Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

Getting to Student Success: Facilitate Before it's Too Late

So much of our discussions about how to get students to do what it is we think is in their best interest is wasted. In reality, short of coercion, children (most of us, really)  will do very little they are not actually motivated to do, even if it is in their own best interest. Getting anyone to act even in their own self interests involves a commitment to shift from directive to facillitative.

People quite naturally embrace that which they help create and, at least initially, push away that which is foisted on them. Think for instance how most of our hearts will open to our crying child on the adjacent plane seat and shut like a vault door when its someone else's kid wailing in the same seat.  

The key to facilitating is being willing to to spend the time and the care to have the student identify and embrace a specific and personalized goal. Once a student has defined what he or she wants, very frequently the paths and behaviors toward that goal virtually create themselves. The rest is just the kind of facillitative guidance that looks an awful lot like good teaching: guiding questions that help students solve the problems that fate and circumstance has manage to toss in their paths. 

So why the resistance?  Sometimes educators fear is that given free choice students will always make less consequential decisions and that facilitating reduces teacher authority. This is a real concern, but one that is not surmountable. While it is true that if you present studying for a test as optional students might choose not to study (I sure as hell would) no such choices need to be presented.

Consequences are real, and need to be kept real: true consequences are critical to good facilitation. However the essence of being a good facilitator is to help the student see how decisions they make, not the whims of others, control their desire for better grades, higher self-satisfaction, greater range of college choices. In this way the path the student takes is the path they have embraced, instead of the path onto which they were forced. And in reality, given real choices, most students will choose for themselves almost exactly what we would have chosen for them.