Atmosphere established at Facilitators’ Forum key to inspiring day for participants

Column: 
November 29, 2017

The ever-increasing number of facilitators utilized by the Saskatchewan Professional Development Unit have a strong common bond, regardless of how different their specific circumstances might be.

A perfect case in point, culled from the most recent get-together, was in talking to Alisa Favel, who is an education consultant in the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Education Unit of Saskatoon Public Schools, and Penny Mohr, who teaches middle years and high school at Bjorkdale School in the North East School Division.

While their situations might be different, the two educators enthusiastically embraced their respective circumstances, but at the same time it was not uncommon for one to finish the other’s sentence. This is for the simple reason that they both shared a similar passion for education and what they had experienced as first-time facilitators.

“The challenges in a small school like mine are really not that much different from that of a learning consultant in the biggest city in the province,” Mohr observed in an interview.

“Ultimately, it’s still about dealing with kids and wanting to be there for them. When you all share that strong motivation, you find common ground pretty quickly. Everyone in that room today had it, whether they were first-time facilitators like us or more experienced,” she added.

“For me, I feel like I have a lot to offer teachers in terms of what teachers need to know and how to teach students when it comes to Aboriginal content,” said Favel. “I’m passionate about this, and I want teachers to feel confident in their delivery and comfortable when they are asked questions. There are a lot of misconceptions, and trying to address some of those in a positive way is my agenda.”

Mohr had done some facilitating in the past and found she really missed the involvement, so she found being part of this provincewide community to be an ideal fit.

“I’m at a place in my career where I was looking for new opportunities and just thought that I wasn’t always in agreement with how things were being taught (she teaches math and sciences primarily). I wanted to share my knowledge and what was successful in my own classroom. I’m a sharer and a giver, and to be here in this environment was a great opportunity to do just that and learn so much from others.”

Favel said she was particularly impressed by the willingness of colleagues to share openly. She noted that “sometimes it can be a lonely world, and there are times you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. But it’s refreshing to see other people in the room with the same kind of passion you have and being there to share in such an authentic way.”

Mohr agreed, adding that she found it reaffirming to be in a room of like-minded colleagues and without any naysayers. “It’s just clear right from the start that everyone in that room wants to do whatever they can to make it better for their students. Maybe sometimes you think your ideas are too grandiose, but you realize that’s not the case and you feel like you’re among equals.”

Both were effusive in their praise for how the facilitators were able to establish a type of caring environment that fosters the open dialogue they were alluding to.

“The feeling in the room makes it really easy to be excited, and it made for an awesome day. Time just flew by,” Mohr indicated.

Favel nodded her head, adding that while sometimes professional development workshops can make you look longingly at the clock, that wasn’t the case here.

“We all chose to be here, which is an important first step. It makes it more purposeful and the whole experience was just great. You feed off the energy and you felt confident in knowing that the information is coming from a reliable source that you can trust.

“I would say the facilitators did a great job of creating the environment where you felt safe to be open and that goes for everyone. People aren’t there to make a judgment of what you have to offer, and so your opinions and experiences are honoured. There is no sense of hierarchy because there’s an understanding that students are our first priority regardless of where or what you’re teaching. When you think about it, this is how a classroom should be,” Favel added.

Mohr joked that those in the group self-effacingly referred to themselves as keeners, and she added that “to me that might be true, but it also speaks to a level of professionalism and the two just go hand in hand. This just serves as a reminder of why we started in education in the first place.”