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On-Site Staff / Staff Leadership and Management / Storytellers

The Power of PICOUP – Are We Facilitators of Learning?

learning facilitation

This time of year always brings with it a sense of reflection.

As we enter the holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving, I always feel a strong pull to reflect on all that I have to be grateful for; food, shelter, a loving and healthy family, and the other important people in my life who have help me to become who I am.

One such person in my life was my late dear friend, longtime work partner and co-author Mike Gessford, who coined an acronym that he thought accurately described what our job titles really should be: PICOUP, short for “People In Charge of Unlocking Potential”.

Mike was a PE teacher, but he was really so much more than that, as I imagine all of you are more than your titles, more than just labels.

And really what is a title?

Does it accurately describe what we do? Or can it become a label of sorts? We all have had those kids in our programs… The troublemaker, the smart one, the shy one, the fidgety one, the class clown… Labels can be both powerful and dangerous, as we can really begin to engrain the qualities of the labels we assign and students often will then live up to their labels, both for good and for bad. And you all know that they have their labels for us! The nice one, the mean one, the strict one, the easy one, the fun one, the cool one… the hot one! You know…

Are we “Physical Education Teachers?” and “English Teachers?” or “STEM Program Directors” or “Directors of Out of School Time Programs”? Or are we, like Mike was, teachers who embrace physical education activities and methodologies as a means of helping students to become the best that they can be? Or, are we teachers who embrace and impart our knowledge of the English language and a passion and a love for literature. Or people who are passionate about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics who wish to share our love for these important ways of learning with kids? The same could go for any and all of the content areas.

When I look back at the teachers and impactful adults I had as a youth and at those who made a difference in my life, I don’t really think about the fact that they really knew their grammar and syntax, or “man, he really loved that Pythagorean Theorem!” I remember the teachers and adults who connected with me as a person. I remember the teachers who cared.

I remember the teachers who made learning come alive, who were mindful, passionate and compassionate, fun, playful, and HUMAN. Those are the types of teachers and program leaders who are impactful and nurture and develop people’s potential and love for lifelong learning.

That is the essence of being a PICOUP.

I imagine you all became involved with educating youth because you care. People don’t get into education for the money! Or for the summer vacation! If you did, you might as well just be a babysitter and take the summers off… you’ll make more money! No. We get into the field of education and out of school-time education because we care. And probably because someone in our lives touched us and unlocked our potential and that felt good.

The Power of PICOUP, I believe, lies in making a paradigm shift in how we see ourselves as educators. Making a small shift from being a “teacher” or “instructor” to a facilitator of learning.

When we began our adventure education program, we began our own re-education of teaching methods. Simply instructing or drilling would not work here. The power of this type of learning lies within the ownership of the learning by the group and within and among the individuals of the group. The biggest shift in mindset and methodology was moving from that of a “Teacher” to that of a “facilitator of learning”. When learners are given and assume ownership of their learning, the lessons become meaningful, and therefore have more worth, both on conscious and subconscious levels, and allow learners to arrive at their own “AHA!” moments. When learning is active, fun, and playful, people become immersed in the joy of play and connect to it emotionally.

Recent brain-based research has shown that when people are engaged emotionally to what they are learning, they have better retention of the information and it settles into long term memory faster than information that has little to no seeming relevance. Learning and understanding the experiential learning cycle became the formula for success with this methodology. Basically, the experiential learning cycle is: providing and having an experience, sharing and reporting observations about that experience, processing and reflecting on that experience, generalizing that, experience and then applying this new information, or knowledge to new experiences, hopefully resulting in a transfer of learning, the cycle begins anew. This can be simplified as: “What? So what? Now What?” Using this cycle, and well-sequenced activities as a framework for providing experiences, and then having meaningful dialogue and reflection is what makes this type of learning so meaningful and powerful.

Getting back for a minute to “that kid” I mentioned earlier… you all know him or her, the squirmer… the fidgeter… Again, being mindful of avoiding labels… It is helpful to look deeper than the behavior. Fidgeting is often a signal that the person needs to move in order for them to maintain attention. I imagine some of you beginning to fidget now! There is more recent brain research that discusses the need to involve movement every 15 – 20 minutes. That after 15-20 minutes of sitting, most of the oxygen rich blood and neurotransmitters that optimize brain functioning have left the brain and have headed south… so… unless we think that the kids in our programs have poop for brains, or that their heads are in their you know what’s, and I know… sometimes they are! You get me… We need to get them up and moving every 15-20 minutes, even if it is only to move to another area in the classroom or to retrieve materials for the next part of the lesson. Sitting and getting for too long becomes ineffective. So with that said, you’ve been sitting too long reading this already! Time to walk away from the computer or digital device you are reading this on and go skip somewhere! (I have started a movement around the movement we know as skipping! Wednesdays are official SKIP DAYS so spread the word!)

But, before you do, and to recap very quickly, I want to leave you with one final thought on being a PICOUP and unlocking potential…

There is nothing more powerful than genuine, authentic connections with people. That is what people all over the globe are yearning for. Its what we need.

Say “hello” to every kid as they enter your programs, your classrooms, and schools… Notice the new haircuts, the new sneakers, and the new coats…. Check in with the kid that seems down. Get to know the little things about the kids that THEY find interesting. Those are the “ins” to learning their strengths and untapped talents that will give you the keys to unlock that potential. Those are the intangibles that take so little effort, but make such a huge impact on kids.

I hope you have found at least one golden nugget to take from this and hope that you will embrace the concept of being a PICOUP, of being:


Because really, isn’t that what education and working with youth is all about?

Thank you again and thank you for all you do.

For breakfast this morning I had a fried egg on a whole grain English muffin and a nice hot cup of French Roast coffee!

Author Profile: @justinmcglamery

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