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ACRES: Facilitation Skills Empower Out-of-School Educators to be Leaders

This post is part of a series on ACRES, a free nationally acclaimed coaching program that builds knowledge and skills so afterschool educators, librarians and anyone who works with youth in out-of-school settings can confidently facilitate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) experiences for youth.

The Afterschool Coaching for Reflective Educators in STEM (ACRES) program is different from STEM content-focused professional learning opportunities, because it focuses on helping educators develop  STEM facilitation skills that are relevant to any STEM content. ACRES staff at MMSA train educator coaches, who, in turn, use ACRES to train other educators who work in afterschool and out-of-school settings in these STEM facilitation skills. 

In each ACRES cohort, a small group of educators engage in hands-on activities and reflective coaching conversations about a STEM facilitation technique. From exploring how to elevate youth voice and choice, to diving into engineering practices, each of them emphasizes three core principles:

  1. Strive to make learning environments supportive and brave – ACRES coaches cultivate community using a few strategies. They create community agreements, open space for small group conversations, and invite personal reflections. Doing this encourages educators to bring their full selves and share their lived experiences. 
  2. Keep the lens on Purposeful Questions – At ACRES, we understand that asking purposeful questions is essential to facilitating STEM activities. In every module, ACRES coaches model purposeful questioning and encourage educators to purposeful questioning as a powerful tool in their STEM facilitation toolkit. 
  3. Look for evidence – Educators share their actual practice for feedback when they come to ACRES sessions. They often bring a video from their afterschool program, but sometimes they use other creative ways to show their work. Coaches and educators use these snapshots of practice to offer specific and actionable feedback and create opportunities for connection. 

ACRES also stands out in how its coaches reflect the people who work in informal STEM education. By intentionally recruiting a diverse geographic and demographic group of coaches, including through partnerships with initiatives such as Million Girls Moonshot, ACRES reflects, equips, and empowers the people providing professional learning–and therefore leading– in informal STEM education. 

Given this diversity, ACRES program leaders recognize that coaches know the educators and communities they work with best. That’s why–beyond these core principles–program leaders encourage coaches to adapt ACRES as they see fit based on what works for their educators and programs.  Coaches have varied the length and number of ACRES sessions, introduced community-specific discussions, and used lesson plans to brainstorm purposeful questions!

Learn more about the ACRES approach to professional learning and find opportunities for afterschool educators on the project website.



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