what I learned about facilitating while being a student

Recently I had the opportunity of attending the Advanced Placement Summer Institute just outside Seattle. 3 and 1/2 long days of non-stop seat time sure provides clarity on what and what not to do as a facilitator of learning–whether it be snotty little toddler students to scary big adult students.

  • The facilitator’s preparation sets the tone for the entire learning experience. If frazzled, students will be rushed. If disorganized, students will be disengaged. If insecure, students will be rambunctious. If unintentional, students will be misguided. Some surefire ways to set a focused tone: a quality-crafted agenda with clear outcomes that are reviewed consistently; strict reining in of tangents; a quick but clear pace.
  • Everyone doesn’t just need norms, they want norms…even if they are putting off that “I’m too cool for norms” vibe. In a room of competent and experienced Language Arts teachers, one would think we could move forward in a timely and purposeful manner that honors all parties in the room. But, even with grown adults, “honor” needs to be defined and normed at the beginning of every single birth of a new group dynamic.  Such norming prevents behaviors like this (which are not malicious but nonetheless annoying): computer Christie (names are alliterative but not authentic) in the corner who does everything online to avoid actually giving the time of day to the human adults beside her and the facilitator in front of her; galloping groupies who are too consumed finishing their preparation for their presentation to be respectful and attentive to the current group actually presenting; cocky Christopher who is dead set on the canon and consistently insists we are dying a slow death from cultural–read dead white guys–illiteracy…even when we’re talking about multiple choice strategies; tardy Tiffany who just can’t seem to make it on time; demanding Daniel who consistently usurps the (non-existent) agenda with his own directions. Yada yada…if you have ever been a part of a learning dynamic, you can name a hundred of your own pet peeves that, with just a little norming, could be alleviated.
  • It is the facilitator’s job to manage equitable access to processing and participation strategies. I am a verbal processor. I like to talk aloud through all parts of learning: introduction, competence, mastery. In all reality, not just do I like to talk aloud, I must. When there are opportunities embedded throughout instruction for me to turn and talk (gag at the dropping of a buzz word), I do learn more broadly, more deeply, and more permanently. I need that from a facilitator. Just as much as the non-verbal processor next to me needs some think time, in quiet, in peace, without the banter of dominating voices, well, dominating everyone’s thoughts. Speaking of that dominating voice, I’d like to get a word in edge-wise. But without a facilitator who is attentive to the pre-established norms, as well as the shared weight of participation across all members, the loud flies just keep buzzing while the quiet flies sit patiently–or not so patiently–on their shit. And that just stinks.
  • The best facilitators maximize space, place, and pace. Yes I am a “mature” adult learner. But no thank you, I do not want to sit in an uncomfortable plastic chair for several hours in the row looking at the same blank wall next to the same colleagues. Let’s put up some anchor charts that remind us this is our space. Let’s move the chairs around to reengage our numb glutes. Let’s take a brain break every hour to reinvigorate our minds. Let’s try something different than the traditional and easy sit and get. Variety is the spice of life, and the preservative of learning.

Of course at this training, I learned so much about how to be a better Advanced Placement English Lit teacher. But I also inadvertently learned a plethora of lessons on how to be an effective facilitator.

Let’s hope the learners I lead would never write a blog like this!