Facilitation as Reconciliation: Adult Education and Poverty Alleviation
Many poverty alleviation ministries include some type of training for their participants. Of course ministries would want to provide instruction in skills and habits that lead to long-term growth out of material poverty! Unfortunately, in some ways, middle- and upper-class people from Western cultural backgrounds are particularly ill-suited for the task of training people who are materially poor.
The mainstream culture of Europe and North America tends to see the soul (if they see it at all) not as an integral part of the mind-affections-will-relational creature God designed humans to be, but as just the mind. This leads them to implement a lecture-based teaching style in which the teacher tries to pour content into students’ brains.
But this can be harmful in the space of poverty alleviation. When a teacher who is materially non-poor stands at the front of a room of participants who are materially poor and does all the talking, it can exacerbate unhealthy relational dynamics. It reinforces the idea that people who are well-off are superior, that they are not broken, that they have all the answers—and that people who are materially poor are inferior and have nothing to contribute.
In God’s multifaceted design of human beings, pedagogical approaches that engage the whole person are generally more effective than a lecture-based style. Research suggests that transformative learning occurs when human beings engage in a repeated action-reflection cycle that impacts not just what they think (mind), but also what they feel (affections) and do (will).1
Adult education, or dialogue education, is an approach that seeks to engage the whole person in this type of ongoing action-reflection cycle.2 Facilitation is one of the key tools of dialogue education. Facilitation is different from teaching in that it levels the playing field, respecting the knowledge, experiences, and contributions of all the participants. In other words, it is far more asset-based and participatory than traditional teaching.
Derived from D. Naker and L. Michau, Rethinking Domestic Violence: A Training Process for Community Activists (Kampala, Uganda: Raising Voices, 2004), 13.
This approach can be particularly powerful if the “students” include both people who are materially poor and people who are not, as is often the case with Chalmers’ Faith & Finances and Work Life classes. Through highly-engaging activities and reflective questions digested in the context of a supportive community, walls start to break down and participants slowly start to embrace the good news of God’s story of change: all of us are broken and all of us are in the process of being restored to who God designed us to be.
Note that facilitators are still concerned with facts—the whole point of training is to help participants incorporate new information and skills into their lives. They focus on connection first so that participants have context and trust for the content of the lesson.
Key Aspects of Dialogue Education
Dialogue education views real learning as impacting participants’ knowledge (mind), attitudes (affections), practices (will), and even bodies in a learning community that is highly relational and supportive. This is education for the whole person in an ongoing action-reflection cycle across time, with lessons constructed around the “4A’s” of dialogue education:
- Anchor: connect the topic to a relevant experience in the lives of the participants.
- Add: supply new information (technical content, for example) and invite participants to think about the implications of this information for their relevant experience.
- Apply: provide an opportunity for participants to think about what they could do with the new information to improve their life’s experience.
- Away: ask participants to commit to taking specific actions to change their life’s experience.
At each meeting, the cycle repeats itself, helping people to continue on their journey.
A Different Approach to Learning
The Chalmers Center’s training and curricula are designed to provide facilitators with access to powerful learner-centered tools for transforming the lives of low-income people. These tools have greater potential for impact when the facilitator understands some key principles of adult learning and some practices and attitudes that apply these principles.
Through facilitation, we can participate in God’s work of reconciling brokenness in all four of people’s foundational relationships:
- Relationship with God
Jesus is reconciling all things. Facilitators must remember that Jesus is the one who reconciles. We should reflect His reconciliation as His ambassadors, but ultimately He is the one who restores, transforms, renews, and heals. We should follow His example, seek him in prayer, and approach our work in humility. As we engage in these practices and seek to put on these attitudes, we experience the fruit of God’s reconciling work in ourselves, too.
- Relationship with Others
The principle of dialogue involves promoting participation and interaction. Participants should feel free to offer their ideas, experiences, and feelings. Using dialogue does not mean that a facilitator cannot make a presentation or give a short lecture to participants, but a good facilitator will offer participants the opportunity to think about it, evaluate it, ask questions about it, and discuss it. Chalmers’ training materials seek to apply a variety of techniques that engage visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners and serve to motivate and engage them by connecting through ideas, feelings, and actions.
- Relationship with Creation
Chalmers entrusts its facilitators with the training materials that God has given to us through our years of research and refining. We recognize that we are not perfect and that there are always things that could be improved in our training materials. However, we also desire for certified facilitators to be good stewards. Being a good steward means using visuals, voice, and the training materials effectively.
- Relationship with Self
As both a noun and a verb, respect reflects both the recognition of the worth of each person as well as our actions to value people. Part of our relationship with ourselves is the truth that each of us has dignity and great worth. One way facilitators can show that people have dignity and worth is by treating them with respect and love as part of our faithfulness to Jesus.
- James E. Zull, From Brain to Mind: Using Neuroscience to Guide Change in Education (Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2011)
- In particular, Jane Vella and the organization she founded, Global Learning Partners, have developed “dialogue education,” a set of principles that have informed the development of the training and curriculum approach of the Chalmers Center.