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.