We’ve all heard it teachers are coach, the ‘guide on the side not sage on the stage’ and facilitator. These words are easy to say, but what do they actually mean?
Last week we had a great group from Melbourne come to NBCS for an Immersion Day. These are opportunities beyond Edu-tourism, to drill down, gain clarity in priorities and identify next steps. I really enjoy working with these groups. Facilitating is not telling people what they should do, but providing the conditions for the group to learn through input – knowledge and experience – and then provide time and space for them to process and develop their own outcomes, for their own school.
facilitate (v) to make easy
1610s, from Fr. faciliter “to render easy”
There are a few key elements of effective facilitation:
- Leading people through a process of agreed objectives
- Encouraging participation, ownership and productivity
- Creating conditions where participants feel safe
- Ensuring that the group is the star
- Achieving their outcomes
Probably, the most important point is that a facilitator recognises that the answer is ‘within’ the individual or group, they have the capacity to find a solution. The facilitator guides the process and allows the group to draw their own conclusions. They empower the group and then step back.
The art of facilitating has four priorities:
Clarity of the task: what needs to be completed
Facilitator, know thyself: impact of the facilitator on the process
Empower the group or individual: Channeling the energy and understanding the group dynamics
Enable the process: Create the right environment to get the work done
Allowing for the process doesn’t mean operating without structure. The best facilitators implement a structure that feels organic and fluid to the participant, yet it is well-thought through and meticulously planned. It is much easier to be a controlling content knowledge specialist than an effective facilitator. Facilitators work in-the-moment – they are ‘present’ with the group. This is their highest priority as a practitioner.
It’s not always easy to take that step back and allow the group to own the process and outcomes. Human nature wants to take control. When we consider teachers as facilitators the responsibility for learning is the students’.
Here’s the paradox: Facilitator is a leadership role where the power resides in the group.
Teacher as facilitator: What does it mean?
Being substantively neutral
Not the only source of knowledge and expertise
Create a climate of collaboration
Not command and control
Provide a range of tools and resources to help the group find their answers
Not one way is the only way
Being a content knowledge expert is challenging in the era of teacher as facilitator. Where once you were a teacher because of what you knew, now, the role is more about what the student needs to know to achieve their own learning goals. Handing over the responsibility of learning to the student is not abandoning the job of the teacher. Content matters. As with the group from Melbourne coming to our school. I presented input and knowledge from our experience, but then provided the conditions for them to set priorities and next steps.
Try this quick quiz. Do you:
- Need to be the focus of every session with your students?
- Know what it means to be ‘present’?
- Embrace the notion of making the way for learning *easy?
- Have a toolkit of ideas and resources to employ as needed?
- Commit to seeking the needs of the group or individual, not your own?
- Believe that collaboration plays a significant role in learning today?
- Allow the students to plan and drive their learning?
This is what a facilitator does.
* easy is a challenging word here. It is not used in the sense that there is no rigour, but that the teacher’s role makes the path clearer.