Workshop Design & Facilitation
Lean into the big questions
Hi, I'm Sarah Donnell, facilitator, coach, and human being keenly aware that this is a wild moment to be alive.
This moment has tasked our communities with tough, urgent questions—prodding us into conversations many of us don’t know how to have...conversations many of us don’t want to have. As a facilitator, I open up spaces and offer tools to change that.
Race, class, mental health, gender, sex, religion...probably anything you were told was not polite conversation at the dinner table, I’ve brought it to a room of 20 to 500 people. I specialize in designing interactive workshop experiences that make it feel more possible to tackle the tough stuff together.
My facilitation techniques draw from my background in the arts and my training in interfaith ritual and chaplaincy. My workshops engage not only the intellects gathered in the room, but also the wisdom of our bodies, our felt experiences, and the creative solutions and transformation that can arise between us when we open ourselves to a spirit of collaboration and play.
Sample Workshop Topics
I prefer to customize each experience to the needs and context of a particular group, but here is a menu of common themes we could use as springboards.
Move past boring old icebreakers and into functional trust and relationship.
Practice creating together and reflect on what the barriers are to doing this all the time.
Skills of Repair
Rehearse concrete steps of true apologies and self regulation to be ready to handle inevitable mistakes.
Explore the gifts and opportunities available in facing moments of interpersonal struggle.
Take time to assess and shape the climate of your collective environment.
What goals do you have for your group? What topics or challenges are you unsure of how to broach?
Amy Burtaine, Racial Equity Trainer
"As a facilitator Sarah has learned the intricate dance of deep listening, acknowledging, and challenging participants to deepen their understanding of the issues. She knows how to foster an environment that is inviting, open, and compassionate for courageous conversations."
My facilitation work started in the classroom, when, in 2010, I temporarily stepped away from my endeavors as a theatre artist to teach in an adult literacy program at a rural community college. This work dovetailed into a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I co-led Interactive Theatre Carolina and trained and facilitated intensively across a range of issues that met at the intersection of health, wellness, and social justice. In particular, my workshops focused on using tools of the Theatre of the Oppressed to connected interpersonal experience to an understanding of systemic injustice. In the years since, I've facilitated with The Equity Lab, UCLA's AMP! project, Cultivate Leadership, and I continue to partner with Theater Delta as a facilitator, program designer, and trainer of other facilitators.
I hold a Master of Arts in Social Change from the Graduate Theological Union’s progressive multireligious seminary, Starr King School for the Ministry, and I'm an ordained interfaith chaplain. Pairing this study with Clinical Pastoral Education has further expanded my comprehension of systems of advantage and disadvantage at a macro level as well as the ways our lives can transform through engaging the spirit of these big questions one-on-one. To me, change invites creativity, and creativity invites play; the work I am most interested in these days has a healthy blend of those three elements.
• Improving Mentorship in the Sciences
This multi-stage project was a collaboration between UNC Chapel Hill's Biology and Biomedical Sciences Program and theatre for social change company Theater Delta to fulfill a grant from the NIH. Based on interview data, I designed a series of three two-and-a-half hour workshops to be facilitated by and delivered to faculty. Each workshop consisted of two scripted scenarios shown on video and multiple interactive elements to engage with the topics of giving and receiving feedback, navigating conflict, and creating intentional culture. After facilitating tests of the workshops myself, I trained faculty facilitators to be able to present the programs on their own.
• The Three Holds: A Guide for the Aftermath of a Mistake
Developed in collaboration with racial equity facilitator, Amy Burtaine, this embodied skill-building workshop helps white people in the work of anti-racism. Participants reflect and rehearse to be able to recover and learn from the moments when they unintentionally cause harm in the blindspots of their privilege and, hopefully, manage to reduce additional harm in the aftermath.
• Community Care in the Helping Professions
This workshop was part of an annual collaboration between Theater Delta and the NC Community Transitions Institute, a retreat that provides continuing education and training for professionals involved in the complicated processes of transitioning patients from care facilities back into homes in the community. After writing and revising an original, multi-part interactive script depicting various participants and challenges within the process, I had the opportunity to facilitate the workshop in person in 2022. Participants got to interact with the characters in the scenario, practice skills, solve problems, and reflect on how to better take care of those they serve, those they work with, and themselves in the midst of demanding systems.