ROUNDS AND REFLECTION
Rounds are a way of organising conversation in a group: everyone in the room is invited to answer a question or share something in the order they are sitting. The other participants listen actively, and do not comment on each other's statements. Anyone is allowed to pass if they don’t feel like sharing anything. This structure gives space for those who rarely take the word to talk, and may lower the threshold for speaking. Questions can be anything from “what was the best part of the day?”, “a challenge I overcame this week”, “what do I need to feel good in this project?” or “what are you looking forward to tomorrow?”. Try warming up with a round that everyone can answer easily - like favourite vegetable or animal, or combine these with the ones above. This might give someone the chance to answer just the “easy” part, and in that way more people get the chance to say something. For the more challenging questions it might be a good idea to give a minute or two to reflect in silence - most people have never been asked what they need to feel safe and might need a moment to think.
Games are perhaps the most important tool we have in our toolbox. With a varied and thought-through set of playful activities, we can build community and empathy, tackle difficult topics, boost our energy levels, create alternative arenas for success (for those moments when everything feels difficult in the music room) and of course learn new things. Whether it’s drawing portraits, throwing a ball, miming or dancing battles, a clearly described game can create a setting where the threshold for participation is low, and so are the stakes involved if you win or lose. But the common experiences, sense of safety and friendships built are all the more valuable for the next creative endeavour on the schedule.
Some factors to keep in mind when planning games are any physical disabilities among participants and the goals for the games (are you building team spirits, taking a breather between other programming or practising taking up space on stage?). Games are also an important break during other activities (choir practice, band practice, workshops, etc.), and can be a positive time out in the midst of everything else. Sometimes doing a round of hide and seek can help participants (and facilitators) relax and reset before engaging in other tasks and activities
Alongside games and other social activities, it is important to strengthen the social unity in the participant groups. We find it important to work with team building on all levels; in the bands, in the whole group and among the “leaders”. Team building can increase motivation and increase creativity among the participants, in addition to strengthening the sense of community within the project/event/camp.
Trusting your teammates makes it easier to share ideas, or speak up if something is off.
Team building activities can be anything from solving
a task as a group, creating something together (preferably something other than music, maybe a funny sketch or an improvised work of art?), sharing something about yourself, practising cheering each other on, listening actively or giving positive feedback.
It is important to have some common guidelines when working together. This goes for leaders as well as participants. A good way to start is making a group agreement. This is a set of rules that amplify how to take care of each other's needs, and how the group can work well together.
An easy way to make a group agreement is to give everyone a minute to reflect on what they need to feel safe and contribute to the group. This can be anything from “I need coffee breaks”, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question” to “I need the space to take a time out every onece in a while”. Then, do a round where everyone gets to express their needs. The leader then writes down everything the participants say. This is the group agreement. After this everyone agrees to follow these rules together, and to add any additional needs that might come up at a later point.
Making sure everyone has the same information and the same understanding is very important when working for equal participation and broader representation. One way of securing this is by using clear communication. Clear communication can mean: using a simple and clear language, avoiding unnecessarily complicated words, communicating the same message in many ways (written, orally, in pictures, maybe even through a sketch – creativity in conveying information is always welcome), giving the same information several times.
As organisers and facilitators, many of us are used to having the same participants or participants with the same background in our projects, and we start taking for granted that participants know what rules apply when, who to ask for help or what to bring to a workshop. But if everyone in the room is to have the same chance of participation we have to make sure the information is always accessible, and nothing is assumed. This is also important because everyone has different learning styles, and because differently abled or neuro-diverse participants might have other communication needs.
Name tags from day one are also important for the experience of safety and clarity. We ask participants and leaders to write down their preferred pronoun on the name tags. Making name tags can be a creative and fun activity to ask participants to do when they arrive, and are waiting for the first activities to start.
Limitations are a well known tool in creative processes, and can be seen in connection with the principle of process focus explained in the previous section. The more possibilities we have, the harder it is to make a decision. In creative work the possibilities can be almost endless, so where do we start?
Limitations force us to think in new ways, and remove the pressure to make something perfect. All you can do is make the best you can within the framework of limitations!
The limitations can come in the form of specific topics, time restraints, what tools and resources are available, or limiting options. If the task is to come up with a topic for a song, you are only allowed to draw words from a hat, while music production participants might be tasked with making a two minute soundtrack for a youtube clip. In only thirty minutes of course!
For beginners a limited set of chords or drum beats can serve just as much as a reminder of opportunities as it is a limitation, levelling the playing field between participants at different levels.
ENCOURAGEMENT AND VALIDATION
As leaders, youth workers and facilitators, one of our most important tasks is encouraging and validating the participants. Giving participants praise and validation is a way of building a feeling of safety and self esteem. Give praise and feedback that shows that you see the participant, and focus on the processes we are doing together.
When we are trying something for the first time, whether it's playing drums or sleeping away from home, it is important to feel encouraged. Many of the participants challenge themselves and evolve when participating in a project like yours. If we acknowledge and see this evolution, it can be a boost for the participant, and help them push through in the tougher moments. It is common to experience self-doubt as a young person and as a musician, and it is our privilege to help participants dismantle these mechanisms.
For our praise and feedback to be helpful they need to focus on factors the participant can actually influence themselves. That means acknowledging intentions and efforts, rather than looks, inherent characteristics or results.
PARTICIPATION ON ONE'S OWN TERMS
Participation on one's own terms can mean so much for participants. Each participant has individual understandings, goals and ambitions when they participate in a project. Some might want to play at a big festival the following year, while others want to make new friends. Both goals are just as important. Participation on one’s own terms means enabling participants to use their strengths and acknowledging these strengths. Someone might want to play one note through an entire song, but are really good at creating the zine or band logo.
As leaders, youth workers and organisers we can contribute to participation on each participant’s own terms by facilitating a large variation in tasks, learning methods, group sizes, allow participants to say no, or take a break when they need to. The previous point of encouragement and validation also comes into play here. For participants to feel that participating on their own terms is okay, we need to acknowledge and validate all types of efforts and abilities.