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Co-facilitation

Have you ever wondered what co-facilitation is and whether it is worth trialing this approach? Find out more in this article.

Collaboration has become much more common in education in recent years. Co-facilitation is one form of collaboration, which we will explore in this article.

What is co-facilitation

Innovative Learning Environments and collaborative teaching have become more common in schools and kura in Aotearoa New Zealand. Co-facilitation, also known as team teaching, is one aspect of collaborative teaching:

Co-facilitation is when more than one person is involved in leading and/or planning and designing a workshop.
Co-facilitation Guidelines by McGill University, Québec, Canada
Co-facilitation can take different forms, depending on the people involved, their skills and interests. While not impossible, it is rare that two facilitators intuitively know how to co-facilitate effectively. Therefore, it is important that you set up a shared understanding of how your co-facilitation will work: What is the desired outcome of your lesson? What are your respective roles and responsibilities for this session to achieve these outcomes?
McGill University have kindly permitted us to re-use some of the guidance they provide for facilitators of their SKILLS21 workshops. They recommend you approach the work using the following five steps:
  • Know yourself as facilitator: Identify your strengths and areas that need more development so you understand how you can complement the skills of your co-facilitator.
  • Meet with your co-facilitator: Discuss how to utilise your respective strengths and weaknesses during the lesson. Plan your session, including your roles and specific tasks, your approach to communication and any feedback you will provide to each other.
  • Do a practice run: A practice run will give you a chance to see what co-facilitating this lesson looks like in action. Take the opportunity to tweak your plan and delivery to improve the lesson.
  • Co-facilitate the workshop: Be supportive of each other, for example through asking them for additional comments, or to fill in anything that you missed, and by helping them stay on time. Avoid criticising each other in front of your learners and keep this discussion for after the session.
  • Debrief after the session: Make sure you schedule a debrief, where you can share your feedback and any reflections. Use this as a starting point for planning the next steps.

The benefits of co-facilitation

Dr. Julia Atkins describes some of the benefits of team teaching in the classroom:

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Some of the benefits she mentions transfer well to education in the culture and heritage space:
  • Co-facilitators discuss their observations of the learning that is happening, and together they can change their approach, even on the spot.
  • Co-facilitation can allow one educator to work with a group of learners to be responsive to their needs, while the other learners are still supported by another educator.
  • By co-facilitating, educators can observe good practice in action and provide feedback to each other. They can capitalise on each other’s strengths and work with each other’s weaknesses. Co-facilitation also provides the opportunity to try a new approach, knowing there is another set of eyes to help with evaluation – or even to help rescue the lesson if things went off-track.
  • Learners (and visiting teachers) see educators model collaboration and problem solving.

Setting up effective, on-going co-facilitation

A number of schools around Aotearoa New Zealand have had to come to terms with how to set up team teaching or co-facilitation in an effective way. In 2016, Sarah Martin and Chris Bradbeer wrote about the approach they took at Stonefields School in Auckland: Creating collaborative effectiveness: One school’s approach . Through comparing highly effective teams with less effective teams at their school, they identified key aspects of professional learning for teachers starting out and working in collaborative learning environments.
Managing conflict within the team of teachers was identified as a key contributing factor to effective collaboration. They found that in order to manage conflict effectively, they could address it through what they call sensemaking: “[Sensemaking is] the conversation that needs to occur when there is a point of difference or a point of “not understanding” between colleagues” (p.50). Martin and Bradbeer conclude that when teachers develop the capacity to give and receive trust, to be open, and to engage in sensemaking, this “bridges a threshold that helps to move from the ‘I’ space to the ‘we’ space” (p. 50) which is critical for collaborative teaching.
When teachers incorporate this sensemaking into their practice and use dissonances as an opportunity for professional growth, they move to the synergetic stage where “a whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Senge, 2006, quoted by Martin and Bradbeer, p.50).
Our goal is to develop all teachers’ comfort in being uncomfortable – to grow individuals’ and teams’ comfort with challenge, provocation, and dialogue, in order to have a greater collective impact on outcomes for our learners.
Creating collaborative effectiveness: One School’s approach.

Michaela Pinkerton from Albany Senior High School expressed a similar sentiment in her TeachMeetNZ presentation from 2014, when she said “The most important open space is your mind”.

Over to you

What if any experiences do you have with co-facilitation or team teaching? What aspects have worked well for you or might work well for you? What has not worked well yet, or, if you have not tried it before, what concerns do you have about co-facilitation?

As usual, use the comments below to share your whakaaro | thoughts and ideas.

Further information

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Best Practices for Culture and Heritage Education in Aotearoa New Zealand

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