I get glimpses of learning happening all around me. Sometimes I’m part of the process, tutoring, advising or coaching someone through a new concept. Sometimes I’m just observing how others teach and learn, or taking an opportunity to observe the communities that educators create in order to make learning happen for others.
In my day job, I often work with instructors who are specialists in their own subject areas, but who must redevelop their courses as online learning experiences. They have a specific set of project goals in mind (and usually a tight schedule), and need one-to-one guidance and hands-on experience in ecourse authoring, web design or multimedia. Some teachers are good at organizing information for others, and guiding their own students through experiences that help them to learn, but these same folks can struggle when they themselves are in the student’s position, faced with trying to learn something new and unfamiliar. Each person I assist is unique in their personality and preferences, yet they each experience similar moments of uncertainty, curiosity, revelation and inspiration, as they progress through the same cycle from mystery to clarity.
My challenge as their facilitator is to understand their needs and perceptions, find common language so we can communicate, find common goals so we can work together, and encourage confidence and pleasure from the process. It’s a personal thing, and if I didn’t really care about the people and the quality of the process, I would suck at my job. I do not suck at my job. I love my job.
Learning Environments for At-risk Youth
A colleague at my day job works at a youth resource centre in my neighbourhood. This centre provides tutoring, social services and personal support to youths who have struggled in the public education system, or at at risk in some way.
Visiting the centre for a tour one day, I saw a classroom where students complete their secondary school education, a work area where art and media projects are done, a computer lab, a community kitchen, and facilities for taking care of the basics of daily life, like showering, sleeping or getting medical assistance from a nurse.
Some of the kids in this centre struggle with addiction (their own or in their family) or with physical, emotional or mental challenges that mainstream services have not been able to adequately address.
In this youth centre, the lessons taken are life lessons more than school lessons. The social challenges, family breakups, and toughness of life for some low-income youth can affect everything about them. Their sense of value and worth is the very foundation upon which everything else they will do or will become will be built. So, in this centre there’s a strong sense of community, almost to the level of an extended family. It reinforces the feeling that the youth has value, is loved, and is connected to themselves, to their peers, and to their neighbourhood and culture.
People who feel alone, like outcasts, face a much more difficult road in life, and are less likely to succeed. People who feel valued and included will use that as fuel to propel them to the next stage of their life.
Learning the Primary Lessons
Community, personal worth and constructive social values are the basis of primary education, as I’ve learned from my wife’s example. She’s been a primary teacher for many years. At the beginning of a new school year, I’ll help her to set up her classroom and will find myself reintroduced to the miniature-sized world of little children, little hands, tiny chairs, and primary colours.
In the primary world, the smallest child learns how to socialize and share with others, how to communicate and cooperate, and how to negotiate and absorb the world around them.
The primary school environment is infused with simple colours, music and meter (chants and sing-songs), storytelling, and essential morals and values. Nowhere in a primary school will you see messages of cynicism, negativity, or despair on the walls. The tone is hopeful, positive and cooperative – often loving. Elementary school becomes a safe harbour, where the ideals of compassion, ethics and morals are held as the standard for young children.
If only the rest of the community consistently held those same values. How many of these little kids face the kinds of social challenges at home that could one day send them to a youth resource centre when they hit their teens? How many of the little kids live in rich, privileged families that don’t sympathize or understand the challenges their classmates may face?
At some point, each of us is a student who needs support and guidance to help us reach our goals and feel valued.