The Humble Facilitator

October 10, 2014

I recently read the book Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein and was reminded that humility is something so simple, yet complex. While the book is about building positive relationships for the improvement of organizations, I couldn’t help but think about the connection between his ideas and teaching and learning, especially in a PBL environment.

Schein defines three types of humility, but the one I found most interesting was the “Here-and-now humility”:
…it is how I feel when I am dependent on you. My status is inferior to yours at this moment because you know something or can do something that I need in order to accomplish some task or goal that I have chosen. You have the power to help or hinder me in the achievement of goals that I have chosen and have committed to. I have to be humble because I am temporarily dependent on you.

Any teacher who has survived a year teaching PBL will likely tell you it is one of the most humbling experiences of their life. Once they share a few battle wounds from that year they will also likely proceed to tell you it was also the most rewarding one of their career. Taking on the role of a facilitator is not easy-it requires giving up the traditional role of a teacher and student, doing more planning than you signed up for, letting go (in many ways), being comfortable with ambiguity, allowing students to drive their learning, and it requires a great deal of trust. So what do we gain from this humility?

• We honor voice. We show children, many of which have been disenfranchised by traditional schooling, that they matter. We learn from their stories, experiences, perspective and creative ideas. We give them a say in the direction of their learning.

• We model what productive collaboration really looks like. We communicate with respect, as colleagues. We work alongside them so we can listen and implement their ideas.

• We empower. We build their toolkit and give them the skills to be agents of their learning. We show students that they can have an influence in their community and beyond.

• We engage students in high stakes situations like pubic exhibitions of learning. We work together to produce work that they can be proud of and display for authentic audiences. We show them that their learning has a place in the real world and that people outside of their school care about their learning.

Deeper learning doesn’t have to be one way-it can be something that is reciprocated between teacher and student. As you design (or maybe even co-design) your next assignment, unit or project I invite you to think about how you can create opportunities to learn from your students.

*If you are interested in learning more about co-designing in PBL check out the work of @BobbyShaddox. If you are interested in learning more about the power of collegial pedagogy check out @YouthRadio and the real-world work of students alongside professionals.

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