As part of a job embedded community of practice with the Pennsylvania Institute of Coaching (PIIC), I am currently engaged in a book study of Elena Aguilar's: “The Art of Coaching”. Although I am only 4 chapters in, there is much to appreciate and utilize as both a coach and a teacher. In the fourth chapter, Aguilar asks us to consider applying a series of lenses to our work as coaches. These lenses include:
- the lens of inquiry
- the lens of change management
- the lens of systems thinking
- the lens of adult learning
- the lens of systemic (structural) oppression
- the lens of emotional intelligence.
Although all of these lenses are essential to utilize and look at our work through, the lens of adult learning is the one that is most fascinating to me. Andragogy is a an adult learning theory/ practices that asserts that adult learners and learning are fundamentally different than child learners and learning. Let me state that I am far from experienced, nor would I consider myself even remotely expert on the subject. To further understand andragogy and the lens of adult learning, Aguilar states:
- Adults want to be the origin of our learning and want control over the what, who, how, why, and where of our learning.
- Adults will commit to learning when we believe the objectives are realistic and important for our personal and professional needs.
- Adults need to see that what we are learning is applicable to our day to day activities and problems.
- Adults need to see very clearly the relevance of what they’re being asked to learn.
- Adults need to have some say in what they’re doing.
- Adults need direct, concrete ways to apply what we have learned to our work.
- Adults (like children) need to feel emotionally safe in order to be able to learn.
If you are an adult and if you are an educator reading this right now (and I’m assuming you are) , you are most likely nodding your head up and down vigorously in agreement with the statements above. And no one would blame you if you took these statements and anonymously dropped them into a well-intentioned staff developer, district administrator, or building principal’s mailbox. We have all struggled with mandates and initiatives that have faltered because the above conditions were not met.
But that’s the low hanging fruit here.
Read these statements again with a little twist.
- Students want to be the origin of their learning and want control over the what, who, how, why, and where of their learning.
- Students will commit to learning when they believe the objectives are realistic and important for their personal and professional needs.
- Students need to see that what they are learning is applicable to their day to day activities and problems.
- Students need to see very clearly the relevance of what they’re being asked to learn.
- Students need to have some say in what they’re doing.
- Students need direct, concrete ways to apply what they have learned to their work.
- Students (like adults) need to feel emotionally safe in order to be able to learn.
See what I did there?
It's not that I think andragogy is bunk or that there aren't some major differences between adult and child learning. It's just that when I look at this list, it seems like what is good and right for us as adults is certainly good for our students. Especially when we consider our task is now to prepare students to be career and college ready. In Aguilar’s defense (and I love this book, so please don’t misconstrue my issue with andragogy as an issue with Aguilar or her book), she states the following: “One of the most obvious differences between adults and children is that adults have simply lived longer and had more life experiences...as adults, we have more starting points and perhaps, more things to undo”
There are two truths in this statement. The first is that I believe our role as educators is to provide our students with these learning experiences. To allow them to take risks, try something new, to fail many times, and to persevere, overcome, and achieve. Our job is to provide opportunities that challenge and cause them to stretch and grow. This is what causes character and resilience.
The second truth is that as adults, our great disadvantage is “that which must be undone.” As educators we are constantly fighting old habits and ways of doing things. We have convinced ourselves that because we achieved and succeeded 25 years ago in school, it’s ok for our classrooms to look and feel the same way today. That it’s ok for our students to suffer through the same style of instruction and activities we suffered through because it built character or resilience. Our experiences in school have also convinced us that to teach is to be the conduit for all learning and knowledge. Yet when you look at the statements above, it’s obvious that this is counter-intuitive to the needs of all learners. It’s not about what we teach, it’s about what they learn. Time has a funny way of blurring the edges, forgetting the negatives, and distorting the reality of what it was really like for us as students. As educators, we have a lot of unlearning to do.
Universally we were taught some form of the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When I look at the lists above I wonder why there is such a disconnect between the world we wish to have for ourselves and the classrooms we create for our students? I wonder why we haven’t admitted that the conditions in which we learn best are unique and independent to us as individuals and then treat each child with a similar point of view? I wonder when we will have the courage to stop the cycle of hypocrisy that says “this is what I deserve as an (adult) learner” yet continue to deny those same conditions to our students?