OWL Access, Part 4 -- Cooley & Landrum

This is part of a four-part series on making OWL more accessible by Dawn Cooley and Cynthia Landrum.  Our first post shared the expense of OWL and the importance of OWL.  The second post, by Cynthia Landrum, explored the problems and work-arounds for one small congregation.  The third post, by Dawn Cooley, explored how one mid-sized congregations does OWL.  Our fourth and final post in the series will share some possible solutions to making OWL accessible.  

The Our Whole Lives (OWL) comprehensive sexuality curriculum is one of the flagship programs offered in Unitarian Universalist congregations. Many youth have described it as life saving.  But it is financially out of range for many of our UU congregations.  So how do we maintain the standard of excellence while also increasing accessibility?  How do we remove barriers to participation?  Here are just a few ideas and possibilities:
  • Go virtual. Online classroom models have come a long way in the 16 years that OWL has been around. This might look like a weekly webinar/discussion, or it could utilize the flipped classroom model, or some other model.  There could also be a hybrid of online and in-person training, reducing the amount of time (and expense) necessary for congregations and participants.

  • Create levels of training.  The current standard for facilitators would be considered fully approved, but an online course could be used to give people a preliminary approval which could then be finalized with an interview or something similar.

  • Lower the number of approved facilitators needed for sessions.  If there were different levels of facilitation, this could look like having one facilitator with the full training, and others who are supplemental/preliminary facilitators who can be teacher assistants and lead break-out groups.

  • Make the training modular. Instead of being approved to facilitate particular ages, perhaps facilitators can be trained to lead specific topics and modules at multiple levels.  Another model might have a core OWL facilitation training that is in-person, and then add-on modules for each age level that are online.

  • Create simplified add-on OWL components/modules that could supplement other sexuality education (such as those offered by schools or Planned Parenthood).  These might focus specifically on the areas that other sexuality educations typically don't cover, from gender identity to how sexuality relates to our principles.
Utilizing the ideas above would help remove barriers to congregations offering OWL, but there are also ways to remove barriers through the administration of the program:
  • The UU Funding Program, or district/regional Chalice Lighter grants, could provide grants to small congregations to allow them to get their first facilitators trained and their program up and running, after which point it would be expected that tuition for participants would be able to continue to fund the growth of the program (charging tuition also increases the commitment of participants to attend).

  • The UUA keeps a database of trained facilitators but does not share it in order to maintain facilitator privacy.  This database could be made accessible to an OWL coordinator-type person in each congregation/district/region so that congregations who need a facilitator at a specific age range could find (or be referred to) an approved facilitator who lives nearby, increasing the possibility of congregations sharing facilitators.

  • The UUA, or districts/regions could strive to make sure that each year there are trainings for each level  within 5 hour drive of most congregations.

  • Reduce the required annual commitments for those who become facilitator trainers. This would allow more trainers to become available. It could also reduce the total cost of the trainings on both the host and attendee sides.
None of this has to mean lowering our standards for who teaches OWL.  Online and modular classes can have the same high standards of references and background checks, and, indeed, should.  We can even increase standards, if necessary, for online classes.
  • In order to continue to maintain the quality of facilitators, potential facilitators could be required to get a recommendation from their DRE or Minister (or something similar). 

  • Facilitators could also be required to take refresher modules after a certain amount of time or when a new edition is available.
OWL has been around for sixteen years now, and has proven itself to stand the test of time (with some necessary updates).  The problems around accessibility have always existed – these are not new issues. However, as society becomes more polarized around issues of sexuality, consent, gender identity and more, we are getting a better understanding of the beacon of hope that OWL provides to those who participate in it.  As such, we believe it is time to make OWL accessible to as many congregations as possible by removing these barriers.


  1. Love the ideas, especially creating a hybrid version of the training. Several Ren Mods for Religious Educators have moved either all online or hybrid, and the costs for participants have been cut by more than half.

    A couple of other possibilities for making OWL trainings more accessible:

    -Have a training at GA every year, either during or before/after. This could help keep some costs down in terms of travel (if they're already going.)

    -Have a training at every district/regional meeting/gathering - either before or during. Again, could help keep costs down as people would hopefully already be going.

  2. Many thanks to both of you for this series of posts, and I hope that these ideas and perhaps others will be seriously taken up. OWL is one of the best and most important things we do, on multiple levels (i.e. both as a practical application of our ideals and as a tool for growing UU).

  3. Some great additional suggestions, Tim -- Thanks!


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