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CATS - On The Same Team

Improving communication between adults and children to enhance participation

· events,training,About Us
This summer our MD, Gemma Perkins teamed up with Carolyn Conway from Child to Child UK to deliver a workshop at the annual CATS conference.
The week long conference held at Caux palace is a celebration of children rights, a testament to children's capabilities to shape their own futures and a thriving environment where adults and children learn from each other.
The workshop delivered was titled:
On The Same Team: Improving communication between adults and children to enhance participation.
Workshop Format

The workshop was delivered in four, two-hour sessions spread out over the conference week. The time was spent using  group discussions, simulated games, role plays, reflective enquiry, coaching activities and presentations to build participant capacity.

Throughout the week we worked with 29 participants in a mixed age setting. 17 adults and 9 children attended, giving us an incredible age range of 6-61. Participants originated from seven different countries, but all participants spoke either English or French. The workshop was delivered in English with French translation.

Each session involved whole group activities as well as separate activities for adults and children in order to build the specific skills needed to work effectively in inter-generational groups.

Children and adults work together in intergenerational groups.
Workshop Aims

Objectives for adults and children:

  • Better two way communication between inter-generational groups.
  • The ability to share power more equally in inter-generational groups.
  • An understanding of a participatory approach and the difficulties achieving it.
  • To work effectively in a participatory team through a number of activities.

Objectives for adults only:

  • Reflection on their current participatory practices and ability to facilitate children.
  • To improve non-directive facilitation through coaching skills: effective questioning, active listening, asking versus telling.
  • To take part in structured facilitation of children to practise coaching skills.

Objectives for children only:

  • Reflection on their current ability to work in partnership with adults and any difficulties that may arise.
  • To be more assertive.
  • To learn a persuasive framework for presenting their ideas to others.
  • To learn how to communicate ideas clearly and listen to others actively.
  • To create a presentation on a meaningful topic related to change at home.
Session 1 - A new approach to working together
We kicked right of with a simple mixed age task to see what the natural approach was. How would adults and children work in a team? The adults were supportive and encouraging but adopted a natural directive role - telling the children how to improve and change. This can be very effective in changing behaviour, but isn't a participatory approach and doesn't hear children's voices as much as the alternative...
Directive approaches were not as effective as coaching approaches
The adults were introduced to the concepts of coaching. This means raising the awareness of the coachee so that they can appreciate a situation or problem and then make their own decisions about how to overcome it. Coaching is based entirely on listening, understanding, asking the right questions and giving the power to the other person. Not something that comes natural in an adult-child relationship.
Meanwhile the children had a discussion about their usual encounters with adults and what difficulties they could experience. The phenomenon of not being fully listened to or understood was common and so was tackled by learning an assertive framework - a way to present their ideas to adults in a confident, polite but firm way so that they are more likely to have their ideas heard.
A change in mindset
With each age group having a new set of skills we repeated the team activity...
Adults and children were amazed at the difference they experienced. A coaching approach combined with children's clearer communication led to better task performance as well as both parties feeling more positive about the task:
“I felt challenged. I had to think more about how to do the task.”
“Because I was asked questions it was still up to me how I wanted to [complete task].”
Session 2 - Asking and listening
Now that participants appreciated a new way of communicating with each other it was time to hone in on the most important building blocks of coaching: active listening, communicating clearly and asking the right type of questions. By starting off with a 'bad listening' exercise, adults and children alike could define what good listening looked like and, more importantly, how it felt.
Open Questions
All too often we can get into the trap of asking a closed, leading or non helpful question. Learning to ask open questions is essential to the coaching process. Things like 'How do you feel about...?' or 'What do you think would happen if...?' are so much better than 'Do you like...?' or 'That's dangerous, isn't it?'
The adults practiced re-phrasing common closed questions into open ones so that their coachee was more freely able to express themselves and think deeper about a problem.
Explaining and Listening
Listening is not easy and it is totally different from 'hearing' because listening is about understanding. It requires visual, auditory and emotional attention as well as being able to put aside assumptions that may make mental short cuts. The children played listening and explaining games in order to learn how to be more specific when giving information, to clarify their understanding with questions and to see what happens when assumptions are made.
Children played listening and explaining games to develop their communication skills.
The Start of a Project
Now more equipped to have a balanced two way coaching session, adults and children worked together to learn a presentation framework. Adults in the group used coaching, listening and encouragement to support the children in developing an argument and, ultimately, presenting it.
“The adults supported us and our ideas. We got to do the job. Usually it is the other way around.”
“I was feeling encouraged and respected because adults were helping me.”
Adults coached children as they developed ideas for their presentations.
Day 3 - Working in teams
With a new set of skills and approaches to try, participants worked in mixed age groups to complete a team activity. The communication styles had pleasantly shifted so that adults and children shared their ideas more equally, gave each other expression time and all members of the group felt a part of the task. With this sturdy foundation in place participants were now ready to tackle a more difficult mixed age activity...
Adults and children took part in team games to practice working effectively in intergenerational groups.
By the end of session four the children would deliver a presentation to the group, outlining a social issue that they wanted to change in their communities. Children would use their new advocacy skills to present confidently to adults whilst the adults in the group would use their coaching skills to support children whilst letting them retain control.
The children did a series of public speaking games in order to ready them for their final speech. Whilst the adults learned how to give specific, constructive feedback on performance. The adults and children spent the remainder of the workshop planning their presentations ready for the following day.
“I feel excited now because I get to share my ideas and do something wonderful for my home town.”
Children practiced their public speaking skills in a small group.
Session 4 - Presentation day
Excited and a little nervous, this was the final product of 8 hours work. The adults would see how their support had benefited the young people, and the children would deliver a speech on something close to their heart.
The first part of the workshop included some final preparations and practice: of public speaking, coaching, asking questions and being assertive.
Finally, 6 presentations were made to a very proud and attentive audience:
  • Male, age 14, USA – School should reduce the amount of daily homework given.
  • Female, 13, Estonia - The school canteen should provide an alternative menu for students with food intolerances.
  • Male, 9, Tanzania - The local school needs a bus so children do not have to walk for a long time.
  • Female, 13, USA - Moving the school day to start and finish an hour later.
  • Male, 13, Estonia - Re-decorating local buildings in the community.
  • Female, 13, Estonia – Cleaning up the local park to make it nicer for children.
Young people delivered their final presentations to the group.
All participants were given a final evaluation survey to determine whether the objectives of the workshop had been met. All responses to statements were positive; 66% (79/120) of responses were very happy with the outcomes of the workshop and 34% (41/120) were happy with the workshop. (List of statements can be found in the full report).
Participants were also given the chance to leave comment feedback. Here is a snapshot of some of the responses:
What did you like?
‘Children and adults proved that we can work effectively together’.
'The structure of the workshop: Time with children. Then time without them. Then again with them.'
'I feel happy because this workshop made children feel respected.'
What made you think or reflect?
'The workshop has been a needed wake up call on respectful communication to have towards children.'
'Be careful of: - 80/20 (80 non-directive); - raise awareness; - ask effective questions.'
'We (children) have the right to express ourselves / fight for what we really want.'
What will you take away with you and use?
'New knowledge, tips for a good presentation, braveness to speak.'
'Now, I know how to be listened to by adults.'
'Even though we are children, we can make things change.'
'I will pay more attention to coaching my children rather than directing them.'
'The fact of asking “relevant” questions, and active listening.'
'Methods on how to facilitate, taking into account children’s voice'
What would you change?
'Perhaps separate groups of language not to “lose” time on translation.'
'I wouldn’t change anything – maybe more time!'
'Would want more activities with adults.'
Adults and children were very happy with the new skills they learned and their confidence in working together.
Needless to say we are very happy with how the workshop was carried out, met its objectives and was so well received by the participants. We hope to be able to deliver similar programmes in future to show adults and children that working together to achieve a goal can be challenging, but rewarding and achievable if the right skill sets are used.
To see the full evaluation report please download it here.
Many thanks to Child to Child UK and the CATS team - it was excellent to work in partnership with them.
On the same team: Improving communication between adults and children to enhance participation. Whole group photo.
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