The Journey to Adult Education

In 2010, I met a woman who had never sent an email before and a man who had lived here all of his life but only learned English in the last 5 years. In 2011, I met a woman who had never used a computer before, but was eager to learn. In 2013, I met a man who did not know how to use the internet, but was fascinated by how quickly one could uncover answers with a few keystrokes. And by 2013, I knew I wanted to teach adults.

Before transitioning into a corporate career, I’d been working as a lead/manager in hospitality for 7 years, I had a Bachelor’s of Technology in Graphic Arts Production Management and I was sure, when all was said and done, I would end up somewhere in the middle of those two. That all changed when I accepted a Data Administrator position at one of NYC’s largest third party provider of Title I educational services. The position was new and relatively undefined; the only thing I knew for certain was that I was responsible for gathering and cleaning data and reporting this information to the NYC Department of Education. It was obvious from the outset that in order to do this, I needed to structure the way we collected data from the teacher level to that of the field supervisors. In initiating and leading this process, I began to realize the scope of the learning deficits adults potentially face.

When I began in 2010, I was introduced to something I never considered – an entire community of people who were dedicated to educating the next generation but ill prepared to do so. We dealt mostly with Yeshivas, or Jewish day schools, which tend to focus more heavily on religious studies than traditional education. Having come from this same cycle, many of our teachers did not have certain fundamental skills necessary to do their jobs. When you consider this on a whole – children who grow into adults who go on to propagate this cycle, the question becomes, what happens when they step outside that circle? What will they do when they need to communicate clearly to students, coworkers, parents and supervisors? If they never learned how to construct arguments or how to put together reports using common technology and modern research methodology, how can their ideas make a lasting impact?

Around the same time I began that job, my husband was laid off. We spent hours searching for resources to teach him new skills in hopes that it would make his resume more attractive to potential employers. We reached out to the Department of Labor but they wouldn’t teach you any new skills to help transition into another field. If you didn’t already know it, then those classes weren’t for you. We searched college websites and anything else we could think of but unless you could pay to enroll in courses or workshops, options were few and far between. Concurrently, I was watching the same struggle plague our teachers. The issue was apparent. It wasn’t just him – there are thousands of people in the same predicament. They were missing essential skills that were free, low cost or rolled into tuition when they were younger but now seemed insurmountable after reaching adulthood and spending years working a full time job.

This culmination of events sparked an idea that has since blossomed into a driving goal. Regardless of where I go or what job title I hold, I am dedicated to facilitating adult education through various mediums including webinars, social outreach and free or low cost classes with the intention to empower individuals to pursue their own personal development.

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Establishing My Teaching Philosophy

Why do I teach?

At the very foundation of my teaching philosophy is the idea that everyone can learn. Some people do better on their own while some prefer instructor led settings. Regardless of the environment, I believe that everyone is capable of intellectual growth and that fear, rather than our intellect, is a common obstacle. We’re scared to fail, scared to look silly, scared to be wrong, but if you’re learning from those experiences, you’re growing from them. In that aspect, I want to challenge my students to question everything, explore common and not-so-common beliefs and evaluate your thought process. I want you to learn to push past the surface information, past the habits of memorization, to employ active learning techniques in your daily lives.

I also place a strong emphasis on the value of pursuing topics that are of personal interest, something that is necessary for individual happiness. We often think of continuing education as a means to an end; a degree or certification is just a pathway to the perfect job. This doesn’t always have to be the case and there’s nothing wrong with learning just to learn. Taking a course in photography, community knitting classes or a seminar on horticulture are examples of continuing education relevant to the individual. An integral component to my classes is getting you to reevaluate your relationship with learning, remembering that it can be fun and it can be rewarding. Students will begin to build confidence in their ability to contribute meaningfully to self development, peer discussions, and on a larger scale, to community and social initiatives.

How do I accomplish these goals in the classroom?

  • Collaborative Learning – Adult education theory puts a strong emphasis on encouraging students to bring their experiences into the classroom, and with good reason. By the time we move into continuing education, we are brimming with ideas and experiences that help us relate to each other and the world around us. Because of this, I believe that regardless of your background, every student has something to bring to the table. Whenever possible, I try to incorporate collaborative learning, or targeted group work, as a way to share information and perspectives.
  • Critical Thinking – Part of effective learning is applying new knowledge to your current situations, making critical thinking a skill that is relevant in both business and personal environments. Analyzing and reflecting on information leads to deeper thinking, allowing you to explore your previous beliefs and determine whether they still hold true, are incorrect or can be expanded.
  • Building Relationships Through Open Dialogue – Building relationships is one of the ways we share information and develop our knowledge. For this to work, respect in the classroom is crucial. Students are encouraged to share their opinions in a safe learning environment where they will have the opportunity to bring up questions or thoughts and have those opinions considered with equal weight by both the instructor and peers.

When you leave my classroom, it’s my hope that you have gained comprehension of the content, that you engaged in a meaningful exchange of ideas with your peers and that you start to recognize key elements regarding the way you perceive education as an adult. Additionally, I aim to learn something from you, no matter how grand or small or obscure, because a student can teach the teacher and it means just as much. Finally, I hope my classes inspires you to “pay it forward”- continue to share knowledge where you can and encourage those around you to do the same.

Women’s History Month Initiative – Empowering Yourself and the Women Around You

Let’s get a little personal

Below is an email I sent to the women in my life. After having numerous conversations with friends, coworkers, former coworkers, yoga buddies, you name it, I started to realize that we’re all secretly living the same life. We’re struggling with the same things but we don’t know how to voice them, share them, accept a certain level of vulnerability on the way to self-improvement. I wanted to share these words, and this opportunity with my readers.

What is this initiative and what are the benefits of joining?

First off, in case you haven’t heard this today – you’re doing great! You’re working a part time or full time job, continuing to flourish as a human being and as a woman, and you are looking for even more opportunities to improve yourself.

I’ve dubbed 2018 “The Year of the Hustle”. I’ve faced struggles over the last 3 years, encountered roadblocks that shook me, and put many of my own goals on hold to manage other situations in my life. You might be in the same place, or trying to come back from it.

I’m grateful for the discussions I’ve had with all of the women in my life and it occurs to me that we’re all looking for ways to grow personally and professionally. That type of growth is best achieved with a system of support. So I’ve added empowering the women around me as a goal. I’m starting with a Slack group to bring together like-minded individuals and build a community of continuous development. By joining, you’ll have a chance to interact with and learn from the experiences of women just like you. Participate at a level that works for you; pop in when you need help or hang out to lend a hand to new friends!

Because I want this to be a safe and truly positive space for women, access to the group is by invitation only. Do you know any women who would benefit from participating in this project? They can request an invitation by filling out this form

The group will focus on the following 5 topics, with additional items added as needed:

Personal and professional goals Where do you want to be and how can this group help you get there?
Money Do you want to talk about salaries, negotiations, managing money and short/long term financial goals?
Time Do you need an accountability partner to help you stay on track? Are you investing the right amount of time in yourself?
Reality checks Feeling like the world is full of trash people? Struggling to find your happy place in an increasingly tumultuous time? That’s ok! Let’s talk about what you’re seeing and how you can make an impact.
Tools Find and share tools and resources that help you keep track of everything and discover new approaches to problem solving.

I’m super excited to get started and to see what we will accomplish together!

Leading with Strength and Vision – A Woman’s Guide to Strategic Communication

Session Overview

Female leaders exist in all forms, from Director level to teachers in the classroom. Regardless of your title or role, there are opportunities to establish yourself as a leader in every interaction. At first, stepping up can feel overwhelming; you might be concerned about what you should or shouldn’t say, or how you come across. That uncertainty is normal and a great place to start. Before you dive into the deep end, let’s think about your end goal! Being a leader can mean different things to different people, but it all starts with authenticity. You can get your voice and ideas front and center without the fear of being seen as “that” person. It starts with knowing and owning your communication style and utilizing critical thinking skills, past experiences and empathetic practices to demonstrate your ability to foster change.

In this 1 hour session, we’ll work to identify individual leadership qualities, discuss ways to influence change in your organization, explore how to establish yourself as a leader in any organizational structure and outline how to develop emergent skills.

Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of this workshop, participants will have gained the ability to:

  • Discerning avenues of communication at all levels
  • Leading with respect in difficult situations
  • Standing behind your ideas
  • Alternatives to apologizing (why you’re doing it and how to stop)
  • Leveraging previous experience to position yourself as an expert within your organization

Interested in booking this workshop? Email me to get started!

Quick Tips for Productivity

 Welcome to the new year!

You know how, at the beginning of the year, you make a bunch of plans and resolutions? You start out strong, everything is going great and then suddenly it’s February and you’re already behind. Well! Let’s go over a few tips to get you back on track!

Prioritize

  • Determine what you need to accomplish. This may mean making a list and numbering it according to importance or writing items on sticky notes and rearranging them.
  • Figure out a system of prioritizing items. Do you want to categorize items using a Priority Matrix? Or maybe you want to group them by due dates. Whichever system you choose, don’t be afraid to change it up if it doesn’t work for you.

Set a Time Frame for Your Goals

  • Putting yourself on a schedule can help ensure you don’t fall behind on projects or end up doing everything all at one time (known as the dreaded ‘crunch’).
  • Consider creating personal Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). I design my OKRs quarterly and add projects according to when they’re due or when I think it’s realistic to complete them. You can learn more about OKRs here.

Ask for Help When Needed

  • Sometimes, there is more work than you know what to do with. In these cases, consider asking for assistance. In a work setting, make sure you are in communication with your supervisor so that they can offer solutions.
  • In a personal setting, I found this is a great way to utilize a network – real life friends or LinkedIn will do! It has been invaluable having someone to bounce ideas off of, get suggestions on things I have no prior experience with and hold me accountable to meeting my goals.

Improve Your Skill Set

  • Learning new skills may lead you to find new ways to complete tasks. I can’t tell you how many new formulas I’ve learned in the last year, especially switching from Excel to Google Sheets.
  • This can encompass signing up for free classes (try Alison, UniversalClass or any of the myriad MOOCs), Youtube videos or local workshops in your area.

Make Technology Your Friend

  • Try different programs, either on your computer, tablet or mobile device, designed to make your life portable. Test out a simplex application that creates to-do lists or a more complex  app that makes a copy of all your notes available to you online.
  • Have you tried Trello, Zapier, Sortd, Wunderlist or Evernote? How about a bluetooth keyboard for your tablet? If you’re on a Mac, check out the built-in dictation software!

Take a Break and Stay Positive

  • Sometimes, there’s just too much to do. Your mind starts to wander and mistakes start cropping up. It’s okay to take a short break. Don’t let deadlines overwhelm you, even self-imposed ones. Think about something funny someone said or ponder a quote you’ve recently heard. These small moments can help you regain your momentum.

Have any other go-to’s for increasing productivity? Leave a comment!

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 bone to pick with the 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.

Reading Time: 2 mins

Task Mapping – Learning New Words

In possessing fluency in the English language, educators sometimes forget how much prior knowledge is required to learn a new word.

In the last week, I’ve found myself explaining the concept of task mapping often. It’s an extremely valuable technique that can be used to break down a task into its smallest parts, allowing for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to understand and convey complex information within the right framework.

As a literacy tutor, I was introduced to a whole new challenge for English language learners. Within this world resides the untold story of people who speak English but cannot read or write it. They’ve learned from their friends, family, and neighbors, and in doing so, have heard words filtered through a dozen different accents and grammatical structures. So when we, as ELL teachers, ask a student to learn to read and write a language they know aurally, we are asking for so much more than stringing letters together.

To illustrate what this means, I’ve put together the following worksheet. I encourage you to try it out, especially if your first language is English.

I also challenge you implement task mapping when you are designing new trainings or asking someone to complete a new task. I would also encourage you to watch the 2016 film Arrival, which discusses the complexities of language and what each interaction means for the future of humans and our ability to communicate with each other.

Task Mapping- Learning New Words

 

Telling Ain’t Training – Pt 7: Workplace Reference Guide?

Final Verdict

In short, Telling Ain’t Training is a valuable reference guide for anyone who is in a training or informal education setting. If for nothing else, the authors do a fantastic job explaining why SMEs don’t always make the best teachers and providing guidance around how to get them where they need to be. Additionally, the chapter(s) on technology provide some critical and salient advice about what to keep in mind when deciding if your training will benefit from technology, most notable the potential benefits and the pitfalls you might run into. You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

If you’re looking for activities that you can incorporate into training or adult learning sessions, I highly recommend Marcia L. Tate’s Sit and Get Won’t Grow Dendrites: 20 Professional Learning Strategies That Engage the Adult Brain (you can buy it here on Amazon).

And in case you missed it, check out the other six posts in this series:

Telling Ain’t Training – Pt 6: Technology Integration

Overview

During this final post, I’ll cover the potential benefits of integrating technology in training. There are several considerations, most importantly the impact they can have on the efficacy of the training. Stolovitch and Keeps summarize these factors in saying,

When it comes to training efficiency, the measure is fast and cheap. When it comes to training and effectiveness, the measure is how well the learning goal is achieved.

Telling Ain’t Training, pg 181

Technology can help to meet these two metrics, as long as you understand that the use of technology to deliver content does not replace solid training design. The use of technology in training “can enable efficiency” if properly implemented. It can also take a turn towards gimmicky if the use isn’t well thought out or well executed.

Working at a tech education company and matrix managing dispersed teams, leveraging technology is a constant part of our everyday. When I started, I was onboarded to dozens of systems with no real explanation to why or, really, their uses. Some stuck because of their prevalence (Slack, for example) and/or their functionality (Google Docs). A few systems have found their want into my personal life, most notably in my Instructional Resources Trello board. I’ve continued to explore our current technologies in order to leverage and expand our utilization of existing resources, including leading remote workshops using shared Google Slides decks and Zoom video software. I’ve even tried my hand at using a free LMS, Latitude Learning, to start hosting content.

As you can see, the list of technologies you can incorporate into training can get really long, really fast, and we haven’t even included the old standbys like Adobe Acrobat, the Microsoft Suite, Google Hangouts, Survey Monkey, and services like Moodle. With all of these ‘productivity tools’ floating around, it’s helpful to have a framework around what they can do to assist and then start narrowing down your specific use case.

What can you get out of integrating technology?

Chapter 10 of Telling Ain’t Training focuses on the use of technology in trainings, why you might consider using them and some of the caveats you must face. There’s a great chart on pages 184-186 (which I’ve summarized below) that outlines the potential benefits of trainings. I also encourage you to read that chapter to find out why promises around increased productivity and reduced costs from outside vendors may be too good to be true.

Potential Benefits What it means
Accessibility  Anyone can access it from anywhere, can help reach remote teams and provide opportunity to train people requiring accessibility accommodations
Instantaneous response and feedback  Instructors and participants and contact each other and receive near instantaneous responses; allows for automatic responses or feedback based on preset criteria
Instantaneous testing and feedback  Testing can be hosted and created within certain platforms – this is especially true of multiple choice questions, or trainings in which the program is both synchronous and asynchronous
Consistency of message  Templates, training and one delivery platform can result in a more consistent message that can be monitored and maintained by a relatively small team
Rapidity of delivery  It can reduce the need to coordinate in-person trainings; eliminated the need to schedule spaces and allow for people to join when needed
Simultaneity of training delivery  It can provide a platform to provide one training to a large number of participants
Ease of update Since all resources would live within a system or platform, it can reduce versioning issues often seen with static documents; updates can be pushed at one time to ensure everyone gets it at the same time
Reusability  Trainings can be delivered over and over again without a reset period; content can be repurposed for other trainings
Flexibility of use  Utilize all of pieces of a platform, use it for all or part of the training, use it for different types of training, hosts modules, pathways etc for different types of content.
Interactivity  Include audio, video, slides, Prezis, responsive tests and websites
Adaptability Depending on the platform, content can be changed (scaled, updated, amended, appended) to fit into other trainings/programs; , provide dynamic content that responds to learners needs

The absolute most important thing you must remember is that these benefits are conditional. They aren’t guaranteed and are heavily reliant on your current resources, your company’s infrastructure, setup costs – including training of internal users and onboarding – and time constraints, among a volley of other factors. For these reasons, content rather than delivery method should be the deciding factor in whether a piece of a technology should be incorporated into a program.

Telling Ain’t Training – Pt 5: Training in a Collaborative Workplace

I’m going to tell you a not-so-secret. Training adults is a game of social circles and politics. At one of my employers, training required a lot of buy in from different groups and participants generally wanted to fell like they were actively contributing to the event, rather than be on the receiving end of a final product. The dynamic can be challenging – how can you have a training if the people being trained believe that they know all there is to know?

There are a couple of things at play here. In today’s business environment, it’s all about your title and your tenure. If you’re not in a management position, it can be hard to get people to follow your lead. I’ll save my leadership lessons for later but for the purpose of this post, we’ll focus on the idea of collaborating with participants to deliver a successful training.

Chapter 8 of Stolovich and Keeps’s Telling Ain’t Training presents 25 scenarios you can use to add practical application to your trainings. I was planning an upcoming workshop around managing student concerns on campus and was excited to try some of them out. I flipped through each of them, eager to try something new. As I skimmed the exercises, I realized that none of them would work for me.

Why?

Because our team, dispersed across 15 cities and 3 continents, knows what they’re doing and they don’t want someone trying to get them to learn something by rote. What this book presents is, in it’s truest form, training. Reading through the scenario, I realized that what I wanted was a workshop. I wanted an event that had true learner participation and had a tangible end result.

I ended up with the a format that was predominantly learner led with me giving confirming and/or corrective feedback and taking notes when someone brought up a suggestion that aligned with best practices. In addition to having participants share out and complete two practical application exercises, I also asked them to ‘help’ me come up with a guide that others can use to apply the standards set during this workshop to any situation.

Participant feedback was overwhelmingly positive and I felt confident that they would be able to immediately implement their learning in their day to day responsibilities. Further more, the deck is available for reference and a recorded version will be made so that remote campuses will be able to provide the workshop asynchronously.