Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough


cc licensed image shared by flickr user The Darling Librarian

The definition of a motion leader is one who motivates the unmotivated in a way that the unmotivated then thank them for, Michael Fullan, ISTE Conference, 2012, Session Title: Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy and Change Knowledge

I came to ISTE (International Symposium on Tech Education) with one essential question: how can I, as a principal, support teachers in my school to improve learning? Perhaps attending an educational technology conference I should have shown more interest in the technology. And, I’ll admit, I was wowed by much of the technology. More significantly, I was moved by the focus on learning.

I gained more than I ever expected, experiencing a shift in a paradigm I had embraced and that has shaped my leadership in recent years. In the very first session I attended Monday morning, Michael Fullan, in true motion leader style, motivated me (ok I was already motivated, but supported me) to shift my perspectives on the role of teacher and by extension the role of principal from facilitator of learning to activator of learning.

Quoting John Hattie, Michael Fullan relayed that there is a .17 effect size on student learning when teachers act as facilitators of learning through problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. Alternatively, there is a .84 effect size on student learning when teachers serve as activators of learning through offering feedback, accessing thinking, supporting challenging goals, and monitoring learning. It does not take extensive training in statistical analysis to find this research compelling.

I know, we love problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. And, Michael Fullan did offer appropriate caution in our interpretation of Hattie’s findings, positing that gaming, for example, as currently utilized may not yet be effective but that skilled teachers may develop high quality use. Still, without dogmatic either/or – facilitator or activator – lines in the sand, I accept and appreciate Michael Fullan’s redirection.

Michael Fullan activated my learning even further, leaving me not only with a direction, but also with some concrete steps as to how to move forward. And, again, it’s not about the technology. Wisdom I gleaned included:

  • Offer respect to others before it is earned
  • Engage in impressive empathy, meaning empathy even for those who stand in your way
  • Invest in capacity building – human capital and social capital
  • Build social contagion
  • Eliminate non-essentials
  • Focus on a small number of ambitious goals.

Perhaps it is paradoxical that at a technology conference I walked away with the message that what matters is not new, but eternal. What matters is what has mattered for millennia: the quality of our relationships, our respect for one another, and the supportive environments we create. I spent the rest of the conference attending some fantastic sessions, learning some impressive technology tools, but most essentially, connecting and engaging with others who care deeply about learning. At a conference about what is current, I focused on what is enduring.

To Michael Fullan, the ISTE organizers, the AVICHAI Foundation who sponsored my participation, and the engaging educators with whom I learned, from one of the motivated, thank you!


Comments on: "From Facilitator to Activator" (8)

  1. Carole Ries said:

    Shira, thanks for sharing your perspective. I look forward to the capacity building that will happen this fall. The suggested focus on feedback to students aling with challenging tasks is important. Supporting what will endure and letting go of the non essentials will guide us as a school.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi, Carole!
      Thanks for the ongoing creative collaboration! We’ll focus together on capacity building and providing supports to teachers to improve learning. I am grateful for your wisdom and partnership.

  2. David Etengoff said:

    Hi Shira – as always, your analysis is profound and to the point. As an Educational Technologist, I never focus on the technology before ascertaining how it can complement and value-add to the lesson and its underlying goals. Education first, technology as its hand-maiden.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Thanks, David! Focusing on learning, and being open and reflective about what best supports student learning is vital. I had considered myself in large part a facilitator of learning and now ponder ways in which I could be more effective by embracing the role of activator. I look forward to continuing the conversation!

  3. David Etengoff said:

    From “Sage on the stage,” to “Guide on the Side” …… is the latter the activator?, if so – what are the constitutive elements of this role?

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      I’ve been wondering about the constitutive elements of being a guide on the side. Perhaps we’ve been facilitating rather than activitating and not necessarily achieving the impact we seek. Perhaps there is another paradigm that might better articulate the role of activating learning through offering feedback, accessing thinking, supporting challenging goals, and monitoring learning – both in our support of student learning and professional learning. It’s a conversation important to pursue.

  4. Shira – this might be the most important conversation that we can embark upon at this time. I don’t believe it has authentically been addressed in any robust fashion. The question is – how can we engender the conversation at this time? What is the proper forum for something as substantively important as this topic? I am impressed by your heartfelt willingness to pursue this dialogue – it speaks volumes about your authenticity existentially and as a true educator. Kol hakavode lach!

  5. Shira Leibowitz said:

    Hi David,

    In the recent past I would have discussed supporting learning or facilitating learning – activating learning embraces a different focus, with potentially significant impact. I welcome ongoing reflection and dialogue. Let’s brainstorm what forums might enable us to continue and expand upon this conversation.

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