The Working Systemically Facilitator

Systemic change requires knowledge and skills that typically are not apparent in low-performing districts and schools. Reform of this nature can best be achieved with assistance from skilled facilitators who help in creating a context for change, developing necessary knowledge and competencies, and establishing necessary structures and practices to support the work. It is for these facilitators, who have the responsibility of guiding districts and schools in a systemic improvement effort, that this guide is intended.

The Working Systemically facilitator has a multifaceted role in this process; this includes serving as a critical friend, coach, coordinator, and change agent, in addition to bringing an outside perspective to the education system. Furthermore, the facilitator's role changes during the various phases of the work. This requires that he/she demonstrate flexibility, a thorough understanding of the approach, and the ability to apply a variety of strategies for working through challenges. The facilitator should also have a deep understanding of the dynamics within districts and schools and how they evolve over time.

Another important role of the facilitator is to gain commitment from the district and schools for a long-term improvement effort. The Working Systemically approach requires that the local educational system demonstrate the following:

  • A long-term commitment by leaders at the school and district levels to be actively engaged in the improvement process
  • An initial focus on aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment to state standards, involving staff at all levels of the local system
  • A commitment to collecting, analyzing, and using data to develop and monitor the improvement plan
  • A sense of ownership and responsibility for improvement by everyone in the local system

SEDL recommends that a pair of experienced facilitators work as a team to help the district and schools implement needed changes. One team member should have substantial knowledge of research related to organizational change and leadership. This person helps to establish critical structures and build leadership capacity. The other team member should have special knowledge and skills in curriculum and instruction. This individual helps district and school staff identify weaknesses in teaching and learning and guides them toward research-based, content-specific strategies to improve classroom instruction.

These two experts should collaborate in all aspects of the work and complement each other to establish an integrated system of sustainable improvement. SEDL found that this dual-facilitator approach helps ensure that participating districts receive essential help throughout the local system. In addition, it demonstrates the value of teamwork and collaboration in addressing the leadership and instructional aspects of improvement.

The facilitator helps build capacity at all levels of an education system in the five Working Systemically competencies so that leaders and teachers can make sustainable, long-term improvements in the components of the system. Ultimately, the facilitator helps district and school staff break out of old mindsets, creates an environment in which all individuals feel safe to share beliefs about new learning, and continually enhances professional learning for increased student achievement.

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