Teachers as Facilitators

I was in high school chemistry when I first heard the term “facilitate.” I adored my teacher because he was the first one who ever believed that he was to sit more on the sidelines and less front-and-center. He left the responsibility on me to learn. He taught us that most of our education had involved “spoon-feeding” and “hand-holding” and he wasn’t going to do that. I liked this new approach but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I felt a little bit alone, like I had just been dropped off by my mom at my first day of Kindergarten. By the end of the year, I had studied more chemistry than I knew existed, but I also gained an academic confidence I didn’t have before. I am still grateful to him for his efforts.

I am beginning an exciting new role as the K-12 Technology Integration Specialist at an international school where I live. I will not be in the classroom but will mainly support other teachers in their use of technology. I certainly see my role as a facilitator, which by Merriam-Webster’s definition is “one that helps to bring about an outcome (as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision.” I like that. The keywords to me are help, outcome, indirect, and guidance.

So what are the skills successful facilitators need to have?

Jennifer Tylee (1999) notes that part of facilitating student learning is to create opportunities for students to learn by assessing the students, planning the learning, implementing the plan, and evaluating the process. Teaching is still part of it and instruction is important. But facilitation is often more about the how than the what. Facilitators need to encourage students to take responsibility and delegate tasks, be warm and uplifting, promote consensus during discussion, assist in goal setting, draw conclusions, and generally guide the overall process (Embedded Learning Academy, 2009). Facilitation requires teachers to be more engaged, more involved, and more mindful of how the students are doing than they may be used to in a lecture-type setting. I foresee that some teachers will struggle with facilitating PBL more than others, depending on what type of classroom culture they have.

If given enough support and encouragement, students will develop competencies and skills they need to be successful. They will retain information longer and perform better. If they are new to Project Based Learning, they will likely need more support and scaffolding than if they have been doing PBL projects for awhile. I’m hoping to offer support and encouragement to teachers who want to do more PBL projects but don’t really know how or where to start. I am hoping a few will be motivated enough to give it a try, and will be encouraged to continue because of their successes.

Embedded Learning Academy. (2009). Facilitators. Retrieved from http://www.embeddedlearningacademy.com/pde/facilitators/index.html

Tylee, J. (1999). Teacher as facilitator. Retrieved from http://www.education4skills.com/jtylee/teacher_as_facilitator.html

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