Inside the Mindful Facilitator Institute

alysoncarpenter120brdrBy Alyson Carpenter, NBCT
Instructional Partner
Professional Learning Specialist
Athens City (AL) Schools

Through 12 years of trial and error, I have learned that when you put on the hat of “teacher facilitator,” there is always a chance your eyes might be covered by the brim!

This must also be true for other facilitators as, unfortunately, most educators have attended some pretty horrible professional development sessions during our careers, and I’m quite sure no one actually sets out to kill us using a dull PowerPoint.

Last week, during the Mindful Facilitator Institute (MFI) hosted by the Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC), we worked both individually and collectively to push our hats back so our eyes could be uncovered in order to truly “see” ourselves as facilitators.


Becoming more self-aware 

The theme of our three days together was “mindfulness,” and we began by dissecting the word itself as it related to our role as leaders of adult learning. With guidance from our expert facilitators Jackie Walsh and Cathy Gassenheimer, along with some of our favorite (or new favorite) authors – Joellen Killion, Jim Knight, Peter Senge, and Malcolm Knowles – we considered ways in which we might become more self-aware in our work with adult learners.

The MFI faculty, including Beth Sanders, Beth McDavid and Pat Johnson, worked side by side with us throughout the week, acting as mentors for collaborative planning and reflection.


In preparation for the retreat, each of the 21 Alabama educators involved had prepared a videotape of ourselves facilitating an experience for adult learners with whom we work on a regular basis. An integral part of our time together was the time to reflect with other facilitators about the work on the video and ways to grow in our personal facilitation skills.

We were given the gift of feedback and peer collaboration as we examined and reflected on our personal facilitation practices, then began planning next steps  – even creating a follow-up video as an opportunity to “role play” what we might have done differently or what we might choose to do moving forward.


Early on the first day of the Institute, Jackie and Cathy posed the following question to us, which resonated throughout our time together: “How can I become more mindful of the choices I make as I facilitate learning – and the impact these choices have on learners?”

This question created a sense of urgency to know better, be better, and do better! The teachers we serve deserve the best we have to offer as facilitators, and our group took collective responsibility for answering this question together throughout the remainder of the Institute.

The Framework for Facilitators

Our time together was spent diving into a “Framework for Facilitators” created and shared with us by Jackie Walsh. The framework consisted of:

smallgroup• Assessing Organizational and Participant Needs,
• Setting the Stage for Learning,
• Structuring Learning Experiences,
• Taking Learning Deeper,
• Monitoring and Adjusting the Learning Experience,
• Providing Participant Assessment,
• Framing Follow-Up Experiences, and
• Reflecting, Assessing, and Improving Personal Practice.

Throughout the Institute, we were able to see this framework in action. Our ABPC facilitators modeled and shared insights into their thinking on the design of professional learning – from the greeting as participants walk in the session door to the follow-up and reflection that keep a community learning together after a professional development “event” is over.

Three take-aways

I could list so many things that I am personally taking away from the Mindful Facilitator Institute. I will share a few I believe have helped me “push my hat brim back” and move forward as a professional learning designer/facilitator:

1. The mindful facilitation we experienced as adult learners throughout the MFI set an example for me to aspire to in my own facilitation.

2. The opportunities for structured and informal dialogue and networking with others in facilitation roles at all levels, from the classroom to the state department of education, afforded me the opportunity to serve in both mentoring and learning roles. I was able to hone my skills as a listener and coach and to learn from others who have fresh ideas or unique experiences.


3. MFI helped me gain a deeper understanding of the adult learner and design techniques for creating meaningful learning experiences for them. The techniques will become a standard part of my practice as the Professional Learning Specialist for my district.

What comes next?

sunriseIn addition to these take-aways, we also have opportunities to continue our learning in hopes of  “keeping our hats tipped back” and our eyes open to mindful facilitation as we leave the serene setting of Children’s Harbor on beautiful Lake Martin and head back to our busy schools and districts.


► The first of these opportunities will come through our own professional reading. Throughout the retreat, so many books were shared by both facilitators and participants that I had to be very careful not to hit the “checkout” button on my Amazon shopping cart (When I hit $400, I created a MFI Wish List!) I will admit that I could not narrow my choices down to just one book to start, so I have purchased the first seven and will share on Twitter what I’m thinking as I read. If you’d like to follow along, find me @alysoncarp1.

blendedlearning► Our second opportunity for continued learning comes via our online learning environment, the ALPartners NING, where the MFI team now has its own space for continued sharing and collaboration from afar. The ideas are already flowing on the NING and plans have been made for additional sharing and collaborative work in the future.

► The third opportunity will be exciting as it allows us to actually put our learning into practice through both face-to-face and online/blended facilitation roles through ABPC. This offers the opportunity to hone our facilitation skills with a mentor (Jackie, Cathy, or our tech guru Beth Sanders) nearby.

So often educators attend “trainings” where we hear how to engage students via a “sit and get” lecture. It is hard to implement things that are not modeled and practiced while we are learning. The MFI was a wonderful example of modeling what engagement looks and feels like for learners.

I wish this kind of learning for all educators in Alabama (and elsewhere). And I am committed to utilizing the skills learned at the MFI to continue to work to improve my ability to serve the educators I collaborate with through professional development in Athens City Schools.