Change is constant, yet approaches to teaching and learning have largely remained unchanged since the Industrial Age. Teaching and learning have traditionally been rooted in the idea that students are consumers of information fed to them by their teachers. This approach is no longer fit for our current age.
We are living in an age defined by change. New approaches to teaching and learning are needed if we are to address the increasingly complex environmental, social, and technological problems of the 21st century. Although this is a time of great uncertainty, we know that the decisions and actions we take today will significantly shape our emergent future. That’s why more than ever we need to create learning environments where young people feel empowered to make decisions and act on issues impacting their lives. The approach to teaching and learning that best equips young people with the skills, know-how, and mindset to deal with change is facilitation.
Facilitation is a way of working with people. It’s an approach to teaching and learning that involves thoughtfully designing experiences for others—guiding, instigating, and motivating them to learn.
Through supportive environments facilitators provide opportunities to experience growth through well-planned activities and techniques that help to build useful changemaker skills. Participation in activities enable students to move beyond their typical experience as they attempt to utilize new skills, apply them to new problems and situations, and reflect on how their efforts help to achieve their goals.
Part of the responsibility that comes with designing meaningful experiences for others is creating a space where people feel enabled and empowered to make decisions. Facilitators support decision-making by not imposing their views on an individual or group. Instead, they remain neutral while skillfully engaging a process that allows students to think differently about issues, set goals, and solve problems.
As young people solve problems and discover the consequences of their actions—through reflection and interpretation of their experiences—they’re offered an opportunity to create knowledge. Creating knowledge is different than acquiring it from others (say a teacher) in that the former is a product of doing; it’s a more active process.
When one actively engages their world they take the first step to becoming a changemaker.
Facilitation and teaching are important features of education. Both are part of a teaching-learning continuum. They’re not opposites and one is no more important than the other. However, facilitation and teaching are distinct practices and can lead to a variety of different outcomes depending on the context of learning.
Fundamental to facilitation are the principles of equality, inclusion, participation and affirmation. In a classroom, this means recognizing the value of each person’s contribution, encouraging the active participation of group members, and identifying and utilizing their skills, experience, creativity, and analysis. This understanding and sharing of skills enables students to meaningfully engage social/emotional learning and the process of changemaking.
|Rigid rows of desks
|Subject matter organized into topics
|Learning process organized into structured learning experiences
|Authority over the group
|Member of the group
|Knowledge gained from experience
|Reading, listening, and remembering
|Recognizing, reflecting, interpreting
|Outcomes set by teacher
|Outcomes varied and emergent
|Provide too much information at the beginning of an activity that limits authentic discovery
|Assist group in discovery of what they have experienced
|Talking more than listening
|Clarify and focus comment
|Lead students to classic solutions
|Provide helpful information
|Over-processing experience with too much detail
|Call attention to overlooked details
|Stop activities too frequently, not waiting for teachable moments
|Look for “teachable moments” (opportunities when participants can understand how behavior effects performance)
|Encourage creativity only to restrict it with unnecessary rules, controls or guidelines
|Guide, encourage, support participants to be creative and develop new ways of seeing/doing things
Quality facilitation lies in the ability of the facilitator to skillfully debrief structured learning experiences. Debriefing experiences involves asking students a series of questions for the purpose of advancing different levels of thinking—objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional. This process is important to changemaking because how we think about and understand the world helps to frame our actions.
The method of debriefing highlighted below is referred to as the ‘funnel model’ of debriefing. Imagine if you will a funnel with the narrow end pointing downward. A student’s experience is “poured” into the wide end at the top and then filtered through a series of sequenced questions. The funnel model helps to place greater value in experience, which ultimately encourages students to make deeper commitments and connections to real life applications.
Objective Level Thinking: Collecting the facts, information only, Answer: who, what, where, why, when, how
How to ask: What happened? Who was there? Where were you? When did that happen? Tell me about it…
Reflective Level Thinking: This is where the facilitator has participants reflect on their experience and share their personal feelings about what just happened. The reflective stage is also where participants are offered an opportunity to listen to how others felt. Empathy takes root in the reflective stage and group members begin to mutually respect and understand one another.
How to ask: What was that like for you? What do you think it was like for your friend or the person beside you? What surprised you? What did you find frustrating? What were you most excited about? What did you find most challenging? Etc.
Interpretive Level Thinking: After having collected information about what happened and how people felt about what happened, the facilitator can guide the group in exploring why it all matters. Here, participants learn the point of doing the activity. Often this is where the Ah Ha! moments occur.
How to ask: What did you learn? Why does that matter? This is where brainstorming often happens and the group moves towards generating solutions to problems.
Decisional Level Thinking: Now it’s time to talk about how behavior might actually change as a result of what was learned.
How you ask: So now that you’ve learned these important lessons, what are you going to do about it? What are the commitments you can make moving forward? What will you take away from this experience? How will this experience help guide you in the future?
Co-creating a space where people feel that they can speak out in spite of their fears is a vital step in the process of learning how to become a changemaker. Empathy researcher Brene Brown explains that being empathetic requires that we be present and wholly engaged without our ‘protective armour’. People wear armour to try to become invisible or fit in with others to hide what they consider to be defects or embarrassing qualities for fear of being judged, labeled, or bullied. It is difficult to feel empathy for others when you are cut off from yourself.
For this reason, we’re starting the change closest to home. Everyone in the changemaking process needs to feel valued, seen, and heard. Because of the culture we inherited and the way our brains work, all of us carry biases. This isn’t wrong or bad, it’s what we do with them that matters. Being humbled can lead to personal transformation.
The exercises below will help you to:
Once the principles of the safe space have been defined and agreed upon by all, they can be used, reinforced, and referred back to as needed throughout the time you share together.
Design Thinking & the Deskless Classroom(Exercise, Time will vary)
Create a Classroom Contract(30-45 minutes)
Learn how to listen: Are you a good listener? (video 5 min + opportunities for deeper thinking)
Empathy & Equity: From the Stanford D.school, this exercise gives designers to an opportunity to pause and notice their biases(15 min daily over the course of week).
Cross the Line: (30-60 min.) We live in a diverse world. In this exercise we will explore the diversity among us by thinking about our values, our backgrounds, our teachers, and our experiences.
CCDI: Explore Power and Privilege (Toolkit with various exercises)