Sunday, October 1, 2017

What a Facilitator Is Not

New role, new school, new district. In the words of Bob Dylan, "the times, they are a-changin'..."

As of August 22, 2017, my title is Middle School Academic Facilitator. Although it’s a position I have pursued for quite some time, I’ve been waiting for the right one. This summer when the opportunity came knocking, I went for it.

Ever since I entered the world of education, I've been in a collaborative role. First as a computer applications teacher, which made me the go-to technology person (before the days of technology facilitators). In 2012, I moved into the ESL field, which gave me the opportunity to coach and collaborate with teachers who served English learners. I believe my experience has served to prepare me well for this position, but there's still so much I need to learn.

Despite an extended commute, my new school and the colleagues I'm privileged to work with have made the change very worthwhile. Rather than fret about traffic, I use the longer drive time to ponder and reflect on my goals, expectations, and challenges of this new position. Because I leave while it's still dark and am usually the first one in my wing, I get at least an hour of peaceful solitude. I have to say that (most mornings) I find the commute a blessing in disguise.

So, what is a facilitator? I've received this question from family, friends and even the staff at my school. The middle school facilitator position is not only new to me, but also new to the school. I'm at a K-8 magnet school and am primarily charged with supporting the middle school faculty. While they've had a literacy facilitator and a math facilitator for quite some time, it's been several years since the middle school wing had anyone in an official facilitator role.

Webster defines a facilitator as "someone or something that facilitates something; especially someone who helps to bring about an outcome (such as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance or supervision." More specifically an academic facilitator, a term synonymous with instructional coach, is "someone whose chief professional responsibility is to bring evidence-based practices into classrooms by working with teachers and other school leaders"  (Pennsylvania Institute for Instructional Coaching). A facilitator, academic or otherwise, is one that makes things easier.

Facilitators can make or break a school. Like fire, their energy can be productive or destructive. In order for our teachers to achieve professional growth and for our middle school students to thrive, my role needs to be clearly defined. That being said,  in defining my new role, it's crucial that I understand what I'm NOT.  Here are a few things I've learned thus far, as I'm settling into this new position.

A facilitator is not a know-it-all.  
My job is not to know all the answers, but instead to listen and ask lots of questions. Good listening is the cornerstone of good coaching. Not listening to respond, but rather listen to understand. While my ESL teacher role exposed me to the entire North Carolina's Standard Course of Study, I'm still no expert in all curricula. And I don't have to be. I aim to provide the tools and resources that will facilitate the quest for answers.

A facilitator is not a fixer-upper.
We are all works in progress and there's always something that can be fixed, but my job isn't to fix anyone or any school. Real change and improvement comes from within. Furthermore, nothing or no one is all bad or all good. So, rather than coming in and turning the school upside down, I'm here to shine a light on their successes so that we build up from there. We can improve test scores, step up engagement and implement the latest and greatest tools and strategies, but nothing will improve if we don't keep moving forward.

A facilitator is not an enabler.
Educators have lots on their plates and for a new teacher, the role can be quite overwhelming. In my efforts to be supportive and resourceful to struggling teachers, I must be careful to not end up enabling instead of empowering them. From lesson planning to technology integration to classroom management, making their path easier to navigate doesn't mean I need to drive. Just like an athletic coach, I need to remain on the sideline and let them play their position.

A facilitator is not a principal's eyes and ears.
My principal made it very clear to the staff that I was not in an evaluative role, but while I am not their supervisor, I am there to hold them accountable. However, I'm not a "spy for administration," as one teacher openly asked me. This question made me realize that if I am going to be a successful facilitator, I must first and foremost, earn their trust. I must place personal opinions and biases aside and work for the betterment of all teachers.

While there's much improvement to be made, there's also lots and lots to celebrate at my school. The close-knit staff and small student population make the school warm and inviting, making it easy to connect with students and their families. I'm excited about this school year and am eagerly looking forward to what happens next.