Valuing the not-knowing

Valuing the not-knowing

Name educator: Saskia Nauwelaerts

Name partner organisation: Outward Bound Belgium


Description of the course:
I worked on this testing project during a 5-day-course with a group of 14 last year students psychology of de Catholic University of Leuven (KUL).  The program is part of the class ‘group Dynamics II’. The students live during these five days together in the Ardennes (south of Belgium) and are invited to participate as a group in outdoor activities and reflections on their personal behavior (in group) as well as on the group development.
At Outward Bound Belgium we use outdoor settings and activities to provide  participants powerful experiences, to trigger them to ‘grow’.  We create a setting where participants  can stretch themselves  and we believe there is a certain amount of challenge and discomfort needed.

The aims of this program are:
1. The students professional development
2. Insight in groups and groupdevelopment (by experiencieng and reflecting -> experiential learning)
3. Insight in procesfacilitation and interventions from a meta-perspective (theoretical models to look to their own experience).

Aim of testing project:
I want to value the moments of not-knowing more in the facilitation of processes the group and the individuals go through. Although I ‘know’ by earlier experiences that this is often a condition to gain genuine insight, I also recognise the tendency within myself to be willing to pass this phase as soon as possible and can be seduced to follow participants in this impatience.

– During this program, I want to experiment more consciously with this not-knowing moments on participant’s searching on a personal or on a group level. I want to facilitate more the reflective attention in the participant’s minds.
– As a learner myself, I want to go along more consciously with moments of not being sure and not-knowing within a larger process.


Date(s) of the testing project:   2-6/11/2015

Target group: last year students psychology of de Catholic University of Leuven (KUL)

Number of participants: 14

Nationality of the participants: 13 Belgian – 1 dutch

Sex of the participants: females­  12 man  2

Age of the participants:   22   to   28

Amount of meetings with the learners:   5 consecutive days

A Number of people reflecting:   Solo (1 person)   Small group

(< 20 people)


 Large group

(> 20 people)


B The way(s) of sharing:


Non-verbal:   Pictures / drawings Text   Em­bodied  sculpture


  Other forms of expression


Digital: Padlet


  Social media   Digital diary


C Place of reflection (where) Indoors


Outdoors   On-line


D. Steps taken to implement

How did you organize your testing project (or to put it differently: as this is a testing project for experimenting, what will be different comparing to the same course you run the previous time)?

During the program, I want to facilitate more the reflective attention in participant’s minds.
e.g. by slowing-down the learning (and counter my own and participant’s impatience); by allowing more moments of silence after a question, a reaction,…; by experimenting more with splitting up the group in small groups or individually…; by reframing the moments of the ‘not-knowing’ to participants as a condition to genuine learning and invite them to take the time needed for the quality dialogue within themselves; … and being open for more ways to value or experience the value of the ‘not-knowing’.

E. Your assessment of the outcome

In general, how do you look at the results of your testing project?

I base my ‘assessment‘ of the outcome on what I observed during the course and what participants told me by an evaluation form.  One month after the program an Outward Bound stagiaire (being participant as well) asked about meaningful moments for the participants during an informal conversation on a reunion moment. I take this information as well into account.

In general, I noticed I was much more aware of situations where participants were experiencing a phase of not-knowing.  Because of being convinced by the potential value of this phase on the path of genuine learning, I noticed I could look at certain situations of confusion, frustration, surprise or a ‘sense of stuckness‘, trusting more the process going on at that moment.
This ‘trust‘ made me feel more confident in discribing what I saw happening with the participants at a certain moment and naming it as ‘feeling stuck‘ or ‘not-knowing‘.  Several times I reframed these moments of this ‘not-knowing’ to participants as a condition to genuine learning and invite them to take the time needed for the quality dialogue within themselves.
In all the situations I thought seeing a kind of ‘relief’ in participants’ stuckness (as if giving it a ‘name’ gave recognition to the embarrassing feeling and reframing it possibly a perspective? )

Looking back on the course and my interventions I missed the chance to explore more the experience of not knowing and the way of getting along with it.  I think in certain situations it might be possible to work with a metaphor for example.

e.g. During a blindfolded activity the second day, participant W. was stepping back in the exercise after a few times her advices were not followed.  In the debrief afterwards, she was very quiet.  When I described her ‘being silent’, she started talking about being a part of the group, but she didn’t finish her sentences and she even started to stutter, saying that she was confused and lost what to say. I reframed the confusing as ‘not knowing on this moment’ and invited her to take the time needed to explore more this feeling without wanting to find an answer immediately.  The next day, she shared her feelings about ‘feeling differently’ in this group.  She didn’t know how to share the fact that she wasn’t feeling a part of the group, while all others speaking out loud, described the good atmosphere in the group.  She discovered that feeling different made her feel uncertain, a feeling and a fear she recognized from before, even from her childhood.
It kept her busy and during the next days she explored the feeling more.  Further in the program, she was not feeling physically ok to sleep outside (as the rest of the group did). At the end of the evening she decided that her physical state was more important than doing ‘the same’.  She was convinced herself about this decision, but didn’t feel comfortable about it towards the group. This made her communication about it towards the rest of the group very limited.  In a reflection moment she could see it as a step further to be ‘ok’ herself to feel different and act differently, but the fear of not being part of the group made her feel insecure.  In her paper she describes a next moment, walking a steep way up during a solo-walk in the dark, she asked for help from an other participant because her physical condition forced her to do so (although acting ‘differently’ because of the SOLO-walk). In her paper she describes her proudness about her ‘experiment’.    At the end of the course she was asking personal feedback in a one-by-one feedback-round (by asking how people experienced her in the group). 

I explicitly allowed more moments of silence after a question, a reaction,… I saw happening things within participants during these moments: participants getting more emotional and having the opportunity to get more aware of what was happening, e.g. starting to cry and having the reaction of running away; feeling confused when having a lot of attention…

And I introduced a solo-walk on a steep path up in the dark.  I invited them to take the time for themselves to experience consciously the walk and feel what happens and/ or what keeps them busy during that specific walk… just being conscious to what happens without having to search or ‘find’ something.
Picking the participants up at the end of the solo-climb, I saw participants having very different experiences (feeling exhausted, crying, relieve, proudness, frustration…), as if they had been more in a quality dialogue within themselves.

When the stagiaire asked the participants one month after the course if they had had meaningful moments of not-knowing, no one was talking spontaneously about these moments I observed and interpreted as being meaningful.  This confimed for me the missed chance to explore more not-knowing moments in the here-and-now to hadle them more consciously in the future.

F  Connecting with principles: which principle(s) were you taking into consideration mostly when facilitating reflection with learners? Please add 2 sentences about how you were translating the principle into practice. For more information: see postings on principles.


Raising awareness within learners to ‘own’ their learning in personally meaningful way

During the course I regularly took the time for debriefs before, during or after an/ some activitie(s) with the aim to create a larger reflective atmosphere.  I gave assignments in a quite ‘open‘ way, giving the participants the opportunitie to co-create the debriefs and reflections with me.  I stayed tuned into the learning process and intervened or questioned more their personal frame-of-reference during the sessions to facilitate the owning up of what they were sharing.  During the course I recognized the reflective atmosphere evolving and participants starting to share more personal experiences and being interested in the frame of reference or intentions of others and daring to ask more explicitely for it.



Developing a relationship between educator and learners based on trust, openness, empathy, honesty, dialogue and feedback

It feels almost as an evidence and a spontaneous way of making contact with participants.  I feels as a ‘conditio qua non’ to create a reflective space and to create an atmosphere where participants are willing to share experiences, to reflect and to learn and take risks and dare to experiment.



Co-creating the reflective process

See  also ‘Raising awareness within learners to ‘own’ their learning in personally meaningful way’



Managing the steering paradox of intrinsic learning processes

I consciously steered the reflective atmosphere by creating debriefs and reflecting moments, where I intervened in the beginning more directly to give the attention to personal experiences, frames of references, intentions, emotions,… I recognized participants following this ‘chosen path’ in the continuing of the program by sharing more personal experiences and by being more interested in personal experiences of others and the effects they have on each other.



Creating the right reflective attention of learners

See also ‘ Managing the steering paradox of intrinsic learning processes’



Slowing down and value moments of not-knowing

I actively introduces more moments of silence after a question, a reaction,… I reframing the moments of the ‘not-knowing’ to participants as a condition to genuine learning and invite them to take the time needed for the quality dialogue within themselves and have the opportunity to explore more what’s happening.
And I introduced explicitly a solo-walk with the invitation to take the time for themselves to experience consciously the walk and feel what happens and/ or what keeps them busy during that specific walk… just being conscious to what happens without having to search or ‘find’ something.



Deepening your questions progressively

During debriefs and reflecting moments I focus on open questions, inviting participants to explore more about a certain experience/ feeling/ thought/ behavior/…



Recalling  that reflection can never be imposed, only kindly invited.

At the introcuction of the course, I framed explicitly the idea of ‘challenge by choise‘ as a basic principle for Outward Bound courses.  Participants choose themselves which challenge they want to take (or not), wheter it is about the activity or the reflection. Of course participants are triggerded and invited by me as proces facilitator to come out of their comfort zone or to experiment with something new.


Always considering reflection as a broad and deepening process, that should be holistic.


Being careful how to assess reflection (or not at all)

Participants are during the course invited to reflect on what they experience by the debrief sessions, by the invitation to write about their experiences in a booklet they got at the start of the course and the invitation to share experiences on a padlet of the group. At the end of the course participants are asked to fill in an evaluation form to give their feedback to the course and share what they take with them (for us to have an idea of the ‘effect’ of the course on them).  Participants can fill out the form anonymously.  (The 2 questions are ‘what do you take with you from this course?’ and ‘What do you want to do with it in your daily life or worksituation? How?’)
The Outward Bound course is part of the course ‘Groupdynamics II’ at the university.  To pass the course participants have to write a reflection paper on the group dynamic processes and personal processes the group went through, linked to theoretical models in literature.


Worksheet 2

Learners’ feedback

Trainers name: Saskia Nauwelaerts – Outward Bound Belgium

  • Project name: Valuing the not-knowing
  • Time frame: 2-6/11/2015


If you look back to the course what moments were meaningful to you?

Information I gathered is based on what people wrote on the evaluatiuon form directly after the course and what they told during an informal conversation with my stagiaire (being participant as well) on a reunion moment one month after the course.

When the stagiaire asked the participants about meaningful moments during the course, the most meaningful moments were linked to an actual experience such as struggeling with the birth channel in the cave or daring to climb the high ropes despite of fear of heights. The participants mentioned these moments as meaningfull in relation to the underlying feelings and thoughts that they shared afterwards. A girl with fear of heights mentioned that she finally dared to climb the 8 meter pole because she felt a huge support, trust and safety from the group. Another girl found the debriefings most meaningful because it gave her great insight in herself as a person and as part of the group.

Most participants mentioned that they really appreciated the pictures that were taken during the course. The pictures helped them to recall some feelings linked to specific experiences which resulted in an ongoing reflection and learning process.

Why were they meaningful?

– “Experimenting with letting go of elements where I have no influence on.“
– “More openness about myself.“
– “I got to know better my boundaries and dare to share and stand up for them.“
– “That I should be much more confident about myself and learn more about my needs, feeling more confident to step forward to talk about them.“
– “Think less, let go and just do it.“
– “Appreciate myself more and use my leadership skills more often. I got to know myself better.“
– “I encountered my limits“
– “I am more aware of my effect on others“
– “I experienced the benefit of telling more quickly what‘s on my mind.“
– “The benefit of daring to be myself“
– “I learned to trust and ask for help. When I’m stuck in a particular project, I‘ll ask the help of someone to help me further.“
– “I learned to consider that others have a different opinion.  I want to take in account more other people‘s opinion.“