Connections, DesignThinking, Facilitation, Reflection

Small Group Facilitation

Make Monty

As an educator more and more I am required to be a facilitator.  It is a skill that requires you to give up a degree of power in the classroom or workshop.  I liken a facilitator to Magic Johnson when he was point guard of the Los Angeles Lakers.  Magic was a very talented point guard and had the ability to play all five positions on a court.  He could easily have been a ball hog and taken control of a game but his role of facilitator required him to get all players involved and make everyone great.  A good facilitator has to recognize when to step into a situation and when to step back.  How do you gain those skills as a facilitator?   Its very easy, PRACTICE – to perform or exercise repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.

What happens when your practice does not mimic an experience you are about to encounter. I recently had an experience in facilitation that that brought me into unfamiliar territory.  I was hosting a meetup event for The Teachers Guild.  I was expecting close to 20 participants at this event.  My previous experiences with the Guild have all involved virtual coaching so this was truly a new endeavor.  My gameplan was set and my previous experiences with facilitation would be displayed.  Only four people showed up!  It was a little disappointing, but reflecting back it was understandable.  High School Graduations were taking place at various schools, it was exam time and many people were planning for memorial day weekend.  So as a facilitator what was I to do in that moment.

My facilitation prep for 20 people, became a small intimate fireside chat.  Instead of standing at the front of the room talking down to my small group.  I sat at the table with them and had more of a conversation.  The workshop was centered around Empathy Interviewing and Prototyping and in essence I was testing my ability to facilitate in a small group.  Things I learned:  (1) small group facilitation can get a little uncomfortable because there is no place for participates to hide, (2) because of the intimate setting you get to know your participates a lot better, (3) the encounters can be more meaningful because you become a close knit group.

Still consider the following, give the members of the small group space and time to plan without you as facilitator always being in the mix.  Do not make members feel uncomfortable by forcing them to speak, allow it to come natural.  Yes and spread the conversation around so that all members are active.  Push them to allow their ideas to go deeper but read body language to identify when you are getting pushy.  Ask questions to gain insights from the group, while helping they go deeper but avoid being annoying.

The art of facilitation can be a wonderful skill once you get the hang of it.  In the classroom it can take the burden off of the teacher and get students involved.  Amongst peers great facilitation can turn an us against them professional development into a team effort. When you “master” facilitation you realize you are not giving up power but gaining more power and influence. Remember perfect practice makes perfect.
How Might You handle small group facilitation?  


Summer OTAs

Coach & Sam

Today was the beginning of summer vacation for my students.  I imagine they will spend the next two months sleeping in late, watching lots of TV and vacationing in various parts to the country and the world.  It also marks the beginning of what I like to call Offseason Training Activities or OTAs for short.  Similar to the NFL off season which consists of Organized Team Activities.  There is a common misconception outside of the world of education, that summer represents vacation time for teachers.  Time will be spent this summer on vacation but most of the time will be spent in OTAs.  So what does my summer offseason training activities look like.

The first plan indulge in summer reading.  I have been trying to read The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth for a while.  Mr Roth uses practical insights and elements of Design Thinking to help the reader redesign their life.  My plan is to take that book and use it as a basis for recreating elements of my life.  Next on the list is Work Rules, I bought this book almost a year ago and it still sits on my shelf (so sad).  Work Rules uses insights from Google to help you lead others and lead your personal life.  Change by Design another book that shares the elements of Design Thinking by Tim Brown.  So those are my starter books but I will read parts and pieces of other books and articles to help impact my thinking.  I will top it off by reading a ninth grade summer reading challenge book, Sleeping Freshman Never Lie.  The teacher must be prepared to lead a group conversation.

The second OTA involves attending and facilitation of a few conferences and workshop.  I am excited to attend Traverse in Boulder, Co.  Since i have never been to Boulder, Colorado for that matter it will be a chance to explore.  Traverse will allow me to gain others insights on the future of education and share some of my experiences as an educator.  The following week, I will be one of the Base Commanders at our annual Fuse Conference.  Fuse16 is designed to teach educators the Design Thinking process and share the possibilities of how school can be done differently.  Finally it will directly impact four Atlanta non-profits who we will design around issues they face.  I have other meetings and opportunities for face to face learning.

My summer will also consist of co-creating a Humanities 9 course.  MVPS has made a bold leap to create a Humanities Course that will capture the human experience.  It will encompass World History and English, while capturing the Arts, Music and all the other elements of this thing called life.  I will be partnered with an additional classroom teacher and a PLC for planning.  My fear, how do you teach with a partner everyday.  My joy, I love the direction this could take the school and my.  Showing the overlap in various subjects, making connections to authentic or real world experiences and the chance to get constant feedback on my teaching.  So out of nothing we are creating something, or it could be we have all the ingredients we just need to put it together.

So my summer will be quite busy prepping for the new year.  Reflecting on the current year and yes there will be some vacation time (1 week).
What are you doing for your Offseason Training Activities?


Make Monterey Pt 2:The Maker Movement

This is a follow up to my post, New Experience:  My Four Words.  I shared the following with Make Monterey.

Make Monterey

I do not consider myself a Maker at least not a maker of physical things.  I am learning to become a maker and I am encouraging others to make.  True confession, I have always struggled as a Maker.  My father he was and is a Maker.  He has the ability to see a vision in his head, transfer that vision onto paper and then build it.  As a young man I did not see the value of making.  Years later I wish I would have listened as he was teaching those lessons.  What are some of the lessons of making?

The first lesson I have observed, the idea of creating a plan; taking that plan from a idea in your head to a sketch, then to low res and mid res.  Being able to understand that following a process creates meaningful results is necessary in a world that desires immediate gratification.  A few years ago, Atlanta had the great snow storm of 2014 leaving thousands stranded throughout the city.  Upon returning to school, Kamau’s kindergarten teacher created an assignment around this event.  How Might We design a better way to travel in snow?  He had to sketch out his idea and build it.  He chose Legos as his means of building out his idea.  I did not help because I am not a Maker.  This activity was fun in nature but it was building on the Maker Muscle; create a plan, sketch the plan and build the plan.  


The Maker Movement also prepare students to create something out of nothing.  I often hear that “we must prepare students for jobs that currently don’t exist.”  My question, How do you prepare students for jobs or opportunities that do not exist?  My answer create opportunities where students must deal with ambiguity.  As an educator if you create an environment that allows students to struggle with problems and figure out the answers I feel that encourages them to create that world.  When visiting Foundry 10 my students were faced with a Maker activity and they did not know the end result until they were at the end.  They had all these wires and circuits and while following the facilitator’s instructions they eventually created a phone charger.  The cool element, I witnessed students who seemed not to be interested immediately witness the personal impact making can create.


From my point of view the major impact that the Maker Movement will have is creating students who desire to make an impact on the world.  Students (young and old) have a desire to know how what they are learning will be meaningful in their life.  They also have a desire to make some type of impact on others.  I have witnessed this through the MVPS iProject and through TJ Edwards Technology, Engineering and Design course.  Emme Watkins and Brittany Whitstine created the Hearing Wheel to assist individuals who have hearing impairments.  It signals drivers that an emergency vehicle is approaching by lighting up the steering wheel.  TJ’ class 3D printed a hand for a young man born with a partial thumb.  This young man shared with them, “I want to be able to drive and hold a coke at the same time.” So the impact of your work on others can be generated by Makers.

hearing wheel

Creating A Plan. Executing A Plan.  Grit and Resilience.  Creating Something Out of Nothing.  Impact on Others.  The Role of a Maker.

What are the ways you see the Maker Movement impacting the lives of students?


DesignThinking, Empathy, Reflection

A New Experience: My Four Words

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

                                                         William Shakespeare

Make Monty

I was able to enter the stage for the first time as a keynote speaker.  It was the first annual Make Monterey and thanks to Meg Omainsky  I was able to share my story and the impact I have seen as a result of the Maker Movement.  Here is the quick overview…

From my viewpoint it is necessary to connect with the audience by sharing aspects of your personal side.  This has never been easy for me because it requires me to pull back layers of my complexities. Quoting Shrek, “Ogres are like onions, they have layers.  The first layer I pulled back was sharing the four words I use to describe who I am.  I am a Father, Educator, Learner and Connector.

If I could only carry one title it would be Father.  Being thankful that my wife and I have been blessed with two sons, Kamau and Kanoa has been a bright spot in my life.  As a father I feel it is my duty to Further them, meaning that they will have opportunities that I did not have as a child or a young adult.  Hopefully by paving a straight path for them they will encounter a different set of challenges that will help them become outstanding young men.

I shared with the audience how I consider myself an Educator and not just a History  teacher.  As an educator I have been placed in the wonderful position to create a learning environment for 100s of students during my 13 year  teaching tenure.  I have also served as a coach of various sports.  Coaching is a form of educating not just the physical body but also the mind.  It has allowed me to impart lessons that only sports can teach.  Being an educator has also placed me in a position to teach and share with other educators.  I love being a classroom teacher but I feel being called an educator captures the fullness of my duties.

To be an effective educator I also have to be a Learner.  I spoke about entering all learning opportunities through the eyes of a child.  Being curious, willing to take chances and not allowing past experiences to dictate current learning opportunities.  Explaining that sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the vast amount of information to process.  Yet feeling excited when I learn something new and connecting new information to other areas of life.

The final of the four is being a Connector.  I love seeing the connections between various topics and ideas.  I get a rush when I meet new people and the positive energy that is shared.  Being empathic is something that I truly value and to share Brené Brown view, “Empathy Fuels Connection.”  This is what I love about the Design Thinking process, it calls upon you to connect with other humans.  To go beyond the surface and create a moment of visible empathy.   

More to come from Monterey tomorrow…

What are the four words you would use to describe yourself?