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5.5 Why You Should Consider Having an Open Sharing Time at the End of Your Workshop

Here we are, home stretch. Thanks for reading this far. Before we wrap, though, I had to put in a pitch for one last thing: an open sharing time.

First of all: What do I even mean by open sharing time? I mean gathering students in a circle (if a circle is possible) and giving them an opportunity to read their personal statements aloud to one another.

Keep in mind that this will mostly apply to folks guiding a 3-day or 4-day workshop, as students will not be likely to complete a really solid draft (or one that they’re comfortable sharing) at the end of the 1-Hr, 2-Hr or 3-Hr workshops.

Why do I recommend doing this?

Reason #1: The individual therapeutic benefits
Ever shared a personal story in a small support group? It can be a powerful and affirming experience.

Reason #2: The potential for community-building
It can be an incredible bonding experience at a time when students are about to enter one of the most stressful times in their lives. In fact, I’ve heard students call 3-day and 4-day personal statement workshops “healing” and when I’ve asked them what their favorite part was they’ve said, “Sharing our personal statements... I didn’t know that other people were going through the same stuff I was going through.”

Reason #3: The potential for the growth of the workshop facilitator
That’s you. Isn’t a large part of why you’re doing this (leading workshops, helping students tell their stories) so that you can learn more about yourself, both as a counselor and as a human? I know it is for me.

Here are a few common concerns that come up:

What if someone cries? It’s okay. Tears happen. Allow them. In fact, have a tissue box--several, in fact--nearby at the ready.

What if someone reveals something about abuse? First, are you a mandatory reporter? If so, let students know this before the sharing time so they aren’t surprised later. Afterwards, check in with the student: Is the abuse still going on? Are they in danger? If not, then begin by listening. Be there for them. It is not your job to fix or serve as a therapist. Once you’ve listened, ask how you can best support. Would they like to be connected with a therapeutic counselor or psychologist? If yes, do so. Follow up a week or so later to ask how things are going. Check in from time to time. Again, it’s not your job to fix, but to support. Listening is a great way to do that.

How can I make sure everything goes well? There’s no way to assure that things go perfectly, of course. And while I could devote an entire day to discussing facilitation of a personal statement-sharing time, here are a few things that I've found helpful.


A Dozen Tips and Best Practices For Facilitating an Open Sharing Time

  1. Choose carefully when to reveal the sharing time. In other words, ask yourself: when will students find out that they’ll have the opportunity to read their stories at the end of the workshop? I’ve found that telling them too early (say, in the marketing materials or even at the start of the workshop) can stress them out. Also, some students might avoid certain topics if they’re told they might be asked to share about their topic in a group. To this end…

    I like to mention the sharing time sometime after lunch on Day 2. By this time students have picked a topic and probably a structure. Mentioning it on Day 2 can also build excitement and energy through the end of the workshop.
  2. Don’t make it mandatory. In other words, let students know they don’t have to share their personal statements if they don’t want to. To increase buy-in, however, I like to…

    Call it a “potluck.” For students who don’t want to read their personal statements, I’ll encourage them to bring in something to share with the group (a poem, a song lyric, a quotation) that is meaningful to them.
  3. Prepare something to read yourself. Yes, you, their counselor! Maybe even surprise them with it--don’t tell them you’re going to share. What could or should it be? Ideally something that you’ve written. Maybe a poem. Or a even a 650-word statement of why your work with them is meaningful to you.

    1. Here’s an example of something I’ve written that I’ll share with students during a Circle.

    2. Here’s a piece my friend Lisa wrote and shared with a group of students at the end of a 4-day workshop we co-facilitated together in Arizona. (Note: I think this piece is so good--highly recommended reading.)

    3. And here is a poem written by a counselor colleague that was recently shared with me in the College Essay Forum for Counselors Private Facebook Group that would be perfect for sharing in this environment:


The World Comes To Me Every Fall

I am not exaggerating
even one bit, when I say
“the world” comes to me every fall

yes indeed, the world comes
to me in less than six hundred
and fifty words or so, every fall

diverse narratives wrapped up in
hopes, dreams and aspirations
just in six hundred and fifty words

anecdotes of compelling stories
heart wrenching metaphors too
in about six hundred words in all

the world is down at my desk
and many nervous faces stare across,
wanting to get this out of the way

I get inspired by them,
and agitated at times -even if it is
just six hundred and fifty words in all

endearing stories of adversity
leave me speechless and teary eyed,
more than seven out of ten times

I recover slowly when I see
their drive to excel and their desire
to learn and beat all the odds

grammar and syntax become
trivial to me, when these essays
are deeply engaging me

I enjoy holding their hands
through this nerve wracking time,
giving as much support as I can

the world comes to me every fall
six hundred and fifty words in all:
opening my eyes wide, to the great divide.


Love it.

4. Sit in a circle, when possible. This means everyone is equidistant from the center, which sends a powerful message. Maybe even sit on the floor together, if you can.

5. Let students know they don’t have to read their own story. They can have another student, or you, read for them.

6. Before anyone shares, set the agreements again. This will go a long way toward helping students feel it’s safe to share. As a reminder, my agreements are:

  1. Confidentiality/“No gossip” policy.

  2. Listen with respect.

  3. Participate fully.

  4. Take care of yourself.

7. Before anyone reads, encourage everyone to, when it’s their turn, read slowly and to breathe. Most students will speed up, as they’re nervous. It’s natural.

8. Once a student has read, some students will clap. I think this is a nice gesture. It acknowledges that student and their work--both to write their essay and to get to this point in their life.

9. I like to thank students once they’ve read, then I ask one or two simple questions. Here are a few options I like:

  1. (of the other students) What was it like hearing [insert student’s name]’s story? What moment stood out for you? What moment resonated with you? What did you appreciate about [insert student’s name]’s story?

  2. (of the student who read) What was it like sharing your story with the group?

  3. I spend just 1-2 minutes with each student after they’ve read, and I may choose to acknowledge something (Example: I really loved the way you described your mother). Then I make eye contact with the student who read and say “thank you.” And then say, “Who’s next?” Which reminds me.

10. I like to have students share popcorn-style, as opposed to going around in a circle. That way students can share when they’re ready.

11. If silence happens in between rounds, let it be. Don’t rush to fill it with words or warnings (Example: “Someone better read or I’m going to start calling on you.”) Just enjoy the silence.

12. Leave at least 90 minutes for this. You’ll use it.

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Thanks for reading this guide. I hope you find it useful.

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