This section contains tips for dealing with challenging situations, strategies for building your skills, and ideas to make your classroom a more engaging space.

Online Conference for Labour Educators: May 24-27, 2021

Because of the pandemic, the only regular conference for labour educators is now more accessible to us all, including to USW member-facilitators! 

The United Association for Labour Education (UALE) brings together union-based educators with educators from workers’ action centres and from university-based labour studies programs, all across North America and Puerto Rico. The conference is a great place to learn about new approaches and techniques, and even take part in course demonstrations. 

In 2021, the conference is online and the registration fee is very low. Member-facilitators can register on the UALE web site for only US$10. (Please note that USW’s education program is not able to reimburse you for your lost time or registration fee.)

Making Group Decisions and Building Consensus

At times while we facilitate, a participant will make a suggestion that requires agreement from the entire group. This can occur at any time and cover a wide range of items, but we typically see it when it comes to course start times or breaks. While trying to get everyone to come to an agreement can sometimes seem pretty straightforward, there is a way to reach consensus following a few simple steps that can be used during course facilitation, other union activities or other aspects of our lives. View the step-by-step Consensus Flowchart, and for a more detailed discussion of building consensus with groups, see an Introduction for Consensus Decision Making from Seeds for Change.

Preparing for and Facilitating USW Zoom Sessions: Twelve Tips for Steelworker Facilitators

Here are twelve things to keep in mind when preparing to facilitate USW courses using Zoom.


Online Learning

As we all settle into online meetings and our new virtual environment, it is likely that we are missing our union family and the moments in classrooms where we watch participants bond and connect with their support systems moving forward.

While online learning is not ideal, there are still ways to build community, and here are some tips. 

Gender Pronouns and Is “Guys” Really Gender Neutral? (click to expand)

Have you noticed that some participants and facilitators put their pronouns on their name tent card? Have you encountered members that have questions about the use of pronouns? 

As Steelworker facilitators and as a union, we can encourage equality in our workshops. Most Canadian legislation currently includes Gender Identity, Gender Expression or both in their protected grounds. For Canadian Steelworkers, our Yellow Sheet explicitly recognizes Gender Identity and Gender Expression. In addition, at the 2014 International Convention, the union recognized Gender Identity by adopting Resolution #7 - Civil and Human Rights. One way we can encourage equality for all gender identities and expressions is to share our pronouns at the beginning of workshops and encourage participants who are comfortable to do the same. 

Using gender pronouns may require some discussion. Want some tips on how to navigate this? Here is a resource that explains the use of pronouns and some practical Dos and Don’ts you can implement while facilitating. 

Gender Pronouns 

Also, do you notice yourself saying “guys” to a mixed gender group? Where did this originate and is it gender neutral, or should you seek out alternatives to build a more inclusive classroom? Here are a couple articles that discuss the use of “guys” and some alternative gender neutral phrases. 

Instead Of Saying 'Hey, Guys!' At Work, Try These Gender-Neutral Alternatives

The Problem With ‘Hey Guys’ 

It is also good practice to use gender-neutral language even when addressing single-gender groups. For instance, rethink calling a group of (people you perceive as) women “ladies.” By using gender-neutral language, we avoid making assumptions about or accidentally excluding anyone.


Facilitating Meetings

Want to practice your facilitation skills between courses? Want to impress your colleagues by having interesting, inclusive, and productive meetings? This leaflet focuses on some tools and tips to improve your facilitation skills for meetings and large groups discussions.

A Tool for Asking Strategic Questions

Asking good questions during a workshop is important for all facilitators. But there is key strategic question facilitators must ask themselves first. What kind of answers do I want? This tool helps facilitators strategize on the type of answers are provided.

Reporting Out

Reporting out is a great way to make sure that there is full participation in a classroom, and as facilitators we want to make sure that everybody has a chance to be heard. Our course designs offer clear direction on how to take up reports from small groups, but here are some ideas you could use in meetings that challenge participants to do more and some ideas on how to be more effective:

Helpful tool to use when facilitating and developing courses: Bloom's Taxonomy

Often when trying to decide which questions to ask in a group discussion, which activities to use in course design or in developing learning objectives, it can be helpful to use “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” This is a hierarchy, which means that skills and knowledge at a lower level are necessary for learning at higher levels. For example, it is necessary for people to know and understand specific collective agreement language before they are able to analyze and evaluate its effectiveness in real life situations. This framework can help guide questions to ask during group discussions as well as help participants to start to critically think about the work they do as activists.

International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations (IFWEA) E-Bulletin

USW educators are part of a global family of people doing labour and workers’ education. The International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations (IFWEA) puts out a regular newsletter with interesting updates from many countries and links to videos, podcasts, and other tools. Click here to see a recent issue, and sign up if you’d like to receive regular mailings. 

Giving and Receiving Feedback

Feedback is an essential tool to help us learn new skills and improve existing ones. Like most things, giving inexpert feedback can hinder rather than help. Many of us also struggle to take feedback. We can find it hard to accept praise and it's easy to get defensive when we're given negative criticism. The tips in this guide will help you to not only give feedback constructively but also make the most of any feedback given to you.

Dealing with Challenging Moments in Equality Courses

This is the third in the series of resources for facilitators of equality courses. While the earlier resources introduced self-reflection as a way to prepare for facilitation, this article discusses observation of participant learning. This resource helps facilitators to i) identify three stages of emotional learning, ii) recognize the emotions and behaviours related to each stage, and iii) intervene appropriately and effectively. 

Turn it Around 

If you have time to fill at the end of a stewards’ class, or a group of participants who are up for a challenge, consider showing the classic training video “Turn It Around” from the Teamsters Union to spark a discussion. Although produced in the 1980s, the situation is still relevant today: how can a local use grievances to mobilize and unify members? 

SOGI 1 2 3

As our union is celebrating pride across the country, we have a lot to celebrate but there is still work to be done. Our union is constantly working to look at how we can increase participation of our members, but we may be ignoring some structural challenges that limit peoples full participation in our activities. SOGI123  (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity)  is an educators resource for teachers, but could provide some tools that could help you through some conversations.   


Acknowledging Indigenous Territory

To increase awareness of Indigenous rights, many unions and other organizations now start events by acknowledging the Indigenous nations on whose territory the course or meeting or conference is taking place. Here’s a helpful template and an interactive map of nations and treaties to help you draft accurate, respectful acknowledgements for any location in Canada. This is also available in French here.

Understanding Unconscious Bias

As facilitators, it is important to ensure that we are equalizing participation in our classes. Unfortunately, our unconscious bias may be preventing us from doing this. If we recognize how our brain tends to favour or bias people, we can challenge ourselves and overcome the effects of our own bias. 

This video, by the Royal Society, gives a very clear explanation of how our unconscious mind can control how we make decisions and judgements .

How to Deal with Difficult Participants

Working with a new group of members can be a lot of fun but as facilitators we occasionally run into some challenging classroom situations. Although we establish the group “learning atmosphere” and set other logistical guidelines for class, at times things may pop-up that need to be addressed in order to ensure a positive and inclusive learning environment. Here are some tips on how to identify and deal with some challenging situations.


Energy Breaks

During every course, there will be times when participants look – and feel – like they need a nap. It’s definitely hard to learn when energy is low! Facilitators can choose to call a break and let everyone walk around, get a coffee, get some air. Facilitators can also use short activities, involving movement and laughter, to energize the group.

Pick an energizer that suits the character of the group. If you think the group won’t be comfortable with anything silly, lead them in some simple stretching exercises. Also, pay attention also to physical limitations. If some participants have physical disabilities or injuries, choose an energizer that can be done while seated.

Click here for some simple energizers for union activists.


Using Questions When Facilitating

Questioning is a technique used by facilitators during workshops, meetings or one-on-one mentoring – it's an alternative to presenting information and answers. It's about asking the individual or group you're working with a question, or series of questions, to enable them to find their own solutions to the challenges they face. Adapted from:


And More Preparation for Facilitators of Equality Courses

Equality workshops can and should bring up challenging comments and feelings. As facilitators, we can’t prepare for the exact words and ways these challenging moments happen, and that can often make us nervous or even reluctant to facilitate equality topics at all. How can we deal with the unknown, in ways which are creative and effective?

Here are some questions facilitators can ask ourselves to prepare for equality workshops. The questions help us think about openness and resistance, challenges and limits, and strong emotions.  


Personal Preparation for Facilitators of Equality Courses

Facilitation involves following facilitator notes to fulfill group exercises, teach new information, and build solidarity within the class. Facilitating equality workshops and courses, however, includes an added factor.


Don’t be THAT facilitator!

We all enjoy facilitating and interacting with members during our courses but sometimes we forget what it’s like to be a participant. Here are some things to keep in mind while facilitating.


Identify Yourself! Facilitator Resources to Understand Gender Identity and Gender Expression

An upcoming challenge for facilitators in USW equality will be explaining and coaching classes through new materials on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. This article will help facilitators build a background understanding prior to facilitating equality classes. In turn, the resources will help in teaching new material, dealing with questions, and coaching participants through challenging moments.

Avoiding death by PowerPoint

We have all heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint” and unfortunately, many of us have experienced it (although hopefully none of us have delivered it). In labour education, we understand that magic happens when participants learn from each other. Our role is to facilitate that process. As technology evolves we have more tools available, but is this creating seen a shift away from the participatory model? Is PowerPoint a barrier to learning because it creates “experts” and limits participation by moving the attention from the group to a screen?

DIY: Using a Facilitator Journal for Self-Improvement

You can be your own coach in improving your facilitation skills. This article provides a standardized facilitator journal to help you begin.


The Facilitator’s Role

USW’s “Back to the Locals” education program is based on members educating other members. PeerNetBC provides training, information and resources to strengthen peer-led initiatives. Their web site provides some useful tools for facilitators.


Coaching Small-Group Work (PDF)

In Steelworker workshops, participants spend a lot of time interacting with each other in small groups.Working effectively and respectfully in a small group is a form of solidarity. It also creates the conditions where good ideas and information can emerge. How can a facilitator help these things happen?

Spicing up your Classroom (click to expand)

If you have time to fill or need a change of pace in a class, try showing this music video from an Australian band, who dedicate the song to mine workers.

Strange Tenants dedicate the song to mine workers, their families and communities the
world over. The video was shot on location at an old gold mine in Smeaton, Australia.

Follow it up with discussion questions such as:

  • What does the line about “who gets the money when it’s all sold” encourage listeners to think about?
  • Why is the band contrasting the workers and the owners?
  • How does this song make you feel? 

Dealing with Facilitator Butterflies (PDF)

Nervous about facilitating or instructing? USW's national equality representative and long-time facilitator, Kai Lai, describes a practical way to deal with this common problem.   

How to Build Community in the Union Classroom (PDF)

We want union activists and members to be “ambassadors” for our union, to spread the good word about what we do. It’s important for the survival and growth of the labour movement. Here are some ways that USW facilitators can model good community-building behaviour in the classroom. 

Making Q&A Sessions Better (PDF)

Don’t be THAT facilitator!

We all enjoy facilitating and interacting with members during our courses but sometimes we forget what it’s like to be a participant.  Here are some things to keep in mind while facilitating: