Which Hat Do We Wear?

I call myself a facilitator at work…but which facilitative hat do I wear? Which role, as described in Chapter 3 of the Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook, do I really represent in my organization? This chapter provides a great overview of the role of, as well as the importance of, a facilitator in a variety of group settings. It also causes me to consider the role I choose as I enter into a variety of situations while at work. But, is there just the one hat for me? Or is it as the author suggests, several hats may be worn at once?

The mention of the facilitator’s need to remain substantively neutral was first what began this reflection, as it caused me to consider a conversation that I had recently. While the idea of neutrality is important in the facilitation of a group, it can also be important when leading a group of students during a class. The question that began the afore mentioned conversation was whether or not we should first ask a student’s opinion on a topic, or if we should instead first give our opinions as the facilitator and then ask them for their thoughts on the subject. My beliefs have typically been that their answers to our questions help us to not only understand what knowledge, opinion or experience they may already bring to a topic; but they can also assist us in gauging where we as the facilitator may need to go as we continue to discuss the topic to ensure engagement and learning takes place. For if we find ourselves instead leading them to understand our own opinion or ideas instead of considering their own, do we not run the risk of establishing resentment and disengagement as opposed to what we ultimately want-solution and empowerment? My opinion regarding this seems to be supported by the section on coaching as well as choosing the appropriate facilitation role. But it is this opinion that also makes me wonder what role we are choosing while the interaction is taking place. Is it one or several?

Consider first the mention of the difference between a facilitator and a facilitative consultant. When the students seek us out for a particular topic, they attend training based on a certain need that they have identified for themselves (or at times perhaps someone else has identified it for them:) Does this instead in the beginning perhaps make us a facilitative consultant? For they seek us out for advice on a particular topic; we may also assist them during the course of the class in working through or finding a solution to their dilemma. Do we diagnose and assist still while in the trainer role? Or are we wearing the hat of a consultant at that time?

But then also consider the role of the facilitative coach…”at the heart of the facilitative coaching role is the ability to help people improve their effectiveness by helping them learn to rigorously reflect on their behavior and thinking.” (Pg 30). As adult educators, reflection is a huge part of what we do…as mentioned above in the second paragraph. And that reflection is what can make their learning that much more inspiring….

And while I began to delete this entire post as I came to the section of the facilitative trainer, I paused only because I couldn’t totally embrace one particular statement. The mention that the title of trainer implies that of a ‘content expert’ (last sentence of this section) may be a little misleading, which is perhaps why she chooses to put the two words together instead of either or. Or perhaps why some may simply choose the title ‘facilitator’ when introducing this role. For to say that I should know all there is to know about one particular topic, and that I too could not learn from the students themselves would be unreasonable.

I think I like the simpler title of ‘facilitator’ should I find the need to introduce myself and/or the role I am to play. For to guarantee that I will only wear one particular hat for the entirety of that interaction could provide an unspoken promise that I could have trouble keeping, should the needs of my students call for a different one. I think I am of the mind that as adult educators we will, at some point, wear each of these hats at different times depending on the situation. It may all happen in one class, with one client….or perhaps we are more prone to one role or the other depending on our expertise or relationship with the client. One thing is for sure, the role of the facilitator can be complex but helpful to any group-as long as the right hat for the moment is being worn.


About hdjackson

Graduate Student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying the theoretical world of Adult Learning along with its relation to Human Resources Developement. View all posts by hdjackson

One response to “Which Hat Do We Wear?

  • Carol

    Holly!!! You are soooo right! I waited to reply to this post because I, too, was questioning the roles of a facilitator as a higher ed instructor, and only now, do I feel a bit more knowledgeable on the topic. In my classes I struggle when I ask the same question you posed: whether or not we should first ask a student’s opinion on a topic, or if we should instead first give our opinions as the facilitator and then ask them for their thoughts on the subject. Because of their lack of English language fluency, I find myself facilitating a bit too much in the beginning. My rationale is that I want to get their ‘juices’ flowing and allow them to have examples of a particular topic so that they can then ‘run’ with it and provide ideas and opinions of their own. To my knowledge, this has worked well. I’ve tried it the other way as well; where I allow an awkward silence to fill the room while they are thinking and structuring their ideas about the topic and I don’t say a word. The majority of the times, the awkward silence is too long and connotes a sense that students don’t want to participate, but this is not true. They are just in their process of structuring grammatically correct sentences in order to provide a good answer; however, I’m the only one that knows this. My students don’t discern this same idea and just feel that the mood of the class is lack of participation. So in order to get to that point and go through all of that, I find myself facilitating more and more! Ahhhhh! Help me! Hahahaha!

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