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Clarifying "Role" – Part 2

We know that the role of the teacher needs to change. And in the last post I mentioned that it took me a while to eventually realize that role is not the same thing as teaching approach. On the surface, this may seem rather indefensible, but I’m going to give myself a bit on latitude for the oversight. After all, we are so accustomed in the industrial era of education to connect teaching approach with the need for a positive relationship between teacher and student, which is easily confused with role. 

Teachers are expected to care about their students. This much we know and expect from good teaching. But caring is not an articulated role. As evidence, I recently went “old school” to my trusty Webster’s dictionary to confirm that the word “care” is a verb; “to feel interest or concern”. The word “role”, on the other hand, is a noun; “a character assigned or assumed”.

So while we always expect teachers to care about their students, in the 20th century industrial system, a teacher’s primary role is specific to the transfer of knowledge to the student. Everything else in the way of personalization is icing on the cake, so to speak. However, with Edushift Premise One we also know that teaching has to change to meet the personal learning styles of students.

Obviously, teachers in a 21st century educational system still need to practice care. But, with the teacher role no longer “sage on the stage”, properly defining role is a critical component of system re-design that will help teachers with this new assignment. This is also about Edushift Premise Three; structure drives behaviour.

So, is there a particular word that best describes the role required from teachers? Perhaps we can begin to get at this by comparing two terms that, right now, are being used rather loosely and interchangeably; namely, “facilitator” and “coach”. Which of these terms best describes teacher role through the lens of Edushift Premises One and Three?

Let’s begin with facilitator.

I like the overview of this term that I found on a website for an organization called Tearfund International Learning Zone. Sophie Clarke, the author of this piece, notes that facilitation “describes the process of taking a group through a learning or change in a way that encourages all members of the group to participate.” “The facilitator’s role” she continues “is to draw out knowledge and ideas from different members of a group, to help encourage them to learn from each other and to think and act together.”

I also like the following lines used to describe what makes a good facilitator: “A good facilitator has certain personal characteristics that encourage group member to participate. These include humility, generosity and patience, combined with understanding, acceptance and affirmation. These are gifts that we would all do well to develop.” Indeed.

So we can see that teachers, especially in this post-industrial era of education, can benefit from applying good facilitation skills. But as much as I can appreciate facilitation as a tool to assist great teaching, it doesn’t pass the Edushift test as a word to describe teaching role. It’s too limited in its application. We need a word that will help us to redesign our educational systems to let students access any number of teaching approaches depending on their specified learning style and, I would suggest, a deep understanding from the teacher of where they are in the learning process.

Think for a moment about the many different teaching approaches that are, or have been, used in education. Here are a few common terms (in no way a complete list) as examples:

  • Project based learning

  • Flipped Classroom

  • Alternative education

  • Open concept

  • On-line learning

  • Inquiry based learning

  • STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Math)Integrated curriculum

I would suggest that facilitation is a necessary skill or function for the group participation in any number of these alternative approaches. But let’s also think about how these different approaches tend to get implemented in educational systems.

Because education is still oriented from an industrial era perspective, we find classrooms/schools that use one or two of these methods as an overall alternative to traditional approaches. In other words, we tend to look for the singular approach that will “work well” as an alternative to traditional practices. But these systems aren’t organized around a change in teacher role. The teacher to student relationship specified from our educational systems is essentially the same. The student is generally expected to fit the alternative approach offered. If this approach doesn’t engage, the student can (hopefully) find another school or classroom with a different approach to attend. The system isn’t organized to fit me. I am expected to fit into the system.

Now let’s look at coach. I like how John Whitmore, in his book entitled “Coaching for Performance”, explains that coaching “is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

Coaching is about creating the necessary conditions that allow people to learn and grow. It’s about unlocking the potential available in every person to maximize their own performance. But to get the best out of people, we have to believe that the best is in there. The coach must think about his/her people in terms of their potential, not their performance. But coaching is also a process, connected to a particular person or team. It can be applied in group environment but it is focused on development, not on finding solution to a particular problem. This is not a new idea; in fact, Socrates used the same concept some 2,000 years ago. But our educational systems are organized upon a foundational viewpoint that humans are empty vessels into which everything is poured. Coaching asks for something different. Coaching automatically recognizes that the potential exists to bring out the best performance in every person. In essence, unless “the manager [ie. teacher?] or coach believes that people possess more capability than they are currently expressing, he will not be able to help them express it. He must think of his people in terms of their potential, not their performance.” As learners, we build self-belief when make our own decisions, take our own successful actions, and accept responsibility for both our successes and our failures. In coaching, “it is paramount that the coachee produces the desired results from the coaching session, without fail. It is incumbent on coaches to understand this and ensure that they have helped the coachee to optimal clarity and commitment to action, including pre-empting all obstacles.” This is deeper than aligning care with curriculum delivery. It’s also deeper than optimizing participation from members of a group. It’s also deeper than offering an alternative industrial era teaching approach. This is about personalized service as a defined system expectation. It looks like “coaching” is about role.

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