I would like to share with you a recent experience of facilitating a short session on attitudes to learning with a group of international students.
I was unaware when designing the session that the Asian women in the group, from Shanghai, China and Japan were not speaking up in group discussions, they would participate when put in pairs but otherwise there would be deathly silence from them.
I chose to use images to stimulate their thoughts and feelings on learning, I chose a range, some abstract, a car, a pair of red high heels, trees, a garden, the sea side, a frog etc. I spread these images across the floor and gave them some time to find an image that resonated with them, when they had done so I asked them to think about how this related to their thoughts and feelings on learning.
I set some ground rules, everyone must speak English and everyone must give each other time to speak and listen.
When everyone had finished thinking, I asked them to speak whenever they were ready about their image. . . . I was surprised by the results, the wonderful connections that were made and the insights their descriptions gave to their emotional and physical world.
While holding up an image of red high heels shoes - one Japanese woman said “high heels are a miracle and a milestone in growing up. . . . they relate to learning in that you learn to walk and then you come of age and need to learn to walk again in high heels, learning is like this, you learn at school but in University you need to know how to learn to differently. "
She also gave a fascinating insight into her culture “In Japan the higher your heels, the more power you have" and she questioned whether this should be so.
This woman spoke steadily and eloquently and I was touched by her depth of thought as I was many others.
One of the tutors spoke to me afterwards and said that he was surprised at how the session helped these women to speak, or find their voice, I was also curious about it:
Was it that the images provided protection - they were talking about the images rather than themselves? - therefore minimizing vulnerability
Was it that I had set ground rules that everyone would have a space to speak and be listened to?
Was it a perception of me as one of them instead of a powerful tutor? - indeed I also decided to join in with an image when everyone else had spoken
Was this just a way of unlocking what's in your head and giving you a tool to help you articulate it? - this is often what I personally struggle with - a metaphor, a tool to get my point across in a way that is easy to understand and maybe this is why I chose to run the session in this way.
Sometimes we misunderstand each other, or assume because there is silence there is nothing to say, perhaps this experience will help you consider ways in which to bridge this gap.
Jenny specializes in executive coaching, facilitation and research in the area of leadership and change.
"My style is incisive, pragmatic, and supportive. My aim is to enable you to penetrate to the heart of the matter in order to move forward in a focused and expeditious way, that you will hopefully enjoy!"