By Melanie Wells
In honor of our Facilitation team, PIA is introducing a new feature, “Spotlight on Our Facilitators,” to give readers a sense of the person behind the facilitator. We begin the series with Ann-Marie Myers.
NYC-Parents in Action is rightly proud of its facilitators, a quiet army of volunteers who, though all trained to the same exacting standard, are as individual as their fingerprints. All have taken PIA’s extensive training (designed and led by Laurie Freeman, PhD, Chair of Facilitation) and all follow a time-tested protocol when facilitating. But like the parents at meetings, their backgrounds are various – some are native New Yorkers, some not, some are parents of young kids, and others are grandparents with children long grown. They represent a wide array of professional backgrounds, interests and family traditions, yet all share an impulse to “give back,” and a dedication to PIA’s belief that communication, parent to parent, is a vital component of good childrearing.
Asked how long she’s been facilitating, Ann-Marie guessed that she began in 2009. Some years having been more active than others, she said, noting that her first contact with PIA had actually come about six years earlier. “I’d been going to PIA facilitated meetings since around 2003,” she explained, adding, “I’m a person who just GOES – when I hear about something at the school for parents, I automatically attend!”
The grade meetings were an eye-opener, she said, and “brought out things I had no idea about.” Although information could at times be unsettling, she valued the chance to hear and talk to parents in her children’s grades. Gradually, Ann-Marie said, she found herself admiring more and more the work of the facilitators, who although “mostly in the shadows,” were “EXCELLENT at keeping us on track – they made sure everyone got heard.” Even at a rather tense meeting, she recalled, the facilitators “helped keep the meeting from going off the rails” with their skillful handling of the dynamics.
Asked what drew her to the idea of becoming a facilitator herself, Ann-Marie said that someone from PIA initially contacted her. “They said my name was given to PIA by a facilitator who ‘thought I’d be excellent,’” she said. Encouraged to sign up for training, she waited until the timing was right, and then took the challenge.
Recalling her first time out in the field as a facilitator, she confessed she “was terrified!” It was a Kindergarten meeting, and she was “very glad” to have been paired with “a real pro, who was just fantastic and calming.” As time went on, she discovered that “there is no right or wrong answer,” and “the more you do it the easier it gets.” It’s almost like going onstage – the meeting begins and “you’re on.” It’s like you flip a switch, she said, and instead of pushing an agenda, you just turn on “active listening,” so it’s “not all about you any more” – for the participants or the facilitators. In fact, she added, “active listening” has proved to be a great skill to have in family relationships too. “Learning the art of active listening has been a blessing in my family life,” she said.
Asked what facilitating means to her, personally, Ann-Marie was quick to answer: “In the simplest terms, it is wonderful to give back to an organization that has given so much to me – and getting on ‘the other side’ lets me help other parents have the same experience as I did.” She was also quick to point out that it’s a two-way benefit – “I love hearing different perspectives from all the parents [at the meetings] and hearing new ways of looking at things.” So many of the parents who come are “fascinating, dynamic people, and I love the opportunity to listen to them,” she added.
Those are the rewards; what are the challenges?
Ann-Marie admitted to being watchful not to “get too self-critical.” It’s that “Monday morning quarterbacking – now I’m giving away that I’m from Texas! – that I must try to avoid.” Facilitators do recap their meetings, she said, and it can be tempting, in that context, to be overly self-critical.
Asked what she’d say to someone considering becoming a facilitator, Ann-Marie didn’t hesitate: “DO IT!” she said. While acknowledging it’s not easy finding time to fit meetings into a busy life, she still feels the effort is worthwhile, with much to be gained.
“It’s fulfilling in so many ways, listening to other families,” she said. She has found that “I don’t HAVE all the answers, I don’t NEED to have all the answers.” Instead, she says, “I can shut down that part of the brain, and just listen.” Doing facilitated meetings, she said, “exercises that muscle.” And as it becomes easier, she added, the experience can help facilitators reap great rewards in their own lives.