Reaching Out

Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

0 5 11 March 2020

There were times when, as a volunteer tutor, or as an adult and family literacy program coordinator, my learner did not show up for our session. I always felt disappointed and at times discouraged. Sometimes this was because I had spent time preparing for the session and was excited to work with the learner. Other times, I wondered what I had done wrong or if I wasn’t making the sessions relevant and interesting. Often I would ask myself what I could change. I would start to think the learner wasn’t motivated or interested in coming any more. Very seldom did I consider there might be other reasons.

You might have at some point in time signed up for a course or learning opportunity where you had to attend a number of sessions. Did you ever miss a session because someone got sick, you had issues with your vehicle, or something came up that bumped your ability to attend? There might even have been a time when you missed the learning opportunity because you had such a crazy day you completely forgot about it!

I know this has happened to me. It wasn’t because I wasn’t interested and didn’t want to attend but, I missed the learning opportunity because life got in the way.

Why is it I accept the reasons why I didn’t attend but, I have a hard time applying it to my learners? My first thought should be I hope everything is okay with my learner. My next thought might be what can I do about it?

In John P. Comings research Persistence: Helping Adult Education Students Reach Their Goals, learners identified three types of forces that made it difficult for them to participate: life demands, relationships and poor self-determination. Comings listed various factors in each type as follows:

  • Life demands: child-care needs; work demands; transportation issues; health concerns for either family or self; age; time; fatigue; weather conditions; moving; lack of moneyInterview
  • Relationships: family, community, friends who don’t support the learner; fear of letting other people down
  • Poor self-determination: negative thoughts; lack of confidence in own ability to succeed

With so many factors getting in the way of attending a learning opportunity we ought to applaud and celebrate when our learners do show up!

Here are some ideas I am starting to practice of what to do when a learner doesn’t show up:

  • Don’t assume it’s something you did. In most cases, the reason someone did not come has very little to do with us and everything to do with them. It could be any one of the factors listed above
  • Don’t assume they aren’t interested or motivated enough. We too have not always attended every session and will miss due to a variety of reasons, often beyond our control. Recognize your learner has a life outside of your work with them, and sometimes that life can interfere in meeting with you.
  • Contact them. Reach out to your learner by either phone, text or email and let them know you are concerned for them and you hope everything is going well. Respect their privacy but let them know that you missed them. This helps them know you care about them and is part of creating trust and a safe space.
  • Encourage them to come back. Acknowledge their reason for missing the session and let them know you are waiting for when they come back. Some people might feel embarrassed when they have missed a session and, are reluctant to come back. Reaching out to them and encouraging them to return may be what is needed to give themselves permission to come back. Some people need to know there is someone who cares about them and is championing them on in their learning journey. Your support might be the encouragement they need to return to their learning journey.
  • Accept where they are at. The demands on your learner or other circumstances may make it difficult for your learner to continue participating in your learning opportunity. Accept this, and recognize the challenges they are facing that makes it too difficult to continue on their learning journey at this time. Let them know they are welcome back at any time when they feel ready to focus on learning.

When we see our learners as people and we let them know we care about them, we can better respond to their needs. The next time your learner misses a session, reach out to them, show you care and invite them back. Reaching out to them might make all the difference in their life.

I invite you to share your stories and experiences of reaching out to your learners.

Rebecca Still
CLN RSS West-Central

Comings, John P. Persistence: Helping Adult Education Students Reach Their Goals. 2007


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