Learners Stepping Out of the Shadows

Val Rathjen, Community Learning Network

0 0 24 January 2023

There has been a recurring theme popping up over and over for me—the importance of story. Stories are a way of sharing knowledge, truth, laughter, pain, and so much more. I love to hear people’s stories as this is where we learn about what matters to them; the events and experiences that changed or challenged them to dig deeper.

Every culture, community, family…has their stories. Tales that celebrate a success or commemorate a tragedy are narratives that remind us of shared experience or personal change. Stories help us relate to one another as well as find common ground and empathy.

Our “culture” of learning is filled with stories, and in my time working in my local CALP I heard many. There were learners that had incredible tales of leaving their homeland and choosing to settle in rural Alberta so their children would have opportunities and freedoms they didn't have before. There were people excited by the possibilities that new understanding would unlock for them. There were also those who came with a narrative of discouragement and failure. “I was never good at school ….”, “Learning is really hard for me”, “I just can’t seem to ….” Their rehearsed scripts of disappointment challenged the possibility of success even before they began.

person with shadow
Photo by Haley Lawrence on Unsplash
“If you tell yourself you’re not good enough, you’ll stand in your own sunshine and cast shadows over your superpowers.” Ozan Varol

So, what can we do? How can we help gently edit the story to include hope and possibility? One of the greatest gifts we can give learners is to shine the light of possibility and encourage them to step out of their own shadow. Here are a few ideas to consider:

• See them.
Don’t jump to quick conclusions or assumptions, we are all so much more than what first presents. Over time we can uncover the daily challenges that people are facing and recognize that these may impact their learning in all sorts of way. Allowing for the good, the bad and the in-between will allow for authentic relationships and learning to thrive.

• Hear them.
Try not to jump instantly into fixing or solving, but really listen. Remember that often the first thing is not the real issue, or at least not the sum of all the pieces. Try to quiet that voice inside your head that wants to dive right in with a plan or advice. Take another sip of tea, sit quietly, and wait. Silence is not your enemy; it often allows room for the real essence of things to become clear.

• Value them.
Take time. Acknowledge the struggles, but also try to uncover the strengths and then celebrate them! Brain research tells us that celebration is a great way to re-wire our brains to new habits and learning.

• Provide action that leads to evidence.
Working towards a meaningful goal always has steps along the way where learning or action happens. Help them break down their goals into bite size pieces. This makes the journey more manageable as it provides the opportunity to restart every single day, if needed, and allows for lots of celebrating! When there is success, that provides the evidence that change and learning are possible. Every bit of evidence helps rewrite those negative stories and plants the seeds for the next achievement.

These are just a few ideas of ways to help learners step into the light of their own story.

If you haven’t already had a chance to check out this month’s CALP Connections Newsletter (https://calp.ca/newsletters), I’d encourage you to read CLN Board Member, Cindy Heidecker’s, opening message. In it, Cindy shares this powerful quote:

“Beating yourself up doesn't make you stronger. It leaves you bruised. Being kind to yourself isn't about ignoring your weaknesses. It's about giving yourself permission to learn from your mistakes. We grow by embracing shortcomings, not punishing them.” Adam Grant

She also goes on to share, “We see bruised learners walk through our door. The CALP philosophy of providing warm and welcoming space assists learners through the process of being kind to themselves. Together CALP staff and learners identify where they are at in their learning journey and where they want to be. This is all part of the lifelong learning process...Celebrate the learners that you have witnessed move from beating themselves up to embracing their shortcomings and hold space for those that were not ready yet...Cheers to the work that each and every one of you does to give your students permission to learn from their mistakes, not punishing them!”

Such powerful and true words!

I invite you to share your thoughts and ways you’ve helped learners step out of their own shadows. Let’s share the journey and celebrate the amazing work happening all across the province.

Keep planting those seeds of possibility and, line by line, stories of hope, resilience and success will be written!


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