experiential education books by Jennifer Stanchfield

Attitude is Everything: Latest Facilitator’s Toolbox Article from ACCT’s Parallel Lines Newsletter

For the last 11 years I have been contributing articles to the Association for Challenge Course Technology’s Parallel Lines newsletter under the “Facilitator’s Toolbox” byline. This article appeared in the October Edition: click here to view the newsletter and information about the upcoming international conference.


Attitude is Everything

Group participants truly respond—even subconsciously—to a facilitator’s attitudes, demeanor, and expectations. We often communicate more than we realize with our body language and tone. A positive attitude is contagious. If you really believe in the methods and activities you are using with a group, they will most likely buy in and respond to your enthusiasm. Conversely, if you aren’t comfortable with the material you are presenting, participants can sense that as well. People respond to your attitudes toward them. I believe if we expect the best of participants, they will usually perform their best.


Remember to acknowledge and believe in the abilities of the learners in your group. We all work with difficult groups and group situations at times. Be aware of how you respond to the challenging behaviors that arise. If you are starting to feel there is “no hope for that kid” or a participant is “pushing your buttons,” then it might be time for some self-reflection. Take a step back and reflect on the positive aspects and achievements that have occurred; recognize the small steps and successes of the individuals and the group. It could be that it is time to get some support and new perspectives from a colleague, or if possible find a co-facilitator or co-teacher for the group.


During a recent conversation with a group of teachers about the challenges of working with middle school students, I said, “When I work with that 7th grade group, I keep thinking of the comedy film What about Bob? (1991). In this movie the main character (played by Bill Murray) is guided by his psychiatrist (Richard Dreyfus) to repeat the mantra ‘baby steps’ as he gets over his phobias. I try to recognize each ‘baby step’ the group members are taking. If I didn’t, I could become very discouraged.” One of the teachers responded, “Yes, we have to remind ourselves that we are looking for ‘oak kind of growth’ rather than expecting ‘mushroom kind of growth.’” I have observed that facilitators who regularly work with challenging populations are skilled at acknowledging and celebrating the small successes and adept at noticing the small, positive steps forward a group is making.


All of us have times when we question our effectiveness. Group facilitation is not easy. It takes a great deal of energy and commitment, as well as a willingness to take on challenging interpersonal situations. Facilitators who continue to enjoy their work remain hopeful, keep their perspective of the big picture, and recognize that growth and change arise from conflict and struggle. Consistently practicing patience, empathy, and the power of positive thinking reaps great rewards.


“The last human freedom is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
Viktor Frankl


To read more from the latest issue of ACCT’s Parallel Lines newsletter click here. I will be hosting the annual “Facilitator’s Toolbox Live” workshop at the upcoming conference in Red Rocks, Nevada. Hope to see you there!


Reference: Tips & Tools: The Art of Experiential Group Facilitation by Jennifer Stanchfield. 2007. Wood ‘N Barnes Publishing Bethany, Oklahoma.

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