Roles of the Adult Educator
Increasing diversity in adult education sectors, combined with the often perilously slow to change bureaucracy of educational institutions and policy makers, means that the role of adult educators is evolving to include the need to be agents of changes in order to adequately serve learners.
The Four Rs – Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility
Verna J. Kirkness & Ray Barnhardt (2001)
Current and Emerging Trends
There will likely be an increase in aboriginal representation in adult education; adult educators in Canadian learning institutions need to learn how to support and create effective and positive learning environments with First Nations scholars and adult students.
Aboriginal Peoples and Postsecondary Education in Canada
Michael Mendelson (2006)
New Insights: What new insights have you gained in terms of the variety of roles that adult educators play (related to your topic)?
Researching the topic of increasing diversity in adult education classrooms and discussing it with Chris, my learning partner, led me to really think about the roles that educators play that reach beyond the classroom walls. While in the classroom we are facilitators, but when it comes to ensuring an inclusive and welcoming learning environment we must become agents of change and advocates.
I read several articles that focused on the under-representation of First Nations people in post-secondary education; learning about different thoughts on why this is happening and how to increase representation of First Nations students. After reading a multitude of articles and speaking with Chris, I realized that we cannot wait for the organizations and institutions that we work for to hand down policies and practices designed to encourage inclusiveness. If we want to ensure that our classrooms are student centred, positive learning environments, they must be so for all students. This is the utmost responsibility of the adult educator; to do our best to ensure that no one is excluded, and sometimes that will mean enacting change from the classroom up through bureaucracy instead of the other way around.
In addition to acting as agents of change in the world of adult education, I realized that another role that we play is in support of the greater labour market trends. Chris and I spoke at length about how trends in our field are often driven by trends in the labour market, like skills shortages in the trades. We discussed that we felt we could predict how the makeup of our classroom could or would need to change in order to meet labour market demands, and how we would need to ensure we were providing an environment that would attract the human resources needed to support the economy. As an example, First Nations peoples are vastly underrepresented in post secondary education, and are the youngest and fastest growing group in Canada; in the meantime it is predicted that there will be a massive skills shortage in the labour market in the next decade or so. This information tells us, as adult educators, that we need to work with First Nations to adjust our policies and practices to provide an environment that is an attractive one to First Nations learners.
Trends: What are some trends in your field (related to your topic)? How are you preparing to address these trends?
Some trends in the field, related to diversity in the classroom, are an increase in women in the trades and an increase in First Nations learners in post-secondary. I am preparing to address trends like these by increasing my awareness and education around cultural differences that are brought into the classroom and how best to support them. I think that the most important thing that I can do is work diligently to ensure a student centred experience.
In “The Four R’s – Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility”, Kirkness and Barnhardt (2006) speak at length about breaking down the dichotomy of the instructor or institution as the provider of knowledge and the student as the passive receiver of it. These authors are speaking about creating an inclusive environment for First Nations students, but I believe that the idea of reciprocity is important in ensuring any classroom is a positive learning environment. They speak of allowing oneself to be vulnerable as an educator, to allow ourselves to work with our students to create classrooms and educational institutions that are positive, inclusive, and that challenge the power imbalances that currently exist. So I am preparing by working to be more vulnerable in my classroom, and becoming more aware of and challenging the structures present in adult education that create and sustain power imbalances between myself and students.
Web-Conference: Reflect on the Web-Conference experience. How was it? What was one thing that you learned about from your learning partner?
The Web-Conference, while a little awkward at first, was ultimately quite rewarding. My learning partner, Chris, brings a very different perspective to the work than I do and being able to hear his viewpoints helped me to reflect on issues that I hadn’t thought of. It was also very interesting to talk to someone in a different province and discuss how trends look different and the same between Alberta and BC.
One thing that I learned from my partner was a technique that he uses to mark assignments. He marks from front to back, so that he doesn’t know whose assignment he is marking until the very end. I really like this technique; it realizes that we are all human and that we will always have assumptions, feelings, and hidden beliefs about students and yet doesn’t excuse them. In creating a positive learning environment we have to realize that we are not perfect and will never be – we will always bring to the table our assumptions and our past experiences, but we cannot use these imperfections as excuses for behaviour that will be damaging to the learning (or worse) of our students. By building in strategies like marking from the end, we can come closer to ensuring a positive environment. Additionally, I find that strategies like this provide me with a constant reminder to check my assumptions and biases, and I work towards eliminating some of them altogether.