I was reading A Facilitator’s Guide to Online Professional Development by Carol Brooks Simoneau and Gerald Bailey the other day and there was a great section on facilitating the learning. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. How can I describe the job of providing professional development to afterschool staff? Our staff are dedicated, they are busy, they may not love science, but the genuinely care about kids. What is my role in helping them learn? I know they won’t stand for me to give them a 90 minute lecture – they are busy, there is a lot they really need to be able to do. And really, they could care less about what I want to lecture them on. I don’t like lectures either, so I’d rather be a facilitator of learning. But what does that mean?
Simoneau and Baily had some really good observations of learning (online or face to face). First, they said learning is messy. Real learning can’t be organized like a lecture. Learning will be chaotic, sometimes moving forward, sometimes circling back. And most important: learning is something that the learner does – not something the teacher does. Learners make meaning for themselves. There really is no way to magically take understanding from my head and pass it on to my staff. Learning occurs when they construct their own meaning of experiences – when they link what we are doing together with previous experiences and understanding of youth, of science, and of the world around us.
So now, I’m coming to understand my role as a facilitator. I am the host of this party, making sure everyone is engaged and having fun. I am the community organizer, making sure everyone has a voice and knows their contribution is valued. I am the conductor, putting something beautiful into action, and guiding the group as we make learning together. I can’t make learning happen, but I can make it possible. And this was my great insight. I’m not here to make learning happen, I’m here to make it possible – I trust my staff will make it happen. Because I realized that the one who does the work is the one who does the learning. Now that quote is on my wall and it reminds me each time I plan a workshop, so I remember to get out of the way when I need to.
The one who does the work does the learning.