Last Friday I went for my daily jog along the harbour.

Except, this afternoon, there was nothing ‘usual’ about it.

The group of students pictured above stopped me in the middle of my tracks.

“Excuse me sir, can we tell you about something?”

Reluctantly, I stopped and exclaimed, ‘Please make this quick.’ (Not a response I am proud of believe me)

“We want to talk to you about climate change and what people like you can do about it,” said the confident 9 year old pictured to my left.

For the next 10 minutes these four young activists led me through a series of real scenarios, transitioning between speaker and activity with conviction and confidence. I was blown away.

They were self-organized; mixed aged; from different schools; and from 4 different countries.

They had their own social media account, had spoken at 2 international festivals, and had garnished the attention of local news.

The only adult with them was their facilitator of learning, who held the camera and drove them to this location.

I tell this story because it illustrates our best use as educators in the 21st Century.

We are no longer the ‘Sage on Stage,’ but rather the gentle ‘Guide on the Side.’ 

It’s far more important we ask the right questions than provide all the answers.

Here are 5 questions to help you transition to that role, and create the kind of self-motivated, self-directed, empowered learners you see above!

Question #1: What do my students CARE about?

Becoming a facilitator of learning starts by finding out what your students care about. Where are their interests? How do they spend their free time? What wicked problems do they want to solve?

The best way to discover these things is through careful observation. Set up a series of activities and watch what they gravitate towards. Conduct home visits, or ask them to share pictures of how they decorated their bedrooms. Create a small gallery walk with issues ranging from homelessness to climate change and ask them to stand next to ones more important to them. Use simple 3×5 cards to track these interests and observations.


Question #2: What essential questions can I ask to ignite this curiosity, and get students doing meaningful work?

Being a facilitator means asking BETTER questions than finding clever answers. The best way to start is by maintaining the same level of curiosity as your learners. Model how to come up with great questions. Make them open ended. Start with ‘I wonder.’ Create an anchor place in the classroom for these ‘wonderings.’ For each learning experience determine the most ESSENTIAL question and create a giant mind map of related questions.

The one created above were questions from students around how to grow food sustainably for their own societies.



Question #3:What will students ‘need to know’ to answer essential questions in their learning? How do I help them ‘think’ like scientists, mathematicians, and real world professionals?

Open ended questions help you as a new facilitator of learning to gently guide students to resources and people that can help answer the questions. Above are students charting daily weather patterns as meteorologists for their new garden. If students are pursuing roller coaster design, have them meet with physicists to explore concepts of force mass and velocity. I’ve had students consult books, podcasts, and detailed websites when exploring elements of ‘third culture’ during a learning experience to explore their identities.

What’s most important is that you get students THINKING not like kids, but like actual EXPERTS in each discipline depending on the question you are uncovering!

Question #4: Who might support students in diving deeper into learning experiences that are outside my area of expertise?

Let’s face it, as new facilitators of learning, we aren’t going to be the #1 expert in the room. Start asking yourself who you might utilize to support students in diving deeper. For our entrepreneurship project based experience, we used parent business owners to coach students through their business plans. For our improving water quality project, we had environmental engineers evaluate student proposals.

The best collaborators are generally the people closest to you. What are the occupations of your closest friends? How might their expertise support students in learning? What about parents? How might they serve as guest speakers, adjudicators, or coaches?


Question #5: Where and How will students present what they learn and create?

Those students I told you about at the beginning planted themselves in one of the most scenic spots in Hong Kong. It’s no surprise they got lots of attention!

As facilitators of learning experiences, where might we have students share their work? Start with the classroom, move into larger open spaces like gymnasiums or school theaters, and then move into the community. I’ve seen under-utilised community centers, parks, and exhibition spaces used for students to share work with large groups of people.

Want to reach a larger audience? Have students present online! Have them share work via websites/ youtube channels, or like this climate change group did- on social media or at conferences. Having public facing products will naturally increase the care students place in what they produce, and help you connect them to the right venue.

Take the 12 Shifts Facilitator of Learning Scorecard

Want to see how you are doing as a ‘Facilitator of Learning experiences?’ Take the 12 Shifts Scorecard below to acknowledge your greatest strengths, and identify areas for growth!

Take the 12 Shifts Scorecard