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13 Minute read

7 Lessons from the school classroom we bring to adult learning

Posted by - Clare Roberts, Project Manager & Planner, Category: Team Effectiveness

I moved from secondary school English teaching into designing and facilitating workshops at leading organisations in order to diversify my skills, and apply them in a new context. My focus maybe more team effectiveness than Tennyson these days, but I find myself applying every day the lessons learnt in the classroom to how we create and run sessions.

Think about everyone in the room

Being able to meet the needs of all learners is a genuine teacher superpower and the best lessons (like the best sessions) are when everyone is engaged and feels their needs are considered. Teachers typically have much more data at their disposal on individuals than facilitators do, which enables them to plan ahead. However, well-thought-out pre-work and tools such as the Insights colours offer valuable information that is powerful for creating the right climate in the room and selecting suitable activities and groupings.

Communication is crucial

Time spent connecting with participants, verbalising your shared goals and the rationale for session design is never wasted. Warm professionalism and supportive, considered facilitation build bonds that enable the group to tackle challenging work together and move forward.

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In my view, teaching is dependent on communication and relationships. Pupils will always remember how you made them feel.

"They will happily ‘go with you’ even when the learning is really challenging if they have a good working relationship with you."

Questions are key

Questioning is a teacher’s bread and butter, and it is equally important in facilitation. Great teachers have a bank of ‘go to’ questions in their back pockets, but will frequently plan their questions ahead of time and target them carefully to get the most out of pupils. I find 2-3 planned questions per hour-long session are a powerful addition to a facilitators’ agenda, particularly for ‘brainstorming’-style activities.

Childlike wonder is still ‘a thing’

I’ve been fascinated to see how, like pupils, adults are equally inspired by grasping a new concept, solving a problem, or gaining confidence when they master a skill, such as presenting or storytelling. I can see how valuable and memorable these experiences are when executed well. It’s been wonderful to watch some of our delegates be moved to tears by a motivational speaker, or have their minds ‘blown’ by the impact of a scientific leap forwards.

Mix it up

Do you remember when your teacher got the class up out of their chairs, or, better still, took you outdoors? The variety this brings is equally valuable to a group of adults, especially post-Covid when we are back delivering face-to-face. Delegates still like to get up and move; some of the most engaging sessions are active and require participants to simply move around the space.

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There is enormous value in this for freeing up the mind to think creatively. Ice breakers and energisers such as Human Bingo, paper aeroplane design contests, choreography challenges and treasure hunts have the power to transform group dynamics, and people’s enthusiasm for these easily rivals an excitable group of Year 8s once they get going.

"It’s been brilliant to tap into participants’ creative sides through activities such as cutting up magazines to ‘scrapbook’ in visioning exercises, or mimicking the Ideo approach to creative problem-solving."

Adults hate ‘death by PowerPoint’ as much as children

In terms of content, many ‘classic’ teaching techniques still apply, such as chunking material into carefully sequenced parts so it is manageable, and not overloading slide decks. I appreciate the value of Cognitive Load Theory even more when I look at it through the lens of session design (see my other blog post about this). The time, thought and care we are able to put into material development and visualisation in this role is a privilege, and one we must maximise – teachers often simply don’t have this time available to them.

Work backwards

Teachers plan for England and are constantly working backwards from the ends of units and terms to ensure the pacing and content are just right. On the Team Effectiveness side of the business, we are often working towards a client’s 5-year plan and are scoping out what they’ll be doing in meetings 3-6 months down the line. By beginning with the end in mind and relating what we are planning to a client’s ‘big picture’ goals, we can ensure we are consistently supporting them on their paths to success. Just like a fantastic teaching sequence, when pre-work, sessions and follow-up all thread together, it is beautiful.

Despite the many similarities, it is worth acknowledging the differences between teaching and facilitating.

This comes with a substantial caveat that, just like facilitators, teachers have different styles – many teachers see themselves more as facilitators in the room, while others favour models such as Direct Instruction, which is very teacher-led. Our role in the room is different.

As facilitators, we are mediators, active listeners, problem solvers, consultants and a supportive presence. Although of course teachers do all of these things, facilitators do not control the space in the same way (and we can’t give our participants detention if they overstep the mark!)

Overall, I’m excited to be using the skills I’ve honed over many years in a brand new context and would urge anyone to consider lessons we can learn from classroom practice when undertaking session design.

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