Small Group Facilitation Reflection

Lolding/ August 15, 2020/ LDRS 663/ 5 comments

Teaching, coaching, facilitation – while these three roles include similar tasks, they have slightly different purposes and goals. Because of the overlap in these positions and their strategies, I feel I am still not completely clear on how they differ, even after studying them in further detail. One of the questions that came up during a group discussion was the difference between these three areas and whether or not a Venn diagram exists to illustrate this concept. After a brief search didn’t turn up anything, I decided to create this one myself. 

 What do you think? Have I summarized the similarities and differences clearly? Anything I’m missing? 

I recently wrote a couple posts about the coaching core competencies which you can find here and here. The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) also provides core competencies that outline “the basic set of skills, knowledge, and behaviours that facilitators must have in order to be successful facilitating in a wide variety of environments” (IAF, 2015). That document is available here.   

Because I have been a teacher for over fifteen years, I think I naturally slip into a teaching role even when I’m not serving in a formal teaching capacity. On August 16, 2020, I participated in a Small Group Facilitation Session with two other students from my LDRS 663 class at Trinity Western University. We each took turns facilitating a unit of learning to practice the skills we have been learning. I facilitated a short lesson about Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This post is a review of my facilitation, which can be viewed here.  

I wanted to start the facilitation time with a clear illustration of a learning task that was beyond the ‘sweet spot’ of learning for my group. Because I knew that both of my classmates were not fluent in French (nor am I as demonstrated in the video), I chose to speak and assign an activity in French at the beginning. Looking back, I think I should have debriefed the experience of being asked to do something way above their level in a language they didn’t really understand instead of telling them how this illustration fit with the concept of ZPD.

One error I noticed early in my facilitation is that I should make sure students are familiar with the tools I am using before jumping into a lesson. I should have given a quick explanation of Kahoot before starting the presentation. I also need to be careful of putting learners on the spot. For the most part, I asked questions in a non-threatening way, but there was one instance where I asked Bob a question about differentiation that I felt could have been done more effectively. 

Not only did I teach about the ZPD, but I think I also modelled scaffolding by pre-assessing how comfortable people were with the topic with my first question in Kahoot. Because of the learner’s responses, I was able to move through the material fairly quickly. If they had answered that question differently, I would have needed to give more explanation during the review times.  

Finally, I think I could have had a stronger ending. It was good that I used the “Key Takeaways” slide, but maybe there should have also been an application question about how participants could use the ZPD in their own context. Or perhaps I could have connected to the opening question by asking it again or asking learners if they felt more confident with the topic (e.g. do you know more now?) 

Overall, I wonder if I did too much teaching and not enough facilitation. For example, when I stated the information about Vygotsky and Bandura, perhaps I could have used a different approach to review this data.  However, I think I did a good job of taking breaks and allowing for questions or comments from the participants. I also think I effectively tied in student comments to the material in the Kahoot. (e.g. Bob’s comment about planning levels of scaffolding and the Key Takeaway of planning in advance).

According to Schwarz, 2002, the facilitator’s main task is to help the group increase effectiveness by improving its process and structure (p. 5). What do you think? Did I spend too much time teaching and not enough time facilitating? Did I create and sustain a participatory environment and guide the group to useful outcomes? Any suggestions for how I could improve in the future? 


Innovative Learning (n.d.). Zone of proximal development.

International Association of Facilitators. (2015). Core facilitator competencies.   

Olding , L. (2020, August 12). Group facilitation assignment [personal communication].

Schwarz, Roger M. (2002) The skilled facilitator: A comprehensive resource for consultants, facilitators, managers, trainers and coaches 2e. Jossey-Bass.

Smith, Mark K. (2001; 2009) Facilitating learning and change in groups. The Encyclopedia of Pedagogy and Informal Education.

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  1. Lisa, I love that you took the time to make a Venn diagram about the differences/similarities between facilitation, coaching, and teaching. The relationship between these roles has been one of my main takeaways from the course.

    Since I am a teacher, in my skeptical moments, I feel like coaching and facilitation are secondary roles to teaching. After all, by definition, the teacher is the only person who functions as a subject matter expert. For this reason, the other two roles ultimately act as servants to the goals of teaching (i.e., helping learners master and apply content for themselves). However, as the internet disrupts the teacher’s authority as the key-holder of knowledge, it is becoming increasingly important for teachers to shift away from delivering content toward becoming coaches and facilitators of learning experiences.

    I foresee a future where most content “teaching” happens outside of the classroom through interactive lessons that the students work through before coming to class. In the ideal scenario, the teacher designs this curriculum as a subject matter expert and also meets with the students after they have worked through content to facilitate learning experiences around the content and to engage in coaching. The masterful teacher will naturally switch between coaching and facilitation techniques without missing a beat.

    However, my ideal scenario may be biased toward expertise unfairly. For example, I was once asked to teach a Survey of the Old Testament course. Since my training is in the NT I had to rely heavily on the previous teacher’s notes. However, I couldn’t just fill the classroom time with lots of supplementary lectures. Instead, I tracked down resources that helped me facilitate learning experiences that encouraged the students to process what they were learning. This course has turned into one of my favourites to teach because although I am still not a subject matter expert, I also have the advantage of not suffering from the curse of knowledge. In other words, I don’t fall prey to the temptation to overwhelm the students with content that is well beyond an introductory level.

    Anyways, thanks for such a well developed reflection on facilitation and its relationship to the other two roles we have discussed throughout this course!

    1. Josh, Thanks for your kind words! You are the one who inspired me to make the diagram.

      I wonder if subject matter and age of students would impact your thoughts and feelings about how coaching and facilitation fit into your role as teacher. I often feel like those three roles blur for me when working with middle schoolers. However, I see part of my duties as helping my students learn how to learn. By the time they come to you, they should have those fundamentals in place, right?

      I think what you are describing regarding the content happening outside of the classroom is “Flipped Learning”. I first heard of this concept in 2012 when I read the book Flip Your Classroom by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams.

      Over the years, I have dabbled with implementing this method in my own classroom. I’ve always wanted to use it on a wider scale, but it takes a lot of work to get a flipped classroom up and running, and I keep changing my role or teaching position. It’s still a dream of mine to use flipped learning with my students. I think flipping the classroom (teaching the content for ‘homework’) will bring even more need for coaching and facilitation into the formal education setting.

      I’d love to hear if you think flipped learning would work effectively in higher ed and what engaging flipped learning could look like (let’s think outside the “read these pages” box).

  2. Lisa,
    I loved your Venn Diagram! It is so true and looking at it this way allows for educators to have the space to evolve and more deeply understand the teaching presence in the COI. It is a role that is evolving and this is critical work to guide us through the current change curve without compromise to such an important role as providing education and inspiration for true transformational learning!

    1. Thanks Dawn! I’m a visual learner, so it definitely helps me to see it laid out. Teachers need to wear many different hats, and coach and facilitator are two of the important ones.

  3. Pingback: In-Person Education in an Online World - Imagining the Future - Josh Chalmers

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