Practical Tips: Setting a Climate for Learning in Workshops
Climate setting for an educational event begins well before the actual event with the spirit and appearance of the fliers, announcements, letters, etc., sent out beforehand.
Registration in advance gets participants involved and in a participatory frame of mind before they arrive, (eg., they can be asked to send concerns, do advance reading, or collect some form of data).
Checking in on the day of the event -- having kits or folders ready with participants' name and name tag, or having them fill out their own name tag can be reassuring, and helps get over that initial fluster.
Physical arrangements -- comfortable chairs in a circle or other interactive pattern (everyone should be able to see everyone else), good ventilation and lighting, a writing surface if necessary, coffee, water, refreshments and other touches of caring on the part of the facilitators add to the warmth of the climate.
Greeting and introductions -- the sound of their name makes participants feel respected and cared about, not part of an anonymous mass. Even if they know the facilitators and each other, just talking for a few minutes about the weather can do wonders for the climate.
Spelling out ground rules, the time for breaks and lunch, location of wash rooms, wrap-up time, etc. Also comforting to participants is a rundown of facilitators' style (We're pretty informal; stop us if you have a question or something to share.") Norms of openness, participation, risking can be encouraged -- but not pushed.
A (flexible) outline or agenda for the session, as a handout or on a flip-chart or overhead, leaves a little less unknown, and reduces anxiety. An overview also helps adults in organizing new learning.
Warmups, very early, help in introduction and "ice-breaking" -- easing the initial caution of learners. An opportunity to share interests and resources immediately sets the climate for interaction, wakes up participants and creates a climate of readiness.
The use of diads or small groupings helps people to relate and share quickly.
Beginning activities or discussions should call for memories or experiences readily available to everyone, rather than opinions or ideas -- thus guaranteeing an early success to all participants, and making the activity accessible to all participants. The facilitator should model by sharing his/her memories or experiences with the group.
The communication patterns of facilitators certainly add to the climate for effective learning -- if they listen, are honest with their answers, and respect the experiences and contributions of participants. In addition, their feelings of confidence and enthusiasm for the event are infectious to participants.
Adapted from: The Workshops Manual, Nell Warren Assoc. (1991)