Facilitator-less Sessions

The deepest dependency is not of students upon teachers, but of teachers upon students.

– Peter Elbow, Writing without Teachers

I don’t know if the adjective ‘facilitator-less‘ exists but decided to choose this title for my post.

Background: if you read this blog, you already know that I facilitate an Reflective Practice Group meetings for teachers (I know, I know: these have been too much on my blog about the ideas and topics for this group, so I am not going to write another post about it today) One challenge this year is me moving to another city in Ukraine and being roughly 800 km away from the meetings venue means I don’t always facilitate them. This is great on many levels, and I don’t want to list the reasons.

Now, one challenge with having several people potentially able to run a meeting may also mean that sometimes it is hard to find someone available (due to personal reasons, being busy at work, taking a trip, spending time with a child, getting ready to a big winter holiday celebration, etc.) One obvious solution is to cancel the meetings in such cases: extra time off never hurts, as teachers already lead busy lives. At the same time, for some people the time on vacation would be a chance to come and enjoy a reflective session. Besides, cancelled meetings is not an ideal practice if we really want to keep something going.

So… another solution to experiment with could be a session without a facilitator (I hope I am no re-inventing a wheel here) Something I took part in the past were so-called ‘Swap Shops’ where each participant is bringing an idea or an activity to share, and takes about 5-10 minutes of everyone’s time to explain or demonstrate it. Everyone else participates and asks questions, etc., then another participant takes a lead. It is almost (90%?) ‘Facilitator-less’, as the leader is usually monitors the time and sometimes asks a question to keep the session going. In our RP group we have tried this format using the topic ‘One Book’ where everyone brought a book they read this year and shared why it left lasting impressions and significant learning by answering 4 questions on a poster.

Can a session be held completely without a facilitator? My current answer ‘yes, it can’. Having a topic plus some questions brainstormed beforehand would be helpful, and then during the meeting the participants can decide how to keep the time (for example, using a timer function on a Smart Phone) and how to make transitions from one topic to the other.

A couple of possible topics I see are the following:

Magic in Class (sharing essentials/realia to bring and use in class and/or using each of them for brainstorming more potentially creative and unusual ideas). What started on my blog turned into a small blogging challenge (don’t forget to click the links at the end to enjoy other posts!)

Teaching Higher Proficiency Levels (or Beginner/Lower, if this is what seems to be more relevant). As a starter, some beliefs can be discussed (I created a possible list last year in this post, but it is obviously not an exhaustive one)

One Image‘ as a session topic was suggested in comments by Christina. Quoting her:

‘be it static or moving, canned or authentic (e.g. an original capture from group members), as something visual might prompt extremely motivating and powerful contributions.’

An alternative format could be a Written/Quiet Discussion when questions are asked and answered in writing and by the end of the session there is some tangible result, or a ‘product’, created by the meeting participants on a poster, on the board, on a piece of paper even.

Reading and Discussing session is another format to consider. In this type of sessions a book chapter or an article is read by all the members of the group beforehand. This is not new and people have been experimenting with the idea, for example, Gemma Lunn has been doing in her ELT Academic Reading group, or David Kaufher’s organized teacher get-togethers, like the one about Vocabulary described in this post (sharing questions and a research article before the meeting). Another example is Mark Makino’s Reading Circles where each member has a specific role to play (the author describes it as a possible way to organize an end-of-term feedback collecting, and it seems to be a great idea for teacher sessions, too)

trying out and reflecting on some less- or non-ELTish ideas and activities, for example, using Visible Thinking resource .

Lesson Jamming idea described in Sandy Millin’s earlier post .

What else might work in the ‘facilitator-less’ mode? What sessions for teachers by teachers have you run or attended? What potential pitfalls are there to be aware of?

Thank you for reading! 🙂

Update in February 2018: This post by Kate called Another Stitch in the TD Picture shows how the whole school PD system can come out of a systematic/strategic approach, and trust in teachers. 

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict https://wednesdayseminars.wordpress.com/
This entry was posted in Reflective Practice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Facilitator-less Sessions

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Thanks for including the lesson jamming idea, though it’s not mine originally – it came from a group in Berlin, and I first saw it presented at IATEFL.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Thank you for the comment and for the mention of the idea/inspiration source Sandy! If you have other ideas re sessions without a ‘facilitator’ as such, drop a line (or blog about it?)


  2. Hey Zhenya, thanks for including the Team CPD into your post! Let me know if you need more info. E.g. I’ve got the ‘Roles and Rules’ doc that I can share.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Kate
      Thank you for the post, and for this comment! I like how we are thinking on the same wavelength, and loved the idea of roles you described. Yes, sharing the ‘Roles and Rules’ document would be great! Have found you on LinkedIn. Are you using Twitter or Facebook (we can message there).
      Let’s be in touch!


  3. Pingback: Reflective Group Meeting Topics 2017-18 | Wednesday Seminars

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