How to Engage Disconnected or Disinterested Girls

October 6, 2009 at 4:50 pm 1 comment

Recently we’ve made a slight but important revision to one aspect of our Girls Circle Facilitator Training –regarding managing challenging dynamics that show up in Girls Circle.  We’re doing a similar piece in the facilitator training for The Council for Boys and Young Men.

Following a trainer’s demonstration role play, we are adding a task for participants to develop, write down, and then practice with a partner some verbal intervention regarding a challenging behavior.  The verbal intervention is a communication that expresses kindness, acknowledgement, naming the dynamic observed, inviting discussion, taking the concern to the group for their input and how they can relate to that concern, and offering choices for participation even if limited. Or, any combination of these.

Kitty Tyrol, Senior Training Manager, made this addition to offer facilitators an effective take-away skill that will allow all of us to apply to just about any challenging dynamic that emerges.

So here’s what happens now:  the trainer demonstrates strengths-based intervention strategies with several training participant volunteers in a role play that addresses a common scenario.

For example, a girl in circle expresses verbally or nonverbally her disinterest in being in the group.  Typically, we really don’t know why that behavior is there at this point. Maybe she is being told by her school or by probation that she must attend.  Or maybe she is trying it out but feels reluctant or unsure.  Maybe she usually wants to be there but today she’s having a bad day.  But for whatever the reason, the facilitator sees a girl who doesn’t appear interested, doesn’t seem to care at all about what is going.

Sometimes adults jump to a conclusion that this girl has a poor attitude, or that her nonparticipation suggests she will interfere with the success of the group or that she won’t get anything out of being there unless she corrects her behavior.

But here’s what a Girls Circle facilitator can do:  Reach out. Welcome. Acknowledge. Name it. Invite more direct communication.  Invite group to relate to the issue or feeling. Give choices. Like this:

Before we go any further, everyone, can we please hold up a bit? I want to check in with Lauren, here.  Lauren, it’s good to see you today, I appreciate your courtesy just now when you passed on taking the talking piece – you were polite about that.  It’s okay to pass sometimes but I’m checking in because I see that you’re head has been hanging down today and you’ve been looking around, and I don’t think we’ve heard a word from you at all today -seems like something else maybe going on.  Is everything okay? Oh, fine you say? Or, you guess? Okay, so it might be okay. Well, I just want to check.  All of us have some days that are not as good as other days.  How about the rest of you, I imagine all of us can relate to sometimes feeling not all that great or present her (let others comment…)? Well, Lauren, we’re glad you’re here, even especially on a day you’re not so sure or guessing how you feel.  We can move on now.  Join in if you wish or hopefully at least you can relax and listen for the remainder today. Thanks everyone!”

These steps allow the disconnected girl to be appreciated and valued no matter what is going on for her, while also allowing the feeling of that disconnection to be named in the group in a way that is nonjudgmental and caring.  This allows the person and the group to be relieved of the tension previously felt, and often will be just the right level of contact to further engage the girl.

Try this exercise right now: think of a girl in one of your groups whose behavior suggests some kind of disinterest or disconnection with the group.  Now, take a pen and paper.  Think about a strength in that girl – a way she contributes to the group, i.e. she is on time, or refrains from negative comments, or passes paper out for you…anything that is genuine and positive.  Next, write down a message you can say to her.  In the message you would potentially say to her during a group, include the following: friendly greeting, acknowledging her for that strength you see, what you observe she’s doing that has you wondering if there’s more on her mind.  Then, involve the rest of the group in a caring way. Finally, offer her a set of choices that are acceptable and nonintrusive, nonjudgmental and patient.  Once you’ve written all this out, find a colleague and practice saying all of this with your colleague.  Try the language out.  Remember to stay neutral, kind, and real.

So, how did that go?  (I know… you didn’t try it yet.)  This exercise takes about 5 minutes to write, and 5 minutes to share with someone and get a bit of feedback. Once you’ve practiced using words in this way, it will solve hours of concern and/or tension in groups when dynamics emerge that need addressing.  This is not a formula for success, but rather a set of strengths-based best practices that recognize the power we have as facilitators to honor girls and meet them where they are at in a courteous and patient but clear manner.  It’s not the formula but the relationship building that counts.

Thanks for listening. Have a great day.

~Beth

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1 Comment Add your own

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