Tips for Facilitating Youth Voice Activities

There are a few important considerations that facilitators should keep in mind when facilitating activities designed to promote Youth Voice. They are not a mystery; however, they are not the same in every organization or community.
Tip 1: Be a Facilitator
Presenting any workshop can be challenging for the most experienced facilitator. A facilitator’s job has three parts: lead the workshops, guide the reflection, and be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is contagious! Also, share personal experiences and remember that as a young person, a student, a community member or an adult ally, you have knowledge and experience that you can and should share. Also, remember that the mood of the facilitator will set the tone for the entire workshop. So strive to be positive and have fun with these workshops!
Tip 2: Create Guidelines & Goals
Have participants create ground rules or guidelines before you begin a workshop. Brainstorm potential rules and write them down – but avoid too many rules. There are three essential guidelines:
  • Safety first. Never compromise the safety of yourself or others.
  • Challenge by choice. If someone wants to sit out, that’s cool.
Every group should have some specific goals that all players agree on. Some goals have included:
  • Break down the barriers that may exist between students such as race, sex, background, and social status.
  • Build a sense of teamwork and purpose.
  • Show that everyone has different strengths and abilities to offer the group and that no one is better than anyone else.
Tip 3: Think about Framing & Sequencing
The purpose of these workshops is often set during the introduction, or framing, of them. Framing can happen as an analogy where the facilitator creates a magical place where dangerous things can happen without new knowledge. Or the workshops can be simply presented without metaphors, and with just a simple prompt that alerts participants to look for deeper meaning.
Another important consideration is the order in which you present workshops, or sequencing. If a group has never learned together, it might be to follow the sequence presented in the following section. This order is proposed to help youth and adults “soften” their personal space bubble. If a group is more comfortable with each other, try “bursting” the bubble by digging right into deeper workshops. It is important to try to put “heavy” workshops after less intensive ones, to build a sense of rest and preparedness.
Tip 4: Reflect, Reflect, Reflect
One way to highlight the necessity of workshops for youth and adults together is in the reflection afterwards. An easy way to see the relevance of reflection is to picture workshops as a circle: you start with an explanation what you are going to learn and frame its purpose and goals to the group. As the activity progresses, the facilitator taking a more hands-on or less guiding approach as needed. Finally, group reflection helps participants see how they met the goals of the workshop, and helps them envision the broader implications. Then the group has came full-circle. Remember to bring it all back to reality with the reflection. Reflecting on the workshops is vital to bring the group back to the reason why they’re playing games.
The following types of questions can be useful in reflecting:
  • Open-ended questions – prevents yes and no answers. “What was the purpose of the game?” “What did you learn about yourself?”
  • Feeling questions – requires participants to reflect on how they feel about what they did. “How did it feel when you started to pull it together?”
  • Judgment questions – asks participants to make decisions about things. “what was the best part?” “Was it a good idea?”
  • Guiding questions – steers the participants toward the purpose of the activity and keep the discussion focused. “What got you all going in the right direction?”
  • Closing questions – helps participants draw conclusions and end the discussion. “What did you learn?” “What would you do differently?”
Tip 5: Make Meaning With Participants
At their best, the following workshops can serve as bridges between young people and adults, and between Youth Voice, learning, and co-learning, and collective action. At their worst, these workshops can actually be tools of oppression and alienation and serve to support vertical practices that isolate young people from adults everyday. In the words of educator Paulo Freire, “A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.” In this sense, Youth Voice requires that we all become humanists who engage adults with youth, followers with leaders, and teachers with students. We must all become Youth Voice.

Tip 6: Create Safe Space
It is vital to create, foster, and support safe spaces youth and adults to learn together about Youth Voice. In a society that is openly hostile towards critical perspectives from young people, youth need support when they make their voices heard. Likewise, adults face challenges when they partner with youth, and they need support as well. Establishing a safe space is powerful, positive, and hopeful, and hope is a requirement for Youth Voice.
Tip 7: Co-train Adults with Youth
Youth and adults need training – together. When possible, and appropriate, facilitate workshops with mixed groups of youth and adults where they can learn about Youth Voice as partners. This emphasizes that everyone is a co-learner in the process of engaging Youth Voice, discouraging experienced participants from lauding their knowledge over others. You can create the conditions that support young people and adults learning together either by clearly stating expectations or having the group come up with them, and then holding the group to the expectations.

Tip 8: Learning is a Process – Not an Outcome
Encourage participants to view learning about Youth Voice as a process that has no end. There are no experts in Youth Voice – only people with a little more experience. However, even experience cannot teach us what we do not seek to learn. John Dewey once wrote that we should
seek, “Not perfection as a final goal, but the ever-enduring process of perfecting, maturing, refining is the aim of living.” This is true of Youth Voice. Youth and adults should use action as a starting point for a lifelong journey that includes learning, reflection, examination, and reenvisioning democracy in our communities.
Tip 9: Embrace Challenges
Since Youth Voice is a process, it is important to understand that there will be difficult times ahead. One of the keys to sustaining long-term Youth Voice is establishing the expectation that criticism will come –and that is good. We cannot grow without criticism. In a society where adults routinely criticize youth without suitable avenues for youth to criticize adults, we must be aware of the outcomes of our actions. Embrace these challenges and learn from them.
These are some tips to consider when you’re facilitating Youth Voice activities. What else would you add to the list?
This post was excerpted from the Washington Youth Voice Handbook copyright 2007 Adam Fletcher. All rights reserved.

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing or calling (360)489-9680.

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker, writer, trainer, researcher and advocate who researches, writes and shares about education, youth, and history.

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