In thinking about what makes a good teacher, I’ve been trying to determine particular skill sets and characteristics in order to provide training materials and workshops for my colleagues. Currently at the top of my list is being a good facilitator. In fact, when I think of how I describe my own teaching philosophy, facilitating is the main verb I use. Because I’m heavily influenced by critical pedagogy theory, I see my role as a teacher to students, staff, faculty, and colleagues to be one in which I’m facilitating their learning, while they’re also facilitating mine (whether or not they see it that way).
While not as flashy as some other active learning techniques, discussion seems to be one of the most important. Conversation is harped on as the way to improve relationships of all kinds and as a tool to build understanding. As bell hooks writes in Teaching Critical Thinking (2010), “Learning and talking together, we break with the notion that our experience of gaining knowledge is private, individualistic, and competitive. By choosing and fostering dialogue, we engage mutually in a learning partnership” (p. 43). This resonates with me because I believe very strongly in creating shared understanding/knowledge as a core piece of any healthy relationship, collaborative, institution or country.
What does a good facilitator do?
- actively listens
- tries to build/develop the discussion
- draw out as much (constructive?) dialogue as possible
- pays attention to body language of participants
- does not overpower the discussion, but also does not allow anyone else to
- uses body language to indicate receptivity to the person speaking
- makes space so that everyone who wants to speak has the opportunity to do so
It’s interesting to me that there is a lot of overlap between what makes a good teacher and a good leader. I’ll just leave that there to think on for another day.
I’m curious as to what other people think about facilitation as a skill. I feel like it’s been undervalued in a lot of places and that people don’t often think of it as something that requires practice because it’s thought of as a “soft skill.” I have also heard the role of a facilitator described as “neutral,” which I find troubling. A person can’t be neutral, just as nothing is objective if it’s been created by a human. As soon as I enter a room, other people perceive me as they have been socialized to see me, so how is it possible for me to be a neutral figure in the discussion?
Anyway, please leave your comments below to continue this discussion! 😉