Facilitator’s First Steps

Until you shine your light, you’ll only be a Shadow

So you’ve decided to step up and learn how to become an interculturalist, specializing in language & cultural skills development. What makes People-Places-Things’ approach different from academic-style language programs is that we prioritize Interpersonal Connection, Cultural Responsiveness and Experiential Learning.  This creates a classroom feel that can be very different from what you expect. We believe the best theory comes from reflective practice.

Milepost 0.3 – Visit a Class

Here is our calendar of Current Classes. It shows all of the classes that you can “shadow” to experience our evolutionary approach. Most of them are taught by other Aprendices – people who are enrolled in our training program. Just pick the day and location that is most convenient for you – all of the listed classes are open to the public. Click on the day that you want to come to in order to register.  We prefer that you just choose a single day for your first shadowing experience.

When you register to shadow a class, it sends an email to our Welcoming Coordinator, who then notifies the facilitator(s) on that day, and possibly the site coordinator. You should expect a response from the MC (primary instructor) within 24 hours confirming your request.  If you do not hear from us, please don’t hesitate to follow up. We are all learning to communicate better here!

All P-P-T Members are encouraged to communicate frequently in a friendly, low-intensity, and transparent way with each other and all participants – we call this Supportive Communication. The foundations of this program include: we are all visible members of our community; we are choosing to be together; we are choosing to become better communicators; and we are choosing to help other people be better communicators.

Please ask any questions and let us know if you would like to chat by phone – but resist the urge to have all your questions answered before you come.  Experience is the best teacher!

Milepost 0.4 – Show Up

Please map the location, and plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early. This is your first big test!

A certain percentage of interested people are just not able to get to their first class. It’s ok – things happen. Consistency and reliability are really the key to success with what we do.  We are out here every day trying to bring people together and make all our lives richer. If it’s hard for you to show up because it’s too far, or you need to find a job first, or classes are busy – don’t worry! We’ll still be around. Look us up when you have a little more space in your schedule.

If you made it – congratulations! Your world is about to get a whole lot bigger!

Milepost 0.5 – Participate

Most of our sites are training sites, and that means our apprentices, facilitators, assistants, and other community members are all at different levels of ability and bring different strengths and perspectives to the classroom.  Every learning community is unique, and because it’s open-entry, open-exit we never know who is going to be there or what is going to happen. You should expect times of awkwardness, and times of exultation. Both are intrinsic parts of an interculturalist’s daily reality. Stay flexible and open!

What’s most important: In community-based settings, with people from all over the world and at all different levels – “observing” can have an unintended chilling effect. Academic culture says we should stand back and watch before trying, and sometimes that’s the best way. But when you don’t know what that person is thinking over there, writing stuff down, watching – or even worse, looking at their phone – it’s intimidating. If a learner comes from a place where they are politically persecuted, or if their documentation status is unclear – it might scare them away. We need you to show who you are, and model direct engagement versus holding back.

So, please – jump in with enthusiasm! The MC (the primary instructor) will be giving you a lot of direction. It might seem a little bossy, but they’re just trying to give clear direction – because a lot of what we think of as polite may not translate very well cross culturally. You may find it surprising that there’s a lot of call-and-response, a lot of movement, a lot of repetition.  Some yelling, perhaps. A lot of dictation. Relatively little explicit grammar, few handouts, minimal use of the erasable board.  Because you’re a highly fluent English speaker, we need you to model your language skills, and demonstrate enthusiasm and engagement. This will be transmitted to the learners and if that all works out, you’ll be surprised by something else: laughter and visible improvement. Plus – the time will go by so much faster!

Please don’t check your phone a bunch or randomly walk out of the class. It’s absolutely ok to talk to the instructor and the people around you, but stay engaged with the activities and give attention and support when a struggling learner is trying to achieve their objective. The classroom energy should be lively and the pace should be quick. If you’re not doing anything, ask the MC: “What should I be doing right now?”

Milepost 0.6 – Reflect & Follow Up

Our approach requires after class reflection. Please plan 15 minutes to chat about how the class went and what happened, or let the MC know that you can’t stay when you arrive.

Try not to criticize the instructor or anyone else – but that doesn’t mean we want you to just be quiet.  If something is not making sense for you, inquire about it, and choose the right time to do so. This is different than just asking. Often a question like, “why did you let that learner spell the word incorrectly?” comes with a judgement. Instead, we’re looking for a description of what happened, and a non-judgmental, open invitation to interpret what was happening there: “I saw that you allowed the learner spell the word incorrectly? Is that on purpose? I’m curious about your thinking.”

Finding a way to critique and be supportive at the same time is a narrow path for many of us. It’s part of why intercultural communication is hard.

We call this Appreciative Inquiry.  It is part of our accountability model and it keeps us all on our toes. It gives responsibility to the one inquiring to be open to new interpretations and consider the human who is being held accountable. And those who are receiving the inquiry feel safer, and are allowed to make their own transformation.

Expect a follow up after your shadowing experiences inviting you to comment, reflect, or inquire further, and encouraging you to shadow another class.

Milepost 0.7 -Keep Showing Up

This is the second big test.

A lot of folks want being a good language & cultural skills facilitator to be something about a secret bag of tricks, high SAT scores, creativity, the perfect textbook, or deft explanatory skills.

It’s simpler than that, but not necessarily easy.  You keep showing up. You do a little work every day. It takes time to learn a language, and it takes time to learn to be a good teacher. And it takes time to make friends.

Sure, there’s more involved… there are some techniques which work really well, and some themes that are more relevant for particular learners. There is skill involved. But it all comes through practice and consistent work and wide exposure to many situations and people.

Continuing to show up also means staying in communication with other participants and making it a little part of your life. Ideally, you will shadow 3 more classes in different locations, so you can start to appreciate the breadth of variability in the community-based context.

After each class, send a follow up thank you text or email, and practice your Connective Inquiry if you feel like things didn’t go quite right. You’re always welcome to contact other Compas with questions or concerns. This is a training program, so we want open communication. You can’t “tattle” – we care about all of our facilitators, and the learners’ experience especially, so we aren’t going to blow it up and cause fights. In fact, our whole purpose is to figure out how to tell people they can be better in a way that makes them feel motivated to improve, not shamed.

We call this period your “Audition” period, which can last up to a month if you’re only going once a week. You probably have a lot of questions, so we’ve created an “Achievement List” to answer your questions and prepare you to become an Aprendiz.  The last Achievement is Enter the Program – you can review this, but you can’t complete it until you’re with an Oficix who is authorized to enroll you and make payment arrangements. So explore! You can’t break anything, you can only learn.

If you’re not planning on entering the program, you don’t have to do these things – but we wouldn’t tell folks to do it if we didn’t think it was a good idea.

Milepost 0.8 – Plan Your Dress Rehearsal

So you’re kinda into this, eh? Nice! So are we!

After you’ve shadowed 4 times and completed the tasks in Step 5, you’ve passed your “Audition” period. You are invited to teach your first class with a custom made lesson plan that we give to you. We call this the “Dress Rehearsal”. You’ll sit down one-on-one with a key member of P-P-T for about 2 hours to go over your lesson step by step – which is called “Dress Rehearsal Prep”. The Welcoming Coordinator will set this up for you after your 4th Shadowing experience. You will need to pick the date of your Dress Rehearsal before we can give you a Dress Rehearsal Prep. Other Compas might be there with you.

Your lesson will look a lot like what you’ve been observing. But this is the opportunity to really dig in with questions. You’ve seen people doing things slightly differently and you’re not sure which is the “right” way to do it.  Your coach will go step by step into every thing you say and do and the effect that it has on your class.  At the end of this session, you’ll know where you’ll be teaching, what you’ll be teaching, and how. You’ll be expected to connect with the MC and DJ for that class.. they’re there to support you in case it all goes awry. You’ll need to make sure that all the materials you need are there.

Milepost 0.9 -Action!

The Third Big Test: teaching your first class.

For a few of you, this won’t really be that big of a deal. But for more than 90% of people you’re going to be nervous. It’s ok to be nervous. It will not be your best class. You will not be amazing. It’s normal. That’s why we’re here. But there’s definitely no way around it.

Think of it like baking a pie. Try following the recipe. It might come out good, or not so good, but at least you have a recipe to work with. Then make 10 more pies and see how that’s working for you. Once you make 10 pies, you’ll definitely start seeing things a little differently than you did at first. The first few pies are just like, whatever. Try not to overthink it – it might make things worse, and it will certainly stress you out.

But even that’s ok. Because that’s what makes this hard. Navigating the emotional stuff and inspiring your learners to get back up and keep practicing. Learning a language is hard work, and it’s humiliating at times. It takes courage and faith to do that.

The next sentence is really important:

Your first few less-than-competent, bumbling classes are the closest you come to understanding what your learners’ experience is like.

And for that reason, that terror of leaping off the cliff and not knowing what’s going to happen should be respected – if you stick through it, you will meet hundreds of disoriented non-native speakers making that first terrifying leap into your classroom. And you’ll be there to catch ’em, helping them spell their name out loud for the first time in a strange, unfamiliar tongue.

It’s a sacred honor.  And when we’re all messing up together, somehow, that’s way better.  Way more human.

Don’t forget to do a little debrief afterwards – you’ll usually have a more experienced instructor supporting you. And send the Director of Apprentices a text immediately after saying how many people where there, what your feelings are, and if you’re ready to meet to enter the program.

Milepost 1.0 – Become an Aprendiz

We’re proud of you! You should become an apprentice!

During your appointment with the Director of Apprentices you will make payment arrangements or qualify for an assistantship and officially begin your practicum (by going through the last item on the Achievement List, above). You’ll meet for about an hour, and chart out your trajectory, how the tools work, and discuss any special arrangements you’ll need. We’ll set you up with a regular class, and make sure you’re in touch with all the people you need to facilitate your success.

And then the journey begins!