Things I Know 18 of 365: I don’t facilitate

Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.

– Colleen Wilcox

If I hear another keynoter say today’s teachers should really think of themselves as facilitators, I might retch.

If another peer in my grad class writes about giving his students the opportunity to learn, I might ask him to step whatever the online equivalent is of outside.

If I have to sit through another inane argument about what constitutes 21st Century Skills, someone’s losing a pinkie.

Let me be clear.

I teach.

You see, I’m a teacher.

While there is an element of facilitation in what I do, I’m not setting up shop in the ballroom of the local Holiday Inn to help my students unlock the power within and encouraging them to buy my book and accompanying keychain on the coffee break.

This is serious work, let’s not side-step it in order to pick up the cross of the semantic argument.

Yes, I’ve seen the inspiring videos telling me “counselor,” “parent,” “coach,” and “listener” are all words for teacher.


“Teacher” pretty much takes care of it.

Yes, it’s a noble profession. I’m proud to do what I do each day. Let’s not cheapen it by pretending the word’s not enough.

What truly is not enough is giving students the opportunity to learn.

Having a school in their neighborhood gives them the opportunity to learn. Being born gave them the opportunity to learn. Stubbing their toes gives them the opportunity to learn.

I give my kids and education and I do it by teaching.

Calling it something else make it sound soft. It makes it somehow less than.

“What do you do?”

“Me? Oh, I give opportunities.”

“What are you Willy Wonka?”

Take two.

“What do you do?”

“I teach.”

“Thank you.”

As much as a lesson will include student choice, it will also include moments where following the instructions means doing work that is mentally uncomfortable. I ask them to do things they do not want to do because I do know more about some things than they do.

I’m not so ridiculous to believe I know more about them or their lives than they do. But, I do know more. My knowledge is of value, and I work to find the best ways to teach it. Their knowledge is valuable, and I work to find the best ways to learn it.

Some people call the best ways “21st Century Skills.”

For a while there, I was all wound up in the whole 21st Century Skills rhetoric. It’s a sexy turn of phrase. Once every hundred years, the global community looks into the future of the next 100 years and divines the skills that will prove most valuable.

I’ll have what she’s having.

When I was in high school, I watched my stepfather and uncles build a house because they wanted to see if they could. They’d never done such a thing before. They read, they researched, they asked around. They tried and errored and tried something new.

The thing is, they did this all in the 20th century.

Wait, there’s more.

If they had attempted to build a house in, say, 1905, some of those skills would have been the same, but some would have been remarkably different.

Same century, different skills.

Mind = Blown

This is all to say those who believe in the importance of teaching our students to ask the right questions and construct the right plans for uncovering the information they need using the tools available today lose more than a little control of the argument when they timestamp what they’re talking about.

“21st Century Skills” offers up a flimsy rhetorical piñata.

“Problem solving” lives in a lockbox even Al Gore would find amazing.

9 thoughts on “Things I Know 18 of 365: I don’t facilitate

  1. We stand on the shoulders of giants. We honor them when we use the same language they do. I'm the principal of SLA, not the CEO. Because if principal was good enough for Deb Meier, good enough for Angelo Patri, then it is certainly good enough for me.By the way… you're a damned good teacher.

  2. I know I say this on every post, but I am in awe of your blog-a-day-thing. It would be easy to gurgitate (why is gurgitate not a word, but regurgitate is? huh?) some trite BS everyday, but you are not doing that. Each post is filled with an honest slow burning fire that I sometimes feel is comforting and other times need to move away from for the heat. We all get caught up in trying to do our best and be the most caught up an the most cutting edge or the most old school or whatever is the game we are playing or mask we are wearing this week, but at the end of the day we teach because we love it. We love watching kids light up and grow and fly away. You are right the jargon will come and go and change. But names are important, and while I am sure I have been guilty of using 21st century skills for lack of a better term for some obscure idea, or said that we need to facilitate because I was tired of lecture style teaching, at the end of the day I am a teacher because, “My knowledge is of value, and I work to find the best ways to teach it. They’re knowledge is valuable, and I work to find the best ways to learn it.”

  3. Great post. I'm enjoying your posts each day. I suppose teachers everywhere use different words to try and explain how they teach and where they see themselves in the room (facilitator, learning alongside students, coach, etc.). Words catch on and people hop the bandwagon to start using them. 21st Century Skills, as you said, isn't about the 21st century…it's about learning how to live and learn in your world, in whatever century that might be. It's hard to tell who's sincere in their use of these words and who's just tossing them around for the sake of doing so. I think the education system as a whole has put pressure on new teachers to recast their teaching philosophy as something fresh and different and candidates are forced to find buzz words and other jargon to help them stand out from the rest. You're right – saying you're a teacher should be enough.

  4. Here's the thing:When sou say “teacher,” you conjure a mental image. Everyone knows what a teacher is, because everyone has been in classrooms. Everyone has been a student. So you're not A teacher, you're THAT teacher. For some people, that's a good thing. You say “teacher” and they immediately think of THAT teacher. The one who inspired them to go on to college. The one who cared. The one who helped them through a difficult time. But others think of that teacher who always lectured for 50 minutes and then gave an hour of homework. The one who wouldn't listen when an assignment was a little late, or a little off the mark. The one who accused them of cheating, or gave them an unfair grade, or just didn't care.Teaching is personal, like education is personal. Because everyone has experience with it, they think there's a common understanding. But you're nothing like any of the teachers I had in school. You're CERTAINLY nothing like the teachers my parents had in school. It's a noble profession. But it's a changing one. And by using other words, other labels, we differentiate ourselves from those who came before. “21st Century Skills” isn't about defining everything students need to know/do/think/be in the 21st century. That's crazy talk. It's just about a shift in emphasis, a change in attitudes toward what we're emphasizing and how we approach school. It's a shot at trying to give our students the tools/knowledge/strategies/skills that we think are going to serve them better in their futures than the tools/knowledge/strategies/skills most of us were taught.

  5. I was thrilled to find, reading your post about fun and silly in the classroom when I read that “Saturday, Diana Ross and I led a session at EduCon.” The image was possible because of a certain slant, and I found it fun. And silly.

  6. Pingback: Things I Know 149 of 365: I am an authority at Autodizactic

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