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The art of slowing down: Sabbatical reflections


I sat down with our Member of the Month reward recipient, Joyce Chen, to talk about all things adult education, some of her reflections while on sabbatical so far this year, and participating in The Adult Learning Hub community. Joyce is a teacher trainer, originally from Taiwan, but residing in Norfolk with her husband and son in the UK. Joyce is one of our most active members in The Hub and from our conversation, I discovered that taking time to intentionally slow down really IS an art, and there is some significant learning that can happen when we take time out for ourselves.

Joyce, I'm so glad we could sit down together today. I have been so curious to ask you, how your sabbatical is going so far this year?

Thanks Jane. It's been nice to slow down and actually process things. I've never had this kind of opportunity before. When you are on autopilot mode as a teacher, you sometimes don't question things. I find I'm asking myself, 'What is the value of what I'm doing?' All of a sudden I want to focus on the things that are important to me. Processing it all. I'm happy I have time to do that. My time off is like having a dialogue with myself.

I love that. There is so much value in carving out time for ourselves, isn't there? I know we've spoken about journaling and how you've used this practice before to learn and reflect in your role, but now as you are spending time away from formal work, what keeps you learning?

I think it's about being curious. For a long time, I didn't consider informal learning a part of learning. I was often engaged in formal learning, through my job, as a teacher. But, when I think about it, learning is everywhere. Even my son teaches me everyday. He is so trusting when he meets new people, and I think we lose that in adulthood. It's got me curious about my interactions with others and what I can learn from every person I encounter.

(Joyce depicted here with her son)

This time has also got me thinking about my role. I'm a firm believer that an educator should model learning. This can be a bit abstract, I know. Modeling can be hard to define. This opens up a lot of questions. There are some interesting studies around this. How do you model someone or something? There are some differences around this topic - culturally and academically speaking.

That's interesting you mention culture and modeling learning. Tell me more about that.

I've been thinking about this recently. The way I grew up in Taiwan, with the influence of Confucianism, it's in every aspect of education. Because I went to a teacher's college for 4 years there, the ethos was based on Confucianism - observing how you speak, what you do, and reflecting on what influences your thinking.

We lived on site, at the college. We had assembly just like in primary school. We had certain habits, like getting up early, having strict timetables, uniforms to wear, and clubs we could participate in. It was like a mini society that we participated in, to replicate what school life would be like. I think culturally, it's a bit hard for people from the West to understand.

Looking back, that experience was very embedded in my early life as a teacher. It reminds me now of the things we need to model for our students, in both our behavior and attitude. But more importantly, life long learning - we need to model this to our learners.

Have these reflections come about as a result of having time away from work?

The key for me has been to slow down. Rather than trying to find the answer quickly to something. I also think we are very fortunate, nowadays - if you want to learn - you can go out and grab it. Technology has changed our lives completely. As a kid, you had to go to a library, or ask people. On the other hand, with virtual learning, you have everything at your finger tips - but it also causes us to not reach out to others as much.

The way we learn about knowledge these days can be like a McDonalds drive through - it's fast - we are consumers of fast knowledge. When I'm watching Netflix, YouTube or on other apps like Twitter or Facebook - we can watch and access information anytime we want. It can be hard, however, for us to focus on one thing and sometimes find the best answer for us.

I've realized I'm so distracted by many things. At the beginning of my sabbatical, I felt like I had been given the gift of time. I scheduled so many things for myself. I had to go back, and re-prioritize and remember - why have I taken this time out? It's not to pack my schedule. I've chosen to just focus on a few things for myself. I've come to the conclusion that in life, I feel we need to just focus on the one or two things that are important to us.

I know you've told me before that you really enjoy our weekly calendar of events and activities in the app, Joyce. For you, what does it mean to be a member of this community, compared to others you participate in?

It's been quite special, especially the space. I feel a sense of belonging here. I felt automatically different after coming to the first Wednesday Watercooler session with other members. I'm very inspired by your vision for adult educators. On other platforms, all you might get is a website. There is a lack of a human connection. I know myself - building relationships is important.

The Adult Learning Hub, for me, provides that connection and belonging - as well as many other things. All the articles, the learning we experience each week, like recently I learned about Patricia Cranton's work. If I was on my own, I would have never learned about her. I'm also I'm very grateful for the book 'Let your Life Speak' - I've never come across Parker Palmer and his perspective really resonates with me. I finished the book in a week. I feel connected with quite a few members now from around the world. There is a kind of energy to it. There is a huge potential in this community for anyone who joins.

Why do you think other adult learning professionals should join?

Any educational institution now needs to think about their professional development strategy for their educators. This space is unique. It's educators around the world. For a long time, I just stayed in one community. In this platform - I can tap into multiple countries, educators, backgrounds. I've been looking to connect with others in different contexts. I've needed this. I really love it. It gets me to connect wither others beyond my own professional experience.

Many institutions might focus their energy on one-off events for professional development. We need a range. We need different types of learning opportunities and spaces. We need to get outside our bubble as adult educators. This can limit our thinking. Sometimes you need that encouragement - people are finding that The Adult Learning Hub has been a great way to expand our thinking. Can I mention one more thing?

Sure, absolutely! Fire away!

In organizations, there is always a kind of hierarchy. I tend to be seen as the expert in my context. But, actually, I'm a firm believer - that EVERYONE can be an expert. Everyone can be a leader. I feel quite humble, because I'm learning SO much from every individual person I engage with in the Hub. Everyone has something worth sharing. I'm not just limited to formal learning. I find the Hub gives me that feeling - there is no hierarchy. I love that.

Given the current context for adult educators, what excites you most about adult education at large?

It's far more accessible than ever before. We don't have to travel far now - as long as we have wifi and a device. There is a lot of thinking right now around how adults learn. You sometime hear, 'I'm too old to learn.' We are living in an age, where there are no limits. Of course, there are individual circumstances, but I strongly feel age shouldn't be the reason. It could be learning about your health, how to look after yourself, and learning about your job. I think it's more about our self limiting beliefs. We shouldn't limit ourselves.

We can now tap into communities virtually, especially in adult education...this is so exciting! We often just think about where we live and work as our only communities...but there is so much virtually we can tap into.

It sounds like you've had some wonderful insights so far during your sabbatical. What has been the most rewarding for you so far?

To re-evaluate my life purpose, definitely. But, also to invest time in the communities I care about. Like - The Adult Learning Hub. It's been amazing. I'm always asking myself, where do I want to invest my time and efforts. It's no secret, there are a few communities that I tap into, but I'm definitely selective.

During my sabbatical, I've also been re-thinking my role as an educator. I want to continue to challenge myself. I'm finishing my doctorate at the moment, but I'm on a journey of 'what's next.'

I loved our conversation, Joyce. The Hub is so lucky to have you as a member, co-creating this space together with us. Congrats on being 'Member of the Month' and we look forward to continuing to journey with you.

Want to connect with members like Joyce, in an exclusive space, off public platforms and social media? Take the plunge and sign up to The Adult Learning Hub today. Alternatively, feel free to join our mailing list to stay updated on membership opportunities, and get regular insights on adult education and lifelong learning.