Navigating challenges: The lived experience of adult educators

24/05/2021

Jane Berwick, creator of The Adult Learning Hub, reflects on experiences that shape us as educators of adults and how we need to pay attention to our stories in order to grow our practice. 


I've always been terrible at following directions or orientating myself to a new city. 

With my insatiable love of travel and curiosity for other cultures, as well as having spent many of my formative years living and working in Asia, you'd think that I'd feel comfortable navigating the unknown. The truth is, when I travel, if I don't have strategies for myself in finding my way or a plan to orientate myself, I flounder. I'm distracted. I worry. And, no matter how many times anyone tells me to 'head west' or 'go north' - I will always rely on that weird looking landmark that tells me I'm going in the (hopefully) right direction.

I can recall moments when I was traveling around Asia in my 20s. I would need to rely on the kindness of strangers who I often didn't share the same language with, to help me get where I needed to go. I would be in a remote area, like Tibet or in The Philippines,  with bad phone reception and no clue of how to get around. Somehow, using hand gestures, eye contact, and a smile got me to where I needed to go. I would find myself in my desired destination OR a completely new one that I wasn't expecting. But, it would always be an adventure.

Similarly, this takes me back to my early days training international language teachers who just arrived to China. Not only were they navigating a new country, but they were attempting to learn how to teach a language to adults who they shared little in common with and new little about. As their trainer, I was given a pre-assigned set of outcomes that I somehow needed to get through in our training sessions together upon their arrival, but I noticed there were so many invisible factors that were impacting their ability to learn and feel confident in taking on a new role in this foreign country.

I felt as though I was caught between answering questions informally in between our training sessions and trying to stay on track with my curriculum, in order to make sure I was doing my job. 

They were often pre-occupied with things such as food safety; could they drink the water; where they were going to live after they needed to move out of the company sponsored hotel; could they trust their real estate agent; worries about getting taken advantage of at local markets; and not being able to ask for directions in Mandarin.

There was a kind of complex interplay of components impacting my practice as their trainer and their experience as newly arrived teachers in this foreign country. We were all in the same room together, for a designated period of time, and were given a set of objectives to accomplish. However, given our respective roles - them as my trainees and me as their trainer - we were all navigating challenges that we felt we couldn't talk about because of our strict time frame for training and the pre-assigned objectives to get through.

I couldn't google the answer to the challenges I was experiencing at the time. I didn't have a large group of peers who I could call upon for insight or strategies. I also felt as though I didn't have the authority or leverage to ask my supervisor to change the curriculum to adjust for some of the concerns and challenges I saw my teachers experiencing...I just had to navigate the situation on my own.

Later, when I went on to study adult education and gain experience in different contexts and establish myself professionally, I developed strategies for myself and learned to navigate the sometimes complex scenarios I found myself in. I also joined professional organisations to feel more informed about my practice, and yet, my own experience was always what I kept coming back to. I looked at the journals I kept from that time and I wish I would have taken them more seriously. Despite even being more established later in my career,  I was still coming up against challenges, whether it was internal politics or nuanced situations that I felt were only unique to me.

I wish I had had others like me to learn from at the time. To share experience with. Instead, as instructors, we sometimes find ourselves grabbing at straws for anything that might help.

What if we all could more confidently navigate the challenges we all find ourselves in? Why don't we listen to our experience more? What if we had the mindset, the strategies and the community that we could talk to? I'd say this would be an amazing tonic for developing ourselves and our practice.

The settings that adult educators work in are wide and diverse. Whether you train new police recruits in a small town in America; or teach adults in further or higher education; you are an online course creator working from your living room at home; or you are a health professional who advocates for client learning in your clinic. When we work with adult learners, our own experience and the experience of our peers are our greatest, living textbook.

This is why I am SO excited about The Adult Learning Hub. We no longer need to rely purely on ourselves or spend time trying to google a solution to a challenge. We have:

  • A map, in the form of monthly themes & a weekly calendar of bite size activities designed to enhance our practice and grow in confidence to navigate challenges in an evolving world of work.

  • Travel partners, aka supportive members/practitioners, who we can share their stories, experiences and ideas with.

  • And a vehicle, aka The Adult Learning Hub, to take us on a journey to develop a more informed and flexible approach that meets the needs of the diverse learners we serve.

Tell me about the challenges YOU experience as an educator. Send me an email or book in a digital coffee with me. We all have stories to share.

I look forward to having you as member very soon!


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