Carly Siuta, Impact Manager at City Year Chicago, is an experienced civic reflection facilitator and has been leading discussions with AmeriCorps members for 5 years. Carly shared her experiences with civic reflection and some facilitation tips with CCR!
How did you find out about civic reflection?
I participated in a Justice Talking discussion series in 2007 when I was an AmeriCorps member...and I loved it! Later that year, I attended a facilitator's training workshop.
What has your experience been leading CR discussions? When, where, with whom?
Most of my facilitation experience has been with AmeriCorps members, including Project YES! and City Year Chicago, where I currently work. I also facilitated one of the public discussions on race that took place as part of CCR's collaboration with WBEZ, and I have gone through the "Train the Trainer" workshop to help support facilitator trainings. In my current role at City Year, I work closely with second year members to support their facilitation of reflective discussions (which is part of their leadership development curriculum), as well as facilitate discussions for the staff. I also lead a "Justice Talking Club" for City Year members that meets in the evenings once a month for additional discussions.
Could you briefly describe a recent discussion you led?
In October, I had the honor of facilitating two discussions during breakout sessions at AmeriCorps Recognition Day in Springfield, where AmeriCorps members from across Illinois came together to celebrate their upcoming service year. I worked with two other wonderful facilitators to plan a discussion around the poem, "My Optimism." It was a bit challenging because we had a large group and short time slots. My approach was to try to compress an hour-long discussion into half as much time, while still getting to some meaningful questions and not feeling completely rushed. My two sessions went well despite the challenges and seemed to generate a lot of interest in civic reflection.
Fun Facts about Carly's Facilitation:
What is your favorite piece to use for a CR discussion?
Most of the groups I have facilitated have some connection to education, teaching, or youth work, so I really like using the short story, "The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara. The piece always seems to generate discussion that goes beyond the obvious themes in the piece, into issues of privilege and class.
What is your favorite participant introduction question?
I'm not sure that I have one... but I tend to use one-word intros, like "Please share your name and one word about how you're feeling right now". I prefer to keep intros short and try to avoid asking people to introduce themselves in ways that have potential to lead to lengthy answers... long introductions can cause the group to tune out before the discussions have even started.
What is your favorite opening/closing exercise?
For opening exercises, I try to come up with a question to discuss in small groups that is resonant but not immediately (or obviously) related to the theme of the object we're using. I also try to have the opening exercise generate something that the group can refer back to if the discussion needs to be jump-started and/or redirected. This can be really hard, though, and I'm usually revising the wording of the opening exercise question up until the last minute.
For closing exercises, I really enjoy asking the group to go around and share what title they would give to the text/image we're using, with the option to keep it the same. I definitely stole this idea from Adam Davis (thanks!) and I think it's a great way to make sure everyone shares and sum up where participants' heads are as the discussion closes.
What are 1 to 3 tips that you would give to other facilitators?
- Whenever possible, have someone else look over your discussion plan, especially when there is a new object (reading, image, video) or new group involved. It's really easy to have blinders on to possibilities of theme/direction and often a second set of eyes will help point out what you're not seeing.
- Don't be afraid to challenge the group, especially when shallow consensus is reached. I feel like I ask the questions "Are we all really agreeing about this?" and "Is it really that simple?" in almost every discussion.
- When faciliating discussions for groups that either know each other well or do CR on a regular basis, I find myself planning ahead less and listening to the group more during the actual discussion to formulate questions as the conversation progresses. Collecting thoughts, summarizing opinions, and re-asking questions that are brought up during the discussion by the group itself typically leads to rewarding conversation. While this approach can be a little nervewracking, I find that once groups get used to civic reflection, the place the group takes the discussion is almost always different or better than what I can plan.