I know each one of you reading this are excellent FACILITATORS or you would not have been chosen to do so. Because of that, when asked to write about the art of FACILITATION, a warm sensation came over me. I wasn’t too sure if I had what it took to write this and the question arose, “Who was I to provide such advice?” Then, I remembered all the feedback from both students and faculty that I have had the privilege to develop over the years and I said “yes!”
I do know firsthand the challenges we face when we teach a course repeatedly and, in addition, the challenges students are faced with when they are going to school and have personal lives to handle as well. With that said, the following methods are merely suggestions that have worked for me and other leaders in the field. Some of them are proven through cognitive and social learning theories and others are ontological perspectives that ring true when dealing with human beings. After careful deliberation, these are probably the most important methods for engaging with students and being a master FACILITATOR.
1. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm! If you’re bored with your own topic, chances are, so are your students. I was in the faculty room one day making copies when another professor asked me, “How long have you worked here?” I replied and then I got the second and more interesting question: “How do you not burn out?” The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “I love what I do.” When you are passionate about what you do, every day is exciting. You feel alive because you are alive. You’re living your life’s purpose! Others can feel your energy too –namely, your students. This leads me to number two.
2. Be active and sit as little as possible. The truth is, we create the energy in the room. If we are moving around and active, students will feel engaged and present in the classroom. They are less likely to get bored or jump on their phones.
3. Check baggage at the door. I remember having an instructor during graduate school who shared openly about how much she hated her job. She was a Psychologist by day and an instructor in the evenings. She came in one day complaining about insurance companies and how we were in the wrong field if we wanted to make “real” money. I was 22 years old then, second guessing my choice and inevitably never went on to become a therapist. Our students see us as authorities. I keep this in mind as I mentor them through to the finish line. I keep my opinions about any field, politics or religion out of the classroom. I use an affirmation like this before walking into my room: “Today, let the words that come through me bring value to my students. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a professor.” I remind myself that it’s not my classroom. It’s their classroom.
4. Be a HUMAN being. Yes, you are an expert in your field and yes, you paid your dues. However, it’s okay to share about when it didn’t go the way you had planned. To our students, we are an authority but also a mentor. If you faced challenges, then they will be able to see that they don’t have to quit when faced with similar challenges. To do this, share personal stories about where you were “human” and were afraid or tried out for something and didn’t make it. This always makes you more relatable and easier to open up to. We must be a “similar other” for them to listen to us.
5. The power of acknowledgement. Listen, reflect what they said and thank them for their response even if it’s not the answer you were looking for. Acknowledgment goes a long way. Often, I find I have more participation than I know what to do with. In my class, I often stop and remind students to raise their hand so I can make sure to acknowledge them individually. I reflect back what they said so I am clear and they also feel heard. In addition, instead of saying, “That’s not right.” I find myself saying, “That’s interesting. Can you tell me more about that?”
6. Who’s got the power? I don’t allow students to ask my permission to leave, miss class, use the restroom, etc. Instead, I teach them how to be in communication and own the consequences. I teach them about choice and creating workability. I go over the syllabus, grade breakdown and attendance policy on the first day and request that they sign that they understood the requirements for successfully passing the course. When they ask me if it’s okay to leave early, I usually ask them if they are asking or telling me. They get confused and then I remind them of who is in control of their life. I let them know that I trust that they will make the right choice for themselves. My job is to honor their choices, based on the parameters given in the syllabus.
They do feel uncomfortable with this. However, this is when learning takes place—OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONE. I know they have been conditioned to not trust their own choices and blame others when things don’t go their way. It’s not just them. It’s the human condition. You may be doing this too. Here’s the deal. We must learn to take ownership and communicate. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. The reward of making their own choice, and feeling empowered in their choice, will always prevail.
7. Ask more “what” and “how” questions - While “why” questions may serve their purpose, “what” and “how” questions cause introspection and creativity. To become a critical thinker is to go beyond the obvious and question our own way of thinking.
8. Point out the obvious and use HUMOR— “Who wants to come to the front of the class and read this passage for discussion?” No one comes up. “Who doesn’t want to come up and read, but will do it anyway?” Everyone will laugh, yet this is a more truthful or authentic statement. Do they really want to come up to the scary podium? I usually get a chuckle and then, inevitably, I have 2-3 students who are willing to take it on. It relieves the pressure and makes them the courageous hero. Lesson: Feel the FEAR and do it anyway.
9. Who are you again? Know your students. Like most of us, I have a difficult time remembering names for a couple of weeks into the term. I’d like to chalk it up to getting older but the truth is, I remember better when I get interested in my students. I learn about them and ask them about what is going in their world. This not only builds rapport but helps me remember them. If they have an accent, I ask where they’re from and then we discuss the benefits of being bilingual and having an accent.
10. Be your word. If you want to be respected, respect them as well. That means do and say what you expect from them. If class starts at 8am, then class should start at 8am. We can’t expect our students to do things we do not do ourselves. It’s just inauthentic.
There are so many other great techniques that have been proven to engage our students. We have ice-breakers, sharing about how the lesson relates to their life, and repetition – the cornerstone of learning. I chose these ten things because in my early days of teaching, I thought the class was about me and took things personal. I quickly learned, it’s not about me. It’s about them. They are not there to be my captive audience. They are there to get value, to break through scotomas and reach new levels of educational greatness. As such, not every student will pass and not every student will make it the first time around. However, if I walk the walk, care, and show interest, the rest resolves itself.
I thank you for considering these alternative methods and thank you for what you do and who you are in the world! You are a master FACILITATOR!