Role of the Facilitator
As outlined earlier, there is no instruction manual for how to achieve the vision of an inclusive life. And so to there is not a "one-size-fits-all" description of what an inclusion facilitator does. The following section outlines some promising practices and competencies that we have identified as common to facilitators who are shifting communities and facilitating authentic opportunities for students. One of the core competencies that fall facilitators must actively cultivate is critical thinking. The video below provides an introduction to what critical thinking is, why it is useful and what it involves to cultivate this important skill
Wikipedia provides the following definitions of a facilitator:
“A facilitator is someone who helps a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan to achieve them without taking a particular position in the discussion.”
“One who contributes structure and process to interactions so groups are able to function effectively and make high-quality decisions. A helper and enabler whose goal is to support others as they achieve exceptional performance.”
Adopting the title of facilitator, over support worker or helper, was an intentional decision on the part of the families who founded inclusive post-secondary education in BC. Support worker roles are often linked to disability services and/or defined programs of support, there is nothing inherently wrong with this title, but the reality is that for decades, support workers and disability programs have largely failed to produce positive outcomes for people with disabilities. One of the possible reasons for this failure is that the role of support worker often tends to create a dynamic of power and control over the person receiving support. A new approach was needed and so a new title was adopted.
Facilitation shifts the focus off of the individual and onto the community, which opens up many more possibilities for students and communities to transform to ensure that students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are valued members. Rather than assuming that it is the responsibility of the student to "fit in", the focus of facilitation is on building the capacity of everyone to build reciprocal relationships and natural supports for all members of the community. We are not saying that the students we support will not or should not require any support, but rather that this support can be built into their classrooms, workplaces, and the broader community.
Below you will find examples of how to approach facilitation. The common thread that you should notice through each of the examples is that everything is done in a very intentional way. It is often the case that natural inclusion requires a lot of "unnatural' background work to achieve. This is largely due to the reality that most people have little or no real experience knowing a person with a developmental disability outside of a devalued social role (more on valued social roles to come...).
Facilitators constantly negotiate and renegotiate their understanding of the group, the individual, their own role, and the context, in order to work towards crafting a community where inclusion can happen more naturally and sustainably the next time. These examples illustrate the facilitation of:
Facilitation Priorities:When schedules are chaotic and deadlines are imminent, it can be hard to remember what the important parts of our jobs are. The following diagram provides a helpful framework for considering the different parts that make up an authentic experience.
Click to enlarge image
Safe environmentBecause we support students of a college or university, which already works to provide a safe environment for all students, facilitating a safe environment should be the easiest part of this job. On every campus, there exists departments of Student Affairs and Student Services dedicated to student safety and success.
But, work is still needed to facilitate positive relationships between ourselves and campus staff, and between campus staff and the students we support, if they are to access regular campus services and opportunities in a seamless way. This part of the work involves building relationships and finding ways to seek reciprocal ways of contributing to the work of college and university staff. Fostering strong relationships contributes to building campuses that are safe and supportive environments.It is also important to be clear and confident in our communication with families around safety on campus. We need to facilitate opportunities that demonstrate how students are safest when they belong and participate in the community, not when supports prioritize safety at the expense of inclusion.
Psychological and Emotional Safety
The overwhelming majority of 1st-year students we support were segregated in high school. This means that the 1st year can be both scary and an opportunity to let loose as there is less control exerted over the students decisions and how they spend their day. This provides an opportunity for students to take risks and benefit from experiencing authentic consequences for their choices. This can be a stark contrast from the support that tries to prevent and minimize risk. When students have the opportunity to make choices and take risks they begin to build confidence in themselves and learn about what they like and what they are good at.
For students who do not feel safe immediately, or whose experimenting may lead to some unique responses from the community, there may be a short term requirement for extra support. The nature of that support should be as minimal as possible, but not more so; and as invisible as possible. Invisibility is key as it provides the opportunities for the community to problem solve, to sort out their mutual relationships, as well as understand their own roles and responsibilities in creating an inclusive space. Invisibility done well, requires significantly more work and creativity than a hands-on approach, but leads to valued and self sustainable communities in the future.
Program space & furniture
Program space and furniture is provided by the post secondary institution through the shared use of common areas (coffee shops, printers etc) that are available for any other student. On occasion accommodations or supports may be needed to make sure these are accessible e.g. if a student who is blind needs special software to access school computers or a desk may need to be elevated to accommodate a wheelchair. When thinking about accommodations or adaptations to physical environments it is important to consider approaches that are harmonious with the space.
Sometimes professors may need extra information about emergency procedures to know how to include the student. For example, if the student is in a wheel chair and the classroom is not on the ground floor, the Professors need to be aware of emergency evacuation procedures and know where the nearest refuge area is so that student can be safely reached by campus emergency response personnel.
Supportive environmentWhen facilitating a supportive environment we think about how to build a supportive relationship with the student as well as how to support the campus community to create a supportive environment for all students. We can do this by working with all members of the student’s post-secondary community to make sure they feel confident providing a supportive environment (in the classroom, club or workplace).
Note: we would never approach someone and say “As the leader in this space in order to include the student you must provide… [the list below]!" But, we would reflect on each situation to make sure that we think the leaders involved have whatever tools they need to provide what the individual student requires. For example, if a particular student felt more comfortable attending class for the first time if the professor said hello, we would communicate that to the Professor before the first class. If another student has a particular way that they learn best we might support the student to share that as well during the meeting.
We often find ourselves in the role of “cheerleaders” inspiring students when they are afraid to take a leap and try something new. Proactively building inclusive places and finding valued roles for the students is the best way to move away from our central role and empowering the student and members of the club, class, community to feel that they belong to a group with a common identity and have a sense of mutual support in reaching common goals.
Conflict might not just mean direct conflict, but could also include conflict between expectations (either their own or expectations by others). It may also come from a place that is not obvious at first. I.e. A student who is disruptive or confrontational is often one who feels disempowered and does not feel included and valued. Rather than working only on strategies to stop the student from engaging in conflict, the root cause can be addressed by working on creating meaningful roles with community members to build authentic mutually valued relationships.
Historically people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are trapped in an endless lifelong process of having to learn skills before they can engage in life. Our role is to resist the pressure to provide structures skill development. We have ample evidence to support that skills develop naturally when students belong and learn from their peers and through their experiences (just like the rest of us). Our role is to think creatively about how to support the student to get the most out of their classroom and campus experience. Part of that role is to discover the best ways to modify course materials for students so that the student can learn and contribute in the same ways as other students through group projects, engaging in discussions, asking questions.
Skills don't lead to opportunities, opportunities lead to skills!
Fundamentally the critical role of facilitators is to find ways that the learning moments above can become opportunities for relationship building and the exploration of new ideas and communities for the student.
Academic and Term Coherency
The student should be supported to have an academic, campus, and employment experience which is coherent with that of any other student. That is, during the day during the academic term they are engaged academically, socially, recreationally, and in the local culture of the campus. During the summer term, they are supported to find and retain summer employment coherent with what other students are doing this term. Seeking opportunities for them to enroll in practicums related to their studies or internships is another way to support their identity as authentic students.
The role of the Facilitators is to find ways for peers, professors, teaching staff, campus staff, and others to work together in identifying opportunities for the student to become an engaged student with a sense of belonging to their community. Often this means thinking about how a student can have a meaningful role in a group, project, or activity rather than being a passive participant or observer. Examples of this are discussed in the “interaction” section.
This seems like a given for any campus classroom or group activity, but unfortunately, it is not uncommon for others to need mentoring in overcoming their feeling of confusion about how to interact with someone who they may perceive as different. Sometimes others just need a bit of a nudge to remind them that acting in natural ways, as one would with anyone else, is OK. This factor is one of the reasons facilitators give an overview of inclusive post-secondary education to classes at the start of the semester.
InteractionIt very important for facilitators to seek out opportunities for the student to interact in authentic ways with other members of campus communities.
Lead and mentor
When students have opportunities to be leaders and mentors of others it has huge power to change stereotypes. These opportunities can be few and far between and need to be carefully nurtured and sought out by facilitators.
Be in small groups
Small groups are the places where life-long connections are forged on post-secondary campuses. These come in the form of group projects, study groups, campus clubs, and campus parties.
Recognizing and Reinforcing Adulthood
Students we work for are adults and are peers with the other adult students. While this seems obvious, far too frequently adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are perceived and treated like children. Seeking ways to reinforce their own image as an adult, as well as promoting the recognition by close family, friends, and advocates that their child is now an adult is important to the identity and independence of the student as they transition from their teenage years to adulthood.
This is the most powerful of all opportunities and one we must protect at all times. Students who have experienced exclusion often don't have an expectation of belonging. Authentic experiences, built on interaction & involvement in campus life, create a feeling of belonging and an expectation by others that the student belongs. I.e. if they are part of a group and they do not show up for an event are they missed, does someone from the group text or phone to see what happened? Invite them to the next event? If a peer sees a student being treated unfairly, they might stop up and help the student advocate for themselves.
EngagementInteraction and engagement are closely linked, the more confidence a student gains by having positive, inclusive interactions the more they feel empowered to be engaged. And, the less they feel like engagement is being imposed upon them. The three components of engagement below can only really be achieved once the previous foundational building blocks are established. It is not fair to expect that a student, who feels unsafe and has not had any authentic interactions or engagement, can plan, reflect or make choices in an authentic way.
It is important for facilitators to talk through upcoming events with students and that they learn to anticipate and support things that may disrupt plans.
Helping students to reflect on what is working and not working, and thus become aware and comfortable with of their own strengths and how to work around their weaknesses is a powerful tool for students to begin to advocate for themselves.
Often students come to university or college when they are newly adults, and the idea that they have the ability to make their own choices is new. Allowing students the space to make choices and support them through the consequences is the mark of a well-facilitated situation.
In Conclusion...A good facilitator tries to…