The Unforeseen Benefit of Shifting to Facilitator

A huge benefit for facilitators is that teaching becomes more exciting and enjoyable. The students will generate new and exciting ideas that inject enthusiasm and life into the curriculum. Instead of repeatedly teaching the same material period after period, the students will constantly surprise you with amazing interpretations. Christopher Phillips, author of Socrates Café, described the excitement of Socratic questioning in this way: “By becoming more skilled in the art of questioning, you will discover new ways to ask the questions that have vexed and perplexed you the most. In turn, you will discover new and more fruitful answers. And these new answers in turn will generate a whole new host of questions. And the cycle keeps repeating itself—not in a vicious circle, but in an ever-ascending and ever-expanding spiral that gives you a continually new and replenishing outlook on life.”

Many teachers find themselves in situations where they are teaching the same material, sometimes for many years, from the same curriculum maps or textbooks. The repetition can be uninspiring and deadly boring. Sure, some teachers change larger projects, occasionally collaborate with new colleagues, and sometimes get rekindled by enthusiastic students. But most everything else stays all too familiar and similar, too general and habitual. 

It's easy to focus on the benefits of Socratic Seminar for the students, such as developing close reading skills, critical and creative thinking, collaboration, and many more. And many teachers recognize that the students become more engaged and energized when they are able to make their own decisions, which then leads to more excitement for the teacher, which then leads to more passion and enthusiasm...

There is also another benefit to this cycle. Old material becomes refreshed and reinvigorated. New students have new interpretations, new vernacular, and new updates to describe things. Even when the ideas are very much the same, the novel subtleties and nuances keep the classroom engaging and exciting. When students are able to engage in deep dialogue they add layers of meaning to even the most complex texts because of the collective intelligence. This means that the facilitator is perpetually in an ecology of discovery and excitement, rather than a dulled classroom of prior repetitional thinking. You can begin accessing the benefit of this collective intelligence by asking powerful questions, active listening and leveraging technology by using something like the amazing app Equity Maps.

Some teachers find the shift to facilitator to be extremely difficult. Teachers are, after all, experts who are very skilled and knowledgeable in their fields. Shouldn't they always take the lead? Well yes, to whatever extent makes sense. But if there's one thing I have come to appreciate as a professional is something that Socrates supposedly said: "A wise man knows what he does not know." And I have discovered, as many teachers will if they put themselves back in the role of facilitator and learner, that I don't know a lot relative to what is knowable!

There's an important law at play here: "All things either grow or wither." To grow as a teacher is to stay alive and excited, learning along with the students, embracing new understandings and viewpoints. If you aren't growing, then you're withering, burning out. But the shift to facilitating can reinvigorate everything!

Image by Gerd Altmann - Pixabay


learning, Socratic Seminar, teaching

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