groups, communities, and organizations, making it possible for ordinary people to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives. I retired on December 31, 2021, but still volunteer with the organization.
This entry was posted in Facilitation Stories, Personal Stories and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Facilitation, Education, and Transformation

  1. Pingback: Facilitation, Education, and Transformation — Jofacilitator | IAF Jamaica

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