Tell Me the Meaning of Stupid

Sometimes a word is more than that.

“I’m stupid about this stuff.”

I’d heard this phrase from a family member as she spoke about saving docs to Google Drive.

“I felt stupid asking for help.”

I’d heard this phrase from a friend as she described searching for tools in a hardware store.

“I’m stupid. I’m not smart like you.”

I’d heard this phrase from my student as she struggled to read her first book.

And we don’t really think about what it means.

As I sat down with a close friend, I couldn’t help but recall how often I had heard someone refer to themselves as stupid in the last week alone. As she described her trip to the hardware store, we both laughed at the absurdity of the trepidation that comes with asking about something, anything.

In that moment, I realized that I have a problem with this word “stupid”. Stupid. What does that even mean?

Stupid is a word we use to shame people for their lack of knowledge. It doesn’t care about prior life experience, it doesn’t care about your aptitude in this moment, it doesn’t care what your day is like. Stupid is the word we use to tear others down because they don’t know the thing. There are other words, more salient and perhaps too honest, but infinitely more nuanced, than this all encompassing word.

Is it possible, instead, that a person is inexperienced? Unfamiliar? Out of practice? And why do we shame people for being any of these things? Am I, with a Bachelors in Technology and a Masters in Education, all knowing? Will I ever be susceptible to this poorly designed insult? If so, what’s the criteria? And if not, why should I be immune?

What’s the threshold for being stupid?

This term, too often used as a self-deprecating descriptor, has no place in our minds or in our mouths. You are not stupid. You might be silly, confused, scared, or anxious but you aren’t stupid. What you’ve done is uncovered an area in which you are ignorant and you have the choice to further educate yourself or not. That choice is a conscious one, and requires you to use your brain to weigh the pros and cons associated with each. That takes intelligence. By definition alone, one cannot be both intelligent and stupid.

So stop saying. Stop thinking it. Stop meaning it.

There are so many better, more meaningful words that don’t carry the shame, and the stigma, and the obstacles. There are words that mean what you want them to, that can empower you to pursue knowledge, and that encourage others to do the same.

There’s no shame in not knowing.

 

Community Spotlight: Grace Institute

Introduction

Grace Institute is a non-profit organization that has provide job readiness training to women for more than one hundred years. Originally a school run by nuns, the agency has since transitioned into a workforce development program geared towards the current job market. The program is tuition free but requires a 20 week commitment, Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 4:00pm.

Participants receive training in 4 core components and spend the remaining time interacting with industry professionals who volunteer their time. The women in this program are from all walks of life – some had full times for 30 years and were suddenly laid off with no plans for the future. Some of the participants are underemployed and want to find a career, rather than a job.

It’s important to note that Grace Institute focuses on job and career fit over placement. As such, they teach participants self-evaluation and reflection. Volunteers from partner corporations come in to speak to them, both to give them an idea of where their skills can take them, but also to open up new thoughts on career paths. In institute also places strong emphasis on adult learning strategy, structuring the environment and classrooms to incorporate collaborative learning, open dialogue and critical thinking.

Agency Overview

Grace Institute was founded by W.R. Grace, an Irish immigrant, in 1897. When he began running his business, he employed many immigrants. The wives, sisters and daughters of these employees generally lacked the skills to compete in the job market. The institute was created to provide workplace skills for these women. Originally run by nuns, the organization has always been geared towards practical skills – in the early 1900s, this was sewing, cooking and other domestic tasks. As the marketplace changed, so did the course offerings.

Grace institute is focused first and foremost on providing immediately applicable job skills to women in need. The courses cover both hard and soft skills with the intention of helping women find long term and fulfilling careers.

Formerly a school, the agency has made a conscious shift towards being recognized as a workforce development program. As part of this shift, the attendees are known as participants instead of students. The program itself is run as a business casual corporate environment – from the clothing, to the settings to the fact that the women clock in every morning, all in preparation for working in a professional setting. One of the participants described it as a “completely holistic approach”.

Changing with the Times

Up until this year, the 136 participants were split across 4 sections, all receiving the following 4 classes; Business Writing and Communication, Office Technology, Keyboarding, and Professional Development.  The necessity and set up of each course is continually evaluated to determine whether the skills are still relevant in the current job market. At the moment, Grace Institute is implementing Salesforce to track job placement and retention among alumni. They intend to use that data to modify current courses or develop new ones. This year, the agency began a pilot program in one of the 4 sections to prepare selected participants for the role of Patient Services Representative (PSR) in the Healthcare field. By evaluating the job market, the Directors determined that there was potential for better job placement by focusing training to meet the needs of this field. To join the PSR section, current participants must sit through an application and interview process, much like when they were first admitted to the program.

The institute is tuition free, save for a $75.00 registration fee and a $75.00 books/technology and materials fee. There is a strict admissions process to ensure that the women that are accepted will be committed to successfully completing the program. Grace Institute is a non-profit that does not receive any government funding. To remain tuition free, the Grace family accumulated a sizable endowment which is now approximately $30 million dollars. Until 2012, the organization was pulling 100% of its operating costs from this. Since then, they have hired Jessica James, Director of Development, to cultivate relationships with business and procure grants from organizations such as The Robinhood Foundation, The Pinkerton Foundation and The Blackstone Group. Additional funding and support comes from corporate partners. These businesses provide volunteers who come in to teach business skills or discuss their path to success. They’ve even had members from Google come in for a day long team building exercise that taught IT skills to the participants. Recently, the agency received a $100,000.00 donation from American Security that financed a new computer lab, including approximately 100 computers. The hope in building these relationships is to raise donations, provide industry insight to participants and allow networking opportunities that may lead to employment opportunities. Last year, Macy’s place 25% of their graduates in Merchandising roles.

Instructional Overview

The tour was led by the Director of Development, Jessica and two participants on the path to graduation. These women, Tolou and Rose, were passionate about the program and effusive in sharing the impact it had has had on their lives. There were also two representatives from another organization, ParentJob.net, who were touring Grace Institute in hopes of establishing a partnership.

Walking into the classrooms, it’s easy to see that these are all mature, professional and dedicated women. Even without an instructor, they are all working on something, no one is on their phones and they were immediately engaged when we walked into the room. Rose and Tolou were eager to talk about the projects they’ve been working on and there were examples of collaborative learning projects on every wall.

The women is this program generally range from 18 to 65 in age. Previously, one of the 4 sections was comprised of all young adults, who make up about 30% of attendees. With the addition of the PSR section, that group has been integrated into the other sections, increasing the diversity of age across the remaining groups. Regardless of section, all participants take the same core classes together. Age, race, language and past work experience vary greatly and has very little bearing on placement. There are lawyers, teachers, stay at home moms, and accountants. Some of the participants are fresh out of high school. Some, like Rose, have been employed for 26 years but were unhappy, and some, like Tolou, had been out of the job market for over 10 years and found that her skills were sorely outdated.

While we stopped into a few different classrooms, only one of them was in session and we were unable to speak to the instructors. We observed the first day of the PSR course, which was an overview of what the field and the position were. Once completed, PSR-track participants should be fully equipped to provide customer care in settings such as hospitals, urgent cares centers, and medical offices. Grace Institute is partnered with Weil-Cornell, LIU, and New York Presbyterian and has recently partnered with CityMD for job placement.

Based on the conversations prior to the classroom tours, I was surprised to see the instructor using a PowerPoint presentation to deliver initial information. The first slide we were shown was a diagram of all the tasks associated with someone in a PSR role. She briefly went over the content while participants took notes, but there wasn’t any open dialogue or question/response that would get participants actively involved.  Although she related the information to herself by saying, “At my core, I am a PSR and I have PSR duties”, she didn’t elaborate further or provide any personal details about the job she does. However, we only observed the lesson for a few minutes, so I cannot fully evaluate the facilitation method.

The course that I found interesting, and that the participants said they found most valuable, was the Professional Development course. Tolou and Rose spoke passionately about how it affected their way of perceiving themselves, others and the world around them. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to observe it as I think it would provide a better representation of the agency’s prescribed method of teaching adult learners. Below, I briefly detail some of the more interesting aspects of the 2 of the courses and how they are taught.

  • Keyboarding – This class is taken in a group setting but it is differentiated per learner. A typing test is given at the beginning of the program to determine the participant’s average typing speed (WPM). A goal is then set to add 15 WPM to that initial number, i.e if you began at 40 WPM, by the end of the program, you should be at 65 WPM. Participants use a software that gauges where they are and then helps them to reach their goal. This allows students to go at their own pace, eliminating frustration and undue competition.
  • Professional Development – This class provides many soft skills needed in the workplace but rarely discussed. They cover etiquette, verbal and non-verbal communication, self-confidence, and cultivating your business persona. To prepare for job searching at the end of the program, participants engaged in a mock interview with 45 volunteers from different companies, who provided them with valuable feedback.

In terms of participant evaluations, every class provides tests, and at least 2 progress reports. Technology courses also use ProveIt.com to assess progress. There are two full time social workers on staff to provide counseling to participants who are struggling either in the program or in their personal life. If it is determined that she won’t be able to complete the program, she is counseled out. The average program completion rate is 75%, with last year exceeding that at 87%. Their processes seem to work – 80% of their graduates are place within 1 year.

Closing Thoughts

This visit left me extremely impressed with Grace Institute and what they have accomplished. They have been in operation for over 100 years and they have evolved to continue their mission in an ever changing world. It isn’t easy to balance providing a much needed service to communities and operate as a business, but they do it well. I think this starts with their mission as a workforce development program and their admissions process. From the very beginning, participants are given an orientation. If they apply, they can expect to be interviewed, take aptitude exams, pass the TABE test and be evaluated for risk factors to determine if this is the best time and/or fit for them. If an applicant is not admitted, they are referred to other agencies that provide similar services. While they can’t accept everyone, they provide motivation and resources to anyone who comes to their doors.

The other take away for me was the level of support provided by the staff and fellow participants. I have been very interested in building positive and open learning environments and that feeling is prevalent at Grace Institute. There’s a floor to ceiling whiteboard in the halls where participants write motivating messages to each other. Every Friday they have something called Friday Forum where they watch TedTalks, discuss their growth and ask questions. Every Tuesday and Thursday, they have something called ‘Food For Thought’, wherein a corporate volunteer visits to give insight into his/her field. There are open computer labs, free periods to catch up on work, and a community center to catch up with fellow participants. The women here are treated like adults in a working environment and, regardless of their background, their experiences and opinions hold value and are respected by everyone in the organization. So many of the things I witnessed have already gone in my toolbox and the visit has introduced me to a completely new way to approach workforce development.

Using Inter-team Collaborations to Promote Critical Thinking Skills

This is part of a 3-part series focusing on applying adult learning theory in the workplace. To see the other articles, view A Brief Intro to Adult Learning Theory and Self Directed Learning as a Training Solution

Current Problem

Teams across 15 campuses are finding it increasingly difficult to track information and share it with the stakeholders. In addition, there is a lack of standardization in the way programs are run, further complicating alignment and adoption of initiatives to solve this problem.

Proposed Solution

Many of these conversations have started with ‘we can’t’ or ‘we don’t’. We can’t change this system or we don’t use this method. I usually ask probing questions to get to the bottom of these opinions. Is the ‘can’t’ related to something tangible? Is the ‘don’t’ due to a lack of structure or something else? Until a problem can be broken down into it’s smallest parts, a holistic fix cannot be created. Asking teams to think critically about their current processes will force all parties to honestly evaluate the problems they face. I highly recommend using this list of Socratic Questions to get past the surface issues. Much like the worksheet found at the bottom of this page, you can create an evaluation worksheet asking similar guiding questions to reach a conclusion.

Why Promote Critical Thinking?

Human beings draw conclusions from past experience – personal or otherwise. We can become entrenched in views because we have had positive and negative experiences that influence what we think will happen. Perhaps we’ve were involved in an unpleasant outcome related to group work that prevents us from trying something new. Conversely, maybe we heard of a new technology and we want in on it because everyone else is raving about it. Either way, it’s necessary to break down and evaluate this feelings or instincts in order to make logical and well informed decisions. Even if they result is less than stellar, you have begun a process of evaluation that allows you to continue build until you reach success.

What Does it Look Like?

Start by creating a list of specific issues that your team is trying to tackle. If you are a manager, create your own and allow teams to do the same. For each issue, have team members brainstorm about the root causes and 2-3 possible solutions.  You can have participants fill out the worksheet to the right, use the template at the bottom of this page, or create your own.

It is unlikely that everyone will have the same answers, or answers that get to the bottom of the problem. Ask team members to share their view of the problem then use Socratic Questions to whittle it down to it’s simplest form. This might look something like this:

Stated Problem: There aren’t enough people or resources available to complete this project

Follow Up Questions

  • Can you give me an example of a time when this was apparent?
  • Can you describe the scope of the project? In what ways can we leverage the strengths of you and your team members to solve this problem?
  • How can we look at this another way?
Do the same for each section of the worksheet until there is a clear idea of what actionable steps can be taken to begin to solve the issue.

Once that has happened, have teams pair off with members of other teams to get feedback on how they handled similar situations. The idea is to have fresh perspectives challenge existing perceptions and require the problem solvers to re-evaluate, explain and if necessary, defend their beliefs and next course of action.

Will this work for me?

  • There is a question or issue that requires deeper exploration in order to resolve
  • You are looking to engage your audience and get them involved through intellectual contributions
  • You  need to change long held thoughts or processes but are facing resistance (change management)
  • You want to empower your audience to go beyond surface knowledge and use their skills and experience to develop their own ideas

Want to try it out? Use this PDF template to build a framework for applying any adult learning strategy to your current work.

A Brief Intro to Adult Learning Theory

There’s a lot of info about learning theory in the early years, but what about for adults?

That’s the first question every adult educator should start with. Unlike K-12 education, there aren’t strict governing bodies that inform every decision made in adult education. Instead, our community depends on years of independent and industry research as the basis for our practice. This means that there isn’t just one, or two, or even three ways in which we believe adults learn. In fact, on a whole, facilitators of adult education haven’t entirely agreed on what that term actually means. They have agreed, however, that a few key concepts are consistent when teaching adult learners.

Adult learners are looking for:

Can you break that down for me?

Of course! We’ll go piece by piece so that you can get an idea of how these seemingly simple components come together to form the complex field of adult education. Before we continue, remember that no one component is inherently more important than the other and there a billion other factors that determine why a student showed up to your class. Also, keep in mind that each learning situation is based on the circumstances and abilities of the instructor, the learners and the environment in which you teach.

Relevance of Content

Do you remember sitting in pre-calculus and desperately wondering why you were learning it? What’s the likelihood using advanced math in your everyday life? It didn’t really matter because someone decided you needed to learn it and so you did. Or I assume you tried to. If you’re like me, you didn’t retain anything after algebra because it held no relevance to you.

There are so many reasons someone shows up to your classroom; job mandated training, skill building for employment, individual pursuit of knowledge. Regardless of what got them there, your students are looking to learn something that means something. It’s important for you, as an educator, to identify that reason in order to ensure the success of your students.

Immediately Applicable Skills

Skills don’t always have to be manual, but for most adult learners, they do need to be immediately applicable. That means that what you teach today should be translatable to what your student does tomorrow.

Regardless of your audience, your content should aim to teach practical skills or knowledge in a way that is easy to relate to. Learners should know why they are being taught the content and how they can expect it to help them in their personal or professional lives.

Involvement in the Process

The most prevalent classroom structure in K-12 is teacher as leader. This means that the teacher, or person at the front of the room, makes all decisions about what and how content is learned. This can lead to passive learning, in which your audience only learns what you teach them with no consideration for their own interests, strengths or preferences.

Involvement level can vary based on any number of factors;  subject matter, government guidelines, time constraints, program structure and audience composition are just a few. Although it may initially sound challenging, there are simple ways to get everyone involved and invested in what is being taught. Having your learners share what they want to learn during the course or what projects they would like to work on, and then integrating that feedback into your lesson are just to examples of how this could work.

Acknowledgement and Inclusion of Prior Experience

One major difference between K-12 and adult education is that children are assumed to have no prior experience to build upon. This is not the case with adults, as discussed by Paulo Friere and to some extent, John Dewey.

The model of ‘educational banking’ does not translate well to higher education because adults are not empty vessels. They carry with them many years a experiences that shape the way they view the world and approach every situation. In order to keep them engaged, it’s important for educators to acknowledge this fact and look for ways to incorporate those experiences into the lesson. Asking learners to apply what they are currently learning to past experiences is an easy way to include student experiences in the classroom and help them understand the value of the content being taught.

Flexibility in the Way Content is Taught

We’re all familiar with the saying ‘one size doesn’t fit all’. That same idea applies to education. Although your learners need to learn the same content, it is unlikely that everyone will learn the same way at the same speed. There are several theories that address this including Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, McClusky’s Theory of Margin and work done by Malcolm Knowles.

Although we have the benefit of technology, finding a video on Youtube or a link through Google does not guarantee learning. When we talk about the way content is taught, consider whether you are incorporating active learning techniques or content that integrates different learning styles.

This is part of a 3-part series focusing on applying adult learning theory in the workplace. To see the other articles, view Self Directed Learning as a Training Solution   and Using Inter-team Collaborations to Promote Critical Thinking Skills

Community Spotlight: Brooklyn Workforce Innovations

bwi_logo_copyBrooklyn Workforce Innovations isn’t a well-known name here in New York City. There aren’t advertisements on the subway, or anywhere on the streets of Brooklyn. A Google search doesn’t even place them in the top 50 results for NYC workforce centers. Without diligent searching, you’re not likely to come across them at all. It seems that that’s the problem with workforce centers. They provide a much needed service that the public doesn’t know exists.

I met with KenTara John, Program Coordinator for the Brooklyn Networks program at Brooklyn Workforce Innovations (BWI). Having obtained her undergraduate and graduate degree, Ms. John’s story is not an unfamiliar one. Those degrees didn’t get her where she expected. Working in non-profit organizations wasn’t enough to make up for the debt she accumulated and the skills she gained weren’t what she needed to maintain or flourish in the workplace.

During our class discussions, one sentiment became clear – workforce centers exist because college is not the path for everyone. Whether it’s a lack of education, a challenging home life or dissatisfaction with their current jobs, adults turn to workforce centers to help them create opportunities for growth. This is where organizations like Brooklyn Workforce Innovations come in.

 

Organization Overview

The stakeholders vary depending on the funding sources. In general, stakeholders include community based organizations, parole offices, schools, youth programs, substance abuse programs, HR administrators, ex-convicts, unemployed candidates, underemployed candidates, and New York’s Workforce 1 Career Center.

The programs at BWI focus on practical and immediately applicable skills. Unlike a traditional college, their programs culminate in a certification, not a degree. These certifications are transferable, generally opening up access to a broader range of opportunities. One of the motivations of participants is that completing a program at BWI provides you with a skilled trade or as Ms. John explained, “Something someone can’t take away”. The certificate is a tangible and measurable representation of the skills participants learned during the program. BWI’s include:

  • Brooklyn Networks: Which leads to a career in voice and data telecommunications cable installation
  • Red Hook on the Road: Which helps students get their commercial driver’s license (CDL)
  • Brooklyn Woods: A woodworking and fabrication program
  • Made in NY PA Training: Part of NYC’s initiative to cultivate diversity in the film industry
  • NYCHA Resident Training Academy: A sector-focused training program that leads to job placement within local housing developments

Ms. John is the Program Coordinator for the Brooklyn Networks. Spanning six weeks, the program is hosted at New York City College of Technology (CUNY). It’s an installation program that focuses on cabling for network, data and security. Upon completion, participants sit for the BISCI exam, a credentialing exam that tests theoretical and practical components.

Although all of the programs through BWI are practical or technical programs, all curriculum focuses on both hard and soft skills and places equal weight on each. There is a high demand for candidates to demonstrate situational judgement, a skill that has been flagged by employers as missing, even in college graduates.

Participant Demographics and the Selection Process

The screening and selection process for Brooklyn Networks is rigorous.  The selection process consists of multiple steps. The first is an orientation that is held weekly throughout the year. Candidates are required to take the TABE, an exam that gauges math and reading levels. To be eligible for Brooklyn Networks, candidates must be able to pass on an 8th grade level. Approximately half of the candidates fail this exam. They offer retests for those who score between the 5th and 7th grade levels. If they fail that, Ms. John recommends that they take additional courses and then reapply.

The next step is an interview with one of the program staff that asks personal questions about their current situation and the motivations behind joining the program. It’s important that candidates are interested in the field and aren’t just looking for a quick way to make money. There’s a high level of accountability on the participants; they’ll be responsible for completing HW and projects, maintaining consistent attendance, and remaining professional. Ms. John has identified that this as a ‘big risk program’ because many participants have not had this kind of responsibility, especially if they did not complete HS.

If the participants move forward from there, extensive documentation is required by the state and federal government and by some stakeholders. Following that, there is a drug screening. If candidates fail, they aren’t allowed to reapply for one year. The screening is not a surprise. On the contrary, candidates are notified so that they have a chance to get clean before it happens. Once those steps are complete, applicants ‘try out’. They come in on a Monday, go over the details of the program and then attend sample classes on Tuesday and Wednesday. Finally, the director and program instructors evaluate overall performance and interview responses. This committee selects 15 participants and those that are accepted start the next day.

The most interesting portion of this visit was the level of detailed that went into preparing the candidates. The selection process is extremely discerning but there’s a quota to meet, which can affect the way the program is run. However, Ms. John demonstrated true interest and compassion in seeing candidates and participants succeed. Given the background of participants, I believe this can make a world of difference for those who have faced discouragement.

Program Structure and Outcomes

The Brooklyn Networks program is five days a week, from 9-5. There’s an exam every week and 2 to 4 HW assignments each night. The week is structured to include practical and professional skills. There are 3.5 days of lab training and 1.5 days of job readiness training.

Student progress is closely monitored by the instructor, who is responsible for curriculum and homework.

Because of the strict policies, rigorous curriculum and expectation setting, the pass rate for the certification exam is 91%. Unlike course work, the BICSI is graded pass or fail. To ensure that students are prepared above and beyond the requirements of the exam, the level of rigor in the classroom is much higher than what is required.  Upon successful completion of the program, BWI offers job placement assistance for two years. There is also a follow up 60, 90, 180 and 365 days after graduation to gauge candidate success in the field.

Social Impact

Beyond providing job applicable skills, BWI aims to empower participants to aspire to higher levels of personal success. It shows participants that they have the drive and discipline to complete their GED or get a college degree. For others, it’s a way to excel beyond cultural expectations. Ms. John shared a few of these stories, including a female Muslim graduate who was told by her family that she couldn’t complete the program because she’s a woman. She also shared the story of Pete Rosado who said he always wanted to travel the world but ended up in prison, doing traveling of a different kind. In spite of his background, Mr. Rosado graduated and is now Lead Tech at his company.

In addition to the individual impact on the graduates, BWI and other workforce centers have the opportunity to equalize pay within their industries. All graduates from Brooklyn Networks has a starting wage of $12-$13, regardless of gender or race. Employers may have the option to pay more, but they cannot pay any less, which is at odds with how traditional hiring works.

Challenges and Looking Forward

Although BWI has been around for 15 years, they face some common problems. Outreach and recruitment was more robust in 2013 but changes in the economy have affected the number of applicants. In turn, this has impacted the quality of applicants and the program. With no official outreach process, they rely on referrals and word of mouth to source candidates. Other issues include alumni data tracking, getting women to complete the training, student engagement that helps prevent burnout and withdrawals, external dependencies, and lack of reliable record keeping systems. Additionally, attendance is particularly challenging due to the backgrounds of participants. If a student misses enough classes, they will need to leave the program, regardless of the reasons. Students who are counseled out are encourage to reapply once their schedule stabilizes.

Ms. John and I spent time to discussing the struggles associated with tracking student data. Above all else, being able to measure the success of the students during and after the program is the biggest challenge that many training programs face. We swapped stories and ideas about how to improve our current systems and I was surprised to hear that they have no real process for storing records and it is mostly paper based. Given the frequency at which technology is changing, I believe this lack of integration (which was also present when reviewing the outreach process) has the potential to be detrimental to BWI’s programs. For all the work they are doing, further investment in technology and outreach would make a huge difference in program quality and reporting.

Using Learning Contracts to Facilitate Success

Learning contracts can be a great tool to clearly define course or training expectations for the instructor/trainer and the student/employee. Although an employer may hope that information provided in a training environment is clear and relevant, it’s necessary to take into account context. Your audience needs to know why they are learning this information and how they are expected to apply it.  Take a look at the learning contract (above or view the PDF here) and course description (below), that I created for my sample ‘Data Management Across Systems’.

Sample Course: Data Management Across Systems

Course Description

This course has been designed to assist Data Administrators in evaluating current data collection systems in their department or company. Regardless of the size or purpose of your organization, you collect data in one form or another. Some of us are used to the old paper and pen method while some of us are almost completely digital. Both systems have pros and cons, which we will discuss in this course. Knowing the reason your company collects various types of data, who the responsible parties are and what the output format will be, has a great bearing on the systems you use and the issues you will face. We will take a look at all of these factors over the next 5 weeks to help you lead or support the implementation of more accurate and robust data collection.

 

Creation of a Learning Contract

Each of you come from a different background and may have slightly different expectations for this course. The purpose of this learning contract is to ensure each student sets and completes his/her objectives. The contract is between the student and the instructor, created as a way to clearly communicate course expectations for both parties. It will be completed at the end of the first week so that you have an idea of the material that will be covered and the options for projects used to demonstrate learning.

This contract should be personal to you and focus on what you intend to get out of this course. To help you begin this process, please complete the KWL chart provided on the first day of class. Use this document, along with the course description to begin developing objectives. During the submission of the Learning Contract, the instructor will meet with you to provide feedback. Once it is finalized, both the instructor and the student will agree on at least one in-person check-in and sign the contract. A copy will go to the student, one to the instructor and one will be kept on file with the department, to be revisited during the follow up meetings to ensure the objectives are being met.

After reading through the information, think about how learning contracts can be introduced in your learning environment to facilitate success.  Does this change the way you approach teaching or training? Are there any aspects of this that you can implement now?

Finding the Ideal Solution: 3 Approaches to Problem Solving

I may have mentioned taking a few courses through UniversalClass.com. So far, I’ve found the Problem Solving 101 course invaluable as it explores the topic in depth, including the identification and allocation of resources, objective and subjective input, and evaluation of outcomes. Moreover, introduces three main categories for to consider when faced with problems in the workplace (or everyday life).

First Approach – Pretty Straightforward

The first category is referred to as the “stop it and mop it” scenario. In this situation, there is an event, behavior or condition that you need to stop from happening, as well as clean up the existing damage. Imagine that you are a landlord and your tenants are complaining about mice eating through the walls. To stop this, you hire an exterminator to find out where the mice are coming from and place baits or traps to catch them. To ‘mop it’, or clean it up, you have the exterminator locate likely areas existing mice might nest and place baits there as well. You also hire a contractor to come in and fix all the places the mice have chewed through. With these items in place, the problem should be resolved.

Second Approach – Some Concessions Are Made

The next situation employs the “current reality vs ideal” scenario. In this case, what is happening in the now does not match up with predetermined expectations or goals. To demonstrate, we’ll use student enrollment as an example. You currently have 250 students enrolled in your school but the Department of Education has budgeted you for 300 students. This means you are 50 students short of the goal. There are two ways to approach the issue and the one you chose depends heavily on which holds the most acceptable outcome:

  • Option 1: Adjust the goal. Is it unlikely that you’ll get another 50 students? Is it possible to increase by 25 students instead? How will this affect your goals and budgets for the remainder of the school year? What about next year?
  • Option 2: Attempt to meet the goal. While this seems like the obvious first choice, it may not be possible. In this example, your pool of students is inherently limited by things like zoning, number of students eligible, class sizes and competing schools. This means that even if you recruit all remaining students, you may still fall short. However, this option might be easier to implement when dealing with products or services, as you can increase production, hire more staff, adjust hours, etc.

Third Approach – Hard work for Lasting Payoff

The third approach to problem solving is the “opportunity for change” scenario. This is best applied to a situation where the problem is something with room for improvement. Perhaps you supervise a call center. You discover that employees spend an average of 5 minutes searching the company database for answers to commonly asked questions. While this might not directly translate into dollars lost, it does affect how many customers can be served. It can also have a negative impact on the way customers view your company. After all, how many of us have spent hours on the phone with the cable company trying to do something as simple as reset a router? This sort of issue, under the right management, can be turned into a learning experience for everyone. Determining whether staff needs better resources, guidance or training can improve or eliminate the problem altogether.

To summarize, there are three main ways to categorize and resolve problems. At the most basic level, each categorization requires identifying what the problem is and then determining what the anticipated outcome is. Approaching adverse situations in this manner can help you structure processes and procedures to avoid similar issues in the future.

Collaborative Learning in Adult Education

Given as a project in my Processes and Methods course, this website was created to explain the what, why and how of collaborative learning. The most concise definition I’ve found comes from Cornell University for Teaching Excellence (quote below):

Collaborative learning is based on the view that knowledge is a social construct. Collaborative activities are most often based on four principles:

  • The learner or student is the primary focus of instruction.
  • Interaction and “doing” are of primary importance
  • Working in groups is an important mode of learning.
  • Structured approaches to developing solutions to real-world problems should be incorporated into learning.

Group work or collaborative learning can take a variety of forms, such as quick, active learning activities in class or more involved group projects that span the course of a semester.

 

Collaborative Learning Resources

Creating A Positive Learning Environment

If you haven’t gotten a chance to, I highly recommend reading Ralph Brockett’s Teaching Adults: A Practical Guide for New Teachers. Assigned in my Processes and Methods course, it is wonderfully written and addresses many of the common concerns facing new teachers, or those who, after evaluating their current positions, find themselves in this unexpected role.

Even if you have been in this role for years, I think there is some benefit in viewing our students and classrooms through the eyes of someone who learned to teach incidentally. Like many of us, Brockett was asked to facilitate a course without any formal training as an educator. Through years of similar experiences, he has written this book to pass on what he considers the keys to becoming a successful of adults.

In the very first chapter, he describes 7 fundamental aspects of achieving success as an educator and lists them in this easy to remember acronym – TEACHER. For this post, I’d like to focus on respect as a fundamental component to creating a positive classroom environment.

Respecting Your Learners

In my opinion, respect is much easier to demonstrate than it is to describe. It’s inherent in our actions, in the way that we treat and speak to each other and in the way we treat the experiences of others. Your learners are able to discern whether or not you place value on them as individuals through a variety of social cues, included but not limited to whether you show up on time for the course, came prepared, ask them questions or otherwise engage with them before, during, after and even outside of class, and whether you consider answers or feedback that they share with you or dismiss it out of hand.

As an educator, you not only have the opportunity to set the tone with your students from the outset of the course, but also the chance to examine your own expectations of respectful behavior and identify areas in which you further develop. Do you have a tendency to cut people off or formulate answers while someone else is explaining theirs? Would you appreciate this behavior if it came from a student? The likely answer is no, which means that you have some work to do as well.

Be up front with learner about how you will interact with them and hold yourself accountable to the same standards you set for them. If being on time is a sign of respect, then you should be on time (and communicate when the unavoidable happens). If you expect learners to wait for you or another to finish speaking before they can take a turn, you should also be ready to hear everyone out, whether you agree or disagree with their statement.

In addition to your actions, you’ll also need to be aware of your tone of voice and verbal and physical ‘tics’. While you may be trying to convey sympathy or understanding, your learning may interpret it as condescension. At a recent observation, my husband, a Visual Arts teacher, was told that he has specific – and very obvious – facial expressions that indicate when he ‘strongly disagrees’ with someone. I had a similar reaction when someone asked me a question that seemed self-explanatory or that I’d already answered. My knee-jerk reaction was to say ‘if you were paying attention during x,y,z‘ or ‘if you read the assigned reading’, – both of which not-so-subtly imply that it wasn’t my fault if you didn’t understand. I quickly discovered that those responses made my learners feel disrespected, as if I didn’t trust them to do the research, to follow directions, to essentially behave like an adult. I immediately changed my approach to incorporate active listening techniques to demonstrate that was listening to what they were saying and that I needed more information to help them. Instead of saying ‘if you read the report from Wednesday‘, I’ll ask ‘after reading the report from Wednesday, did you find that x didn’t work as you expected? Can you walk me through what you’ve done so far?’ What this translates to is this: I assume the best of you, I trust that you tried to solve this problem on your own, I’m interested in learning from you and I want to know how I can help.

Whether you’re in a classroom or workplace, setting expectations around how you and your learners will treat each other helps build an environment where people feel comfortable in exploring new material and supported in their journey to grow personally and professionally.