Building Positive Relationships: How To Escape Education’s Death Valley (Sir Ken Robinson)

Do I hit you over the head with Sir Ken Robinson? Well, I am not going to apologize for it, because the man is a wonderful speaker and is full of great ideas. The video I am presenting on the blog today is his presentation at the 2013 TEDTalk Education Conference, which is as phenomenal as all of his others. I included it under “Building Positive Relationships” because the ideas he presents have the ability to change and enhance the relationships between student and teacher, teacher and administrator, and administrator and legislator. I hope you enjoy the presentation.


Building Positive Relationships: How Being A Facilitator Changes Relationships

Building-PositiveI feel like I have been beating the concept of facilitator vs. teacher to death, but the practice of learning with children instead of teaching to them has so many positive benefits, one being an increase in creative thought, that I can’t let it go quite yet. Writing about this topic has had me picking up books that I haven’t read in a while. And the idea of a facilitator has ramifications for more than just education. The website that I quoted from in the last Reframing post was directed toward business leaders, meaning that businesses can benefit from this approach as well.

The website itself discusses the reasons that businesses can benefit from this approach:

Facilitation offers everyone in the group the chance to express their ideas and to feel as if they are part of a team. Since the group arrives at a mutual conclusion, it’s easier for individual members to carry out the group’s goals and to feel less inclined to work on individual agendas. A facilitator helps individuals build on their skills and learn new ones. Facilitation serves as a positive way to resolve conflicts and clarify misunderstandings among a diverse group of individuals.

In Developing Constructivist Early Childhood Curriculum, the authors define a key principle of constructivist education as that which creates a “cooperative sociomoral atmosphere in which mutual respect is continually practiced.” (36)

Being a facilitator in a classroom instead of a teacher changes the nature of relationships because children and teachers work together to solve many different types of problems, including social and moral issues. They are not pitted against each other in a struggle of power, but work together to keep the classroom safe and productive.

How does this happen? When have you ever seen teachers and students work together? It has been rare that I have seen it, but I know that it exists. And I know that a classroom that runs this way is more respectful of the needs of every member of the class, because the teacher is respectful of every member of the class. A class that runs this way evolves into a close-knit family, one in which each member can positively contribute – and they know it.

In A Reframing State of Mind: Facilitating Creativity

I am not sure where I heard or saw the first suggestion of teachers being facilitators instead of, well, teachers. I have pulled countless books off of my shelves in an effort to find the reference, but it really is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most of the books I own regarding education assume that this mindset about the teacher is the one that is held by the reader.

It occurred to me after reading my last post that perhaps the term needs a little more clarification. I have a tendency at times to be a little general in my writing, and I don’t want to short-change anyone when it comes to this idea. I did a little web surfing, and I found a thought that struck me as the perfect way to reframe the role of the teacher:

Traditionally, teachers are the ones with knowledge and expertise in a particular field. They impart that knowledge through a variety of means to their students. Facilitators build on the knowledge base of the group of students to find the answers to questions.

I read a very good example of this in one of my books (the one I have been searching for). A class was curious about how shoes were made. During a class discussion, the student expressed the desire to visit a shoe store to find out. Now, a teacher would have simply explained to the students that shoes are not made at a shoe store and told them where shoes were made. However, in the example the teacher booked a field trip to the shoe store so that the children could see for themselves that shoes are not made there (this example was found in Developing Constructivist Early Childhood Curriculum: Practical Principles and Activities by DeVries, Zan, Hildebrandt, Edmiaston, and Sales).

Approaching teaching in this way shows a level of respect for the thoughts and ideas of the children. By respecting where they are coming from enough to pursue their ideas, teachers encourage children to be honest about those ideas in the first place. By Encouraging children to be honest about their ideas, teachers can get a much more accurate picture of the misconceptions and misunderstandings that children hold, and can work with children to correct those misunderstandings. But remember – as a facilitator, teachers do not just hand over the right answer. They work with students to find the right answers. That is the key difference between a teacher and a facilitator.

By reframing the role of the teacher in this way, we teach children the skills they need to become lifelong learners. This is because we are learning wit them. This attitude not only encourages honesty from the children, but honest from ourselves as we recognize the fact that learning can be a cooperative experience.

For more information about the myth of progressive education and right/wrong answers, visit this post.

Building Positive Relationships: The Role of a Teacher in Creative Classrooms

I really enjoyed the videos for Gever Tulley’s school. It was refreshing to see a teacher letting children create. But just as children need the time, tools, and tolerance from teachers in order to create, they also need to know that there is a right and a wrong way to do something. Seven-year-olds would not have been able to create a mini roller coaster without the knowledge of what it took to accomplish that task.

So what, then, becomes the role of the teacher? If we simply sit children down and talk to them about the mechanics of a roller coaster, we can’t really be sure that they understand what we are talking about enough to build one for themselves – we have taken learning out of the context of the real world (similarly to how I learned math). If we simply stand back and let them do their own thing, they are liable to hurt themselves for lack of information about the tools, materials, and mechanics involved in building a roller coaster.

What is the middle ground? How can we ensure that children have the freedom to be creative and the information they need to be safe and know what they are doing?

The key is to become a facilitator. A facilitator is someone who coordinates and leads the work of a group. If the group needs information, the facilitator finds means to get it the information it needs. As a leader, the facilitator is responsible for ensuring that the group understands what they are doing in order to be safe. From a teaching stand point this may mean modeling and explaining the use of tools and designing peripheral activities to experiment with mechanics and ideas related to the physics of a roller coaster. The point is that the teacher needs to be aware of any misunderstandings or misconceptions that the children may have, and do whatever they can to help clear up those misconceptions. And when children are working within the context of real life and the teachers are able to hear and see the children talking about their topic, it is much easier to spot misconceptions. When a teacher functions primarily as a lecturer, misconceptions are harder to spot because the children are not speaking about what they are thinking.

The role of facilitator is a much more general role than lecturer. It requires diligence to the ideas of the children. This is why I wrote this topic under “Building Positive Relationships”. When you become more focused on pinpointing misunderstandings that a child may hold, it requires you to hold the children’s ideas in a different light. The ideas of children hold more value, and you find yourself working with them in the context of their ideas. When you are simply a lecturer, you are working for them – and in some cases in spite of them – but not necessarily with them. This slight but dramatic change of focus also changes the level of interest of everyone involved. Everyone from student to teacher becomes dedicated to the task of figuring out how to safely and successfully complete a project. One of the most poignant moments of the roller coaster video for me was the end, when we hear Gever Tulley celebrating the accomplishments of his students with them. These kind of celebrations don’t happen in a classroom primarily composed of lecture. The accomplishments are smaller and less noticeable, and while the class usually comes together to celebrate, the celebration is about something less tangible, or even negligible, in an atmosphere where a teacher is a facilitator (such as behavior).

In education, we talk about fostering a love of learning in children and helping them become lifelong learners. Children won’t have a teacher in front of them lecturing their entire lives. They won’t be able to call one up and ask them to come down and give them a lecture any time they have a problem that needs to be solved. At it’s root, teaching is showing children how to live and how to think, how to work and how to grow.