The Agile Classroom; Teachers as Facilitators
Becoming A Facilitator
In an Agile classroom, educators change roles from the content expert and gatekeeper of knowledge to the learning facilitator. This means that students take the lead in their learning while the teacher acts as a guide. As an educator for well over a decade, I know that it can be a difficult transition from leading to guiding.
A facilitator literally means a person that makes a process easier. It does not mean that a facilitator doles out knowledge, directs people, or jumps through hoops. A facilitator works with a group and aids in processing the information that is already present to create the conditions to help the group accomplish more efficient work. In the classroom, this takes pressure from the teacher to constantly have control, push information, maintain behavior, and amuse the class. The teacher is freed to create relationships, work in small groups, and provide intervention on an as-needed basis.
Preparation is EVERYTHING
The first step to creating an Agile classroom is preparation. Unlike writing single or weekly lesson plans, an Agile unit is planned upfront. At the beginning of the unit, students are given all of the required work, an open-ended essential question, and rubrics to show mastery of knowledge. All of the mini-lessons are planned and scheduled, videos are created to deliver information, and resources have been gathered ahead of time. (To read how Agile preparation relates to PBL, read this article by Thom Markham.)
This is a lot of work frontloaded, but once it is complete, the work transitions from planning to facilitation. The educator has more available time to plan the next unit while students work. The essentials to transitioning from teacher to facilitator are to prepare enough for the students to do the work.
To effectively transition, educators must know their learning goals and timebox (the allocated fixed and maximum unit of time for an activity): What do students need to show mastery in and how much time will they have? When an educator has this information, they can backward design how the unit should be planned.
A full unit should include:
Open-Ended Essential Question
Resources that Students Must Use
Directions for Skills or Processes (written or video)
By using an open-ended essential question, the unit gives students agency to make decisions about their learning. Students can personalize their learning based on their life experiences, interests, and learning preferences. Some teachers worry about this piece because they cannot control how the information is applied, but this is the change from teacher to facilitator. A facilitator does not need to be an expert in all areas. Their main role is to work with people to open communication and collaboration. Therefore, if your students apply their learning about social hierarchies of Ancient Egypt to Star Wars, you do not need to be an expert on Star Wars; they do. They must show the evidence to prove their claim; you just need to ensure that the students are using the required skills (gathering evidence, creating arguments, researching).
Active Listening and Group Engagement
A facilitator is an active listener who works to involve everyone, which becomes easier because the teacher is no longer running the classroom; instead, they are supporting small groups by moving around the classroom. Teachers are also available to work with individual students and really listen to their needs. Students are working to answer the essential question and using the processes and resources assigned to them. This shift is extremely important for three main reasons:
Students get a teacher’s undivided attention, which can help with differentiating instruction but also relationship building.
Teachers can now model communication and collaboration techniques that students need in a personal and purposeful way.
Teachers are able to concentrate on one thing at a time. (I know this is hard to believe, but when students are engaged in their work, a teacher can find time to concentrate during their day).
The teacher as facilitator is a benefit for both teachers and students. Students get a calm teacher who is not multitasking but able to help them work through their group dynamics in a meaningful way. Resistant students get their chance to speak to the teacher. Additionally, the teacher can scaffold ways to bring everyone into the collaboration zone.
Group Dynamics and Engagement
A learning facilitator acts as an impartial observer of the group. They do not make decisions or lead the group to a decision, but they scaffold good communication and collaboration skills, which can be done much more effectively in small groups rather than for the whole class. This benefits teachers because teachers get to know the students and the group dynamics. It is even more beneficial to the students who are being taught 21st-century skills like collaboration, decision making, and problem-solving in a purposeful way.
The teacher now has the time to talk through how decisions are made. They can use probing questions to find the breakdown in communication or explore organizational issues. The teacher is not participating in the group to solve the problems but to guide students through an intricate process students master themselves, which builds self-esteem, resilience, and independent skills that students can transfer to other areas of their lives.
The time spent with students is more meaningful because teachers can zoom in on each person and what they are working through. Solutions are not offered. Instead, a pathway is uncovered, and students grow through their experiences.
In an Agile classroom where a teacher is a learning facilitator, the students are the leaders, problem-solvers, and decision-makers. They still learn the mandated curriculum, but through the use of open-ended essential questions, they are able to apply that knowledge to their own lives. Students are engaged because they feel trusted. Their learning feels purposeful. They are tasked with figuring out complex problems both socially and academically. Student learning is deeper, more connections are built, and essential skills are being learned and refined.
There are significant benefits for the teachers as well. Being a facilitator means that the students are leading their learning. The facilitator makes the process easier. In an Agile classroom, teachers spend more time actively listening, building relationships, and scaffolding skills. Teachers are not stressed out trying to deliver a quality educational experience to students of varying learning preferences and abilities all at once. Teachers are now free to help students discover their learning in a meaningful way through conversations with small groups and individuals.
An Agile classroom delivers effective learning experiences for all members of the learning community. Both students and teachers benefit from the shift from teacher to facilitator.