Professional Development Workshop is like Summer Camp for Instructors but without the Beach.

On the week of May 26 – 30th, I took part in a 40-hour Facilitator Development Workshop (FDW) that trains participants to facilitate the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW). This post will provide an overview and summarize my impressions of the FDW, but first I will provide some background about the ISW for context.

Instructional Skills Workshop

As described on the SFU TLC website, the ISW is

“Internationally recognized as a forum for peer-based instructional development, the ISW is designed to strengthen novice to expert instructors’ skills through intensive, yet practical, exercises in learning-centred teaching.”

The three day (25-hour) program is offered at SFU at multiple times throughout the year and emphasizes instructional skills that provide active learning opportunities and alignment of activities with learning objectives.  Each participant teaches three mini-lesson and receives peer feedback on their instruction. I took the ISW in August 2011 and would recommend the workshop to many instructor levels, even to people who have established instructional skills. It is a good refresher, provides an opportunity to refine or take risks in instruction with solid feedback, and renews passion for teaching. Several sessions are offered in August including one that is exclusively reserved for faculty.

Dates for upcoming ISW sessions can be found here:  http://www.sfu.ca/tlc/programming/isw.html

Facilitator Development Workshop

The FDW prepares participants to facilitate ISW workshops.  The five day (40-hour) program is intensive with long days and nightly homework. Participants come from diverse backgrounds including academia, government and private industry, however, it was clear from the onset that everyone had an intense passion for teaching thus creating a shared connection.

Day one focused on orientation and team building exercises. First, participants reviewed the history of the ISW and the structure of the teaching model.  This was followed by small group sessions comprising two trainers and five participants. Ice-breaker activities and goal setting exercises were used to establish a sense of trust and an environment that is conducive to honest and constructive feedback. The small groups were where most of the intensive training was accomplished and group composition remained consistent throughout the workshop.

Days 2,3, and 4 incorporated the most intensive aspects of the training. Morning sessions with all participants were formatted for providing ISW instructors with a toolkit for lesson planning. Small group sessions in the afternoons revolved around cycles of mini-lessons and facilitation that were both subject to peer feedback. Each group member was expected to teach one mini-lesson and facilitate one feedback session per day. Feedback and videotape were used to progressively refine skills over three days. During this time there was an emphasis on setting daily and weekly goals, which were then reviewed and rewritten throughout the process.

The last day was brief compared to the first four days. It was devoted to moving forward, saying goodbye (surprisingly difficult after only a few days), taking photos, a “graduation” ceremony and reflections.

Personal Impressions

I took this workshop because I was interested in being part of the ISW program and strengthening my facilitation skills. However, there are many other intangible benefits to having taken part in this workshop. My team members were very supportive and respectful and worked hard at finding ways that I could improve my skills.  This provided a solid boost to my confidence, which I found personally validating. Unexpectedly, the workshop also provided a venue for experimenting with teaching styles. I used the opportunity to take some risks with my instructional approaches and this will help me to apply facilitation skills in my instructional practice. I am comparing this experience to summer camp because I felt that same sense of time compression and intensity that I experienced as a youth at camp.  I am looking forward to starting my practice as an ISW facilitator.

For more information: iswnetwork.ca

Nienke van Houten

nvanhout@sfu.ca