It’s been two years for me as an Associate for Content Development and Capacity Building at Madhi, and in this time I have had numerous opportunities to create grade, context, and level-appropriate content for children across Tamil Nadu, but I have had only one opportunity with respect to capacity building. This was as a resource person at the Tamil Nadu Education Fellowship in Hosur. The Tamil Nadu Education Fellowship (TNEF) is an initiative undertaken by the School Education Department for the efficient implementation and delivery of all critical educational initiatives through people with diverse backgrounds and experiences.
I still remember the day we were told about this. I never imagined that I would get to facilitate sessions for about 160 fellows. It was a great opportunity for me to interact with people of all ages, from 25 to 60 years with backgrounds not just limited to the educational and social sector. It gave me a new perspective into the kind of work that people do, and how the experiences that they have in very different situations can all come together to understand and reform the one major cause we are all working towards- ensuring basic literacy and numeracy for all our children. It all happened unexpectedly fast. The TNEF fellowship is a government initiative, and Madhi’s role here was to plan, organise and deliver a strong induction program for the Fellows. I had volunteered to help out the organising team at Madhi who was hosting this fellowship in, Mathakondapalli Model School at Hosur, an industrial city located in the Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu. I was to observe other facilitators take sessions along with helping out the planning committee with any support that they required. It was then that I was asked to facilitate a few sessions during my stay there.
I still remember the anxiety, nervousness, and stress that I was surrounded by. I definitely had doubts as to what kind of job I’d do. I wanted to give my best, but since I had no prior experience as a facilitator, I couldn’t understand what a facilitator’s best practices looked like. It was then that I began to observe sessions taken by other facilitators.
I was able to pick some of their best practices to engage the audience, such as coming up with interesting and new attention grabbers every time they address their audience, summarizing the points shared by the participants once they are done sharing to close the learning loop, keeping the participants on their toes at all times by asking them questions, giving them opportunities to lead a few tasks and most importantly, how to bring the audience back to the session after a serious and engrossed discussion or debate. Each of these practices was best shown in the styles of different facilitators. These were a few tactics I learned that helped me hook my audience on the essence of the session and ask guiding questions in order to make the interaction more reflective in nature. I knew I couldn’t exactly do as the previous facilitator, but I got a strong sense and idea of how I could mold it to best suit my style and presentation skills. And voila! Just like that, I found my inspiration. I knew exactly what I had to do. I walked in with confidence, planning, preparation, and resources, and borrowed ideas to facilitate my first session- the spectrum activity.
This activity contains questions for a deeper discussion or reflection among the fellows to critically analyze their past week and learnings. Here the facilitator asks about 5-6 questions that help the audience think and reflect. Once they do, they have to place themselves on a scale of 1-10 on where they stand. They also get to share their insights with a large group.
It was safe to say that I did a good job. I could extend the discussion above and beyond the given questions in this activity for a much deeper analysis. I was also able to bring the audience back into the session wherever it felt like the discussion was going off track. One such instance was when the audience was asked about how they felt about the sessions being organised for them. The discussion started off on the right track but strayed in the middle when the Fellows began to jump to topics that were outside our discussion. I collected all the pointers and brought back the discussion to the focus point which was- the Fellows’ reflection on the sessions organised for them.
Facilitation for adults came naturally to me. I was also able to constantly engage with each and every Fellow, and create spaces for individual, small group, and large group sharing in each of the sessions I took with the experience I had as a teacher to 7th and 8th graders. Every time I came out of the hall, I used to feel powerful. There was a sense of power, pride, and satisfaction I used to walk out with. I used to think that having prior experience or training by a professional for capacity building was extremely necessary. It definitely would have helped (there’s no denying that!) but I also realized that observation, self-reflection as well as understanding one’s meaning of best practices was extremely important to be a good facilitator.
The biggest takeaways from my own Fellowship experience were the quick thinking that I could apply in unfamiliar situations like addressing technical questions related to the fieldwork that I did not have much clarity on, strong reflections with other colleagues as to how else can I make the sessions more meaningful for the Fellows, what kind of research do I need to do in order to be able to clarify as many doubts as possible or individually to look back at what I did in each session, what could have been better and what I would do going forward, willingness to participate by volunteering to pitch in wherever necessary even if it meant improvising and learning on the go, and asking for feedback that I saw everyone present there- Fellows as well as facilitators exhibit. It taught me the most important aspects that I would need going forward to keep improving professionally.
I honestly don’t think I could have learned how to be a facilitator better anywhere else. I always thought having a fixed framework and medium of instruction is what makes a capacity-building session wholesome. It definitely provides a ground for the work to begin, but it is so much more than that. It is a culmination of what you see, hear, and practice on an everyday basis along with technical support like structures and references to go back to when in need. Kudos to the entire organising team as well as the facilitators and the participants for creating a wholesome environment for new learners like me and actually giving us an opportunity to learn and exhibit at the same time.