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My facilitation style

No single facilitation style will work optimally in every scenario. Every facilitation style has strengths and weaknesses that come with them and so it is important to know how to facilitate in multiple ways when the situation calls for a different approach. Acknowledging that my style has strengths and weaknesses and I can switch if the need arrives I would describe my personal facilitation style as a mix of democratic and laissez-faire according to how Carlin Val and Jess Kemp describe them. A mix of nondirective and appreciative facilitation as described by Martin et Al,  somewhere in between a facilitate consultant and facilitative coach as described by Thomas.


I know I named a lot of different styles but how people express themselves is very complex and often does not fit well into one single style so I will now describe my facilitation style and make connections to the various facilitation styles that I mentioned. For starters, I believe the major benefit of using the outdoors is to face the inherent challenges that it faces and learn lessons on how to apply that to problems that we may be faced within our daily lives. I was definitely inspired by Paul Petzoldt among others to come to this point of view. I also have a very strong belief that for optimal learning to happen, it needs to be focused on the student. This is a key concept we’ve talked about in class and I also associate it with Rousseau’s child-centred learning over content-centred. The quote that got my attention from Rousseau was from class:


 “On giving children guidance in their learning: Let it be very little,

and avoid the appearance of it. If [they] go wrong, do not correct their errors. Say

nothing until they see them and correct them themselves; or at most arrange

some practical situation which will make them realize things personally. If they

never made mistakes they would never learn properly.”


This way of thinking associates well with the laissez-faire leadership style, and that’s the part that I like about that style. Allowing the learners to actually make the mistakes and the process of figuring it out is the valuable part in my opinion. This process of critical thinking is a key outcome that I believe is integral to my facilitation style. In my experience, this does not always work out and there is often a time when the learner has done what they can and now they need help. This is where I use more of a democratic style to offer suggestions of what we could do, this allows the learner to still make mistakes and learn from them while acknowledging there is a gap between what the learner can do on their own and what they can accomplish with the support of someone more knowledgeable about the activity from Lev Vygotsky's concept of “zone of proximal development”.


I believe the reason why I have such a focus on learning from mistakes and the idea of “critical thinking” while using the outdoors to learn is from going to an experiential learning program during high school. In grade 10 I did a program called “Trailhead” and in grade 12 I did the follow-up called “Bronte Creek Project”. While we obviously did have to follow a curriculum, the way we learnt also tied back to deeper thinking. It was also during this period in my life that I started to face the fact that I have certain learning disabilities, the way I learn is not a linear path to the goal and sometimes my brain falls into “pits” where I overthink, have conflicting thoughts or for whatever other reason just can’t get to the learning goal where my other peers get to so smoothly. The teachers at the Bronte Creek Program / Trailhead (I’ll refer to them collectively as BCP) make a connection to each and every student and attempt to understand where each student is coming from. I personally felt this from a teacher who was named Loon. We all had “nature names” which I also valued because I felt it allowed me to become someone different than who I was before. With a new name, new school, and new environment it really felt like a new me where I could change all the things I wanted to about myself and work towards becoming a better person. Loon was a role model for me because when I struggled with a topic or theory, he would try to explain it from where I was struggling and not pick up and repeat the same lesson plan that was explained to the class the first time. This allowed my brain to flow through the path of thinking that it naturally wants to take instead of trying to force it down a foreign way of thinking but when I approach the roadblock that I was faced with before, I now have the understanding to get over it. Reflecting on this student-focused learning I feel that t’s very hard to change the inherent way that someone's brain makes connections, the line of thinking to get to the goal isn’t always a linear path and it curves or loops for different students so instead of trying to force everyone to change their thought process to the same straight line, it’s more beneficial to let students thought train do whatever curves it wants, but help give the students the tools to clear the obstacles along the rail.


Now that I’ve explained what one of the goals is, to give the students the tools to clear obstacles in their way I can explain why I choose certain facilitation styles that help accomplish those goals. Martin’s (2017) view of nondirective facilitation allows the facilitator to create an environment where the participants can decide which way to go. This is great because it does not force the participants to follow the path that I myself would take and deal with the obstacles that I would face but rather the participants follow the path, and the obstacles associated with it, that they would follow. I think appreciative facilitation, from the same text, also has some desirable benefits. This facilitation style identifies moments when the group is working at its best and focuses on what is working rather than what is not working. I think the Pygmalion effect that this is based on is not a constructive theory but I still find myselfing using the style to help support the students understand their strengths. When things are looking grim it is a huge boost to moral to call attention that sure there may be one or two things going bad but lets take a look at everything the group has done amazing, calling attention to specific things certain individuals have done great on. Besides a boost to group dynamics, this theory calls attention to the strengths of the participants so they can identify those strengths they have as “tools” to help them clear future obstacles.


The concept of having a facilitation style that fits my goal of giving the participants “tools” is something that I think is integral to my personal way of facilitating smoothly. That’s why I was excited in reading Thomas’s(2010) ideas about a facilitative coach. To quote directly from the paper:

“A facilitative coach usually works with participants to help them improve their effectiveness by enabling them to reflect on their behaviour and thinking (Schwarz, 2005). Typically, this

requires him/her to jointly design the learning process rather than assuming s/he knows the best way to help the participants learn. Ideally, the facilitative coach works with the participants to “explore the coaching (244 Journal of Experiential Education) relationship itself as a source of learning for both the client and the coach” (Schwarz, 2005, p. 30)”


A lot of this speaks to me, the idea of not being above the participants, not deciding what’s the best path for the participants and the concept of using the learning process as a tool for learning. Being able to make the process of learning and working/coaching a way through something and applying it to future obstacles is an extremely valuable tool that I hope to give to participants. I haven’t touched on it too much but I think an extremely important component of my facilitation style is building a strong relationship with the participants which has so many benefits and that's where I find myself steering towards the facilitative consultant style that Thomas described. The consultant style is described as “used for their expertise in a particular content area and their role is to work with new groups for a shorter time to help them make informed decisions”. I am not an expert but I have a lot of experience in group dynamics and using No-Doze Leadership styles(NOLS) test I fall under the “Relationship Masters” category which I strongly identify with. I find myself noticing and addressing issues in my personal life when there are conflicting dynamics in a group. This works well with the consultant style because I feel comfortable helping groups work out dynamic issues.


The Relationship master category has a lot in common with the different facilitation styles I align with, not surprisingly. This style excels at building rapport with individuals to help me understand where they are starting from, helps me build a dynamic that allows everyone to put in their input and allows my comments from an appreciative facilitator to resonate deeply with participants. I also share some of the common weaknesses that relationship masters suffer from. A common flaw with relationship masters is putting too much emphasis on relationships and not enough on concrete goals or decision making, when combined with my laissez-faire style can lead to participants feeling “lost” or “unsure” of what to do next. I need to pay close attention to this and it’s specifically why I am incorporating more of a democratic style when needed, to make sure participants feel safe and supported during the duration of the program.


 As a general rule of thumb that helps me make sure I am balancing everything out I turn to Beams (2018) features of experiential education over any other model. I don’t use it as a concrete guide that every program always needs to have but every component should be thought over and have a reason for having or not having it.


Something that I won’t go into detail about but don’t want to neglect it’s importance is reflection. No matter what style I use, having a debreif or reflection incorporated into the prgram is one of the most important if not the most important part of the learning process. It allows the participant to reflect on what they actually learned and identify the tools they gained during the program to take with them for their future.

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