How an individual chooses to shape their professional practice can take any number of infinite paths. A similar statement can be made regarding how someone approaches adult education, both in theory and practice.
ver the course of my professional career it has been personal experiences as both a learner and an engaged citizen that have provided the greatest point of reference from which I construct strategies and structure learning opportunities to support others. With a goal of serving others with greater intention and effectiveness, my approach in doing so begins with what I know from personal experiences and is informed by the theory I consume, the observed actions of others and through developing a more complete understanding of myself as an educator, leader and individual.
Understanding myself first as a learner has informed my perspectives on education and the actions I take as a practitioner. Feeling unfulfilled by the learning experiences I often encounter, I believe that traditional approaches to education structured upon principles such as the banking concept (Freire, 1979) have not served me as best they could. Unreceptive to approaches which provide little autonomy for self-directedness I often seek out problem-based and experiential learning opportunities to provide challenges and enhance my development.
As I engage adult learners I find myself interacting with them through means which are representative of how I wish I would have been engaged in my own prior learning. Drawing similarities to asset-based community development, a framework which aims to “help communities recognize and map their assets … to mobilize them for development purposes” (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993, p. 8), as I work with learners I aim to build upon their life experiences (Lindeman 1926/1982). Believing that curiosity and existing strengths form the foundation upon which the most meaningful experiences are constructed, my aim is to support individuals as they shape their own learning, development and growth.
Margaret Mead may have said it best when she stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” (Lutkehaus, 2008, p. 261). It is in this spirit that I find purpose and direction in supporting individuals as they strive to create positive change in their lives.
Cautious of the term empowerment as it can often be misused and misunderstood (Gore, 1990) and because I am still in the process of determining the exact meaning of it myself, I am interested in how its meaning and use can support the autonomous development of individuals and communities. Consistent with the work of Prins and Drayton (2010), the learning experiences I feel have been most valuable have been those which provide the conditions for me to define for myself what success looks like and the actions needed to reach my goals.
Believing that it is only when we fully empower citizens—or as a better approach, co-lead initiatives with them (Raderstrong & Boyea-Robinson, 2016)—that communities and society reflect the best interests of all. Similarly, I have found that the most rewarding and effective teaching experiences to be those where students have full autonomy over their own learning controlling, “task, time, team, and technique” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p. 147) related to directing their own growth. Based on these experiences I find myself proactively establishing conditions to empower individuals by providing tools, resources and knowledge to support them as we co-construct learning opportunities which resonate and are relevant.
Consistent with a humanistic approach to adult education, the sense of moral obligation to community which the African philosophy of Ubuntu conveys—“I am because we are” (Tschaepe, 2013, p. 49) is a worldview that resonates closely with my own, evidence of which can be found throughout my work. But, as I take steps to strengthen communities I question why it is that I find a connection to this worldview when I struggle at the same time to find an authentic sense of belonging in communities and professional roles?
If I consider that a search for community may represent a search for self-identity, I see how the actions I take to build stronger communities may be actions taken to construct an individual identity for myself. The work of Tschaepe (2013) proposes that through Ubuntu an individual’s purpose, worth and identity may only exist when placed in context to the relationships they are a part of. That the communities of identity, faith or place an individual is surrounded by shape who they are as defined by the value they offer to the individuals which make up the larger collective.
In trying to fully understand this perspective on forming one’s identity I consider the work Daring Greatly (2015) from Brené Brown in which she notes (p. 231) an important distinction between belonging and fitting in as communities are encountered in our daily lives. In seeking a sense of belonging for myself I have begun to question whether the reason I move from one community to the next, changing roles in the process, is that I am seeking out where it is I truly belong and trying to form an identity for myself in the process.
As my practice evolves across traditional and community environments I look to better understand, navigate and shape the dichotomies which exist in my life. Taking the time to identify and understand the competing elements which influence my worldview helps to continually inform greater self-awareness and shapes the actions I take.
Believing that I am a learner first and student second (Biesta, 2010) has informed how I interact with systems of education. The value, strength and elements of empowerment I find within leadership rather than management (Hanold, 2015) has influenced how I choose to engage others while in positions of power. And, the recent recognition that many of the difficulties I face as a learner and practitioner are rooted in the difference between fitting in and belonging (Brown, 2015) has provided guidance in better comprehending the conditions I require to best support my own growth. Recognizing that a meaningful life and successful practice are never void of such dichotomies, rather than viewing these differences as points of friction I choose to leverage them as opportunities and to find great strength within myself.
While the nature of community is present in many of my actions I find it difficult to admit that much of my professional work takes the form of individually secluded efforts rather than collective community action. The contributions I make while in teaching and community development roles are often made through work that is secondary to my primary responsibilities or completely disconnected from those I strive to serve. This approach has formed through the combination of an INTJ (introversion, intuition, thinking, judgment) personality type where I value independence and can find it difficult to interact with others in social settings (Myers-Brigg, 1962), an ongoing challenge to find a community which I truly feel a connection to and a history of assuming roles that do not leverage my strengths as a practitioner (see Resume for professional experience; see Appendix B for personal inventories). Because I have not necessarily invested the effort required to complete work that deeply resonates I have as a result spent a great deal time completing individualized work at an arm’s length with organizations I feel few connections to.
In understanding that great strength can come from working as part of a larger collective, as my practice evolves I aim to complete work with an emphasis placed on collaborations. Working in partnerships to achieve aspirational goals, I am interested in the collective capacity individuals possess to support the actions of others through their engagement, education and empowerment.
As an often-sporadic practice consisting of three distinct strands my professional efforts have only begun to come together in more recent years. With a goal to merge all strands of my practice into one cohesive body of work I aim to build upon the overlap and complementary nature which already exists between my Community Leadership and Civic Engagement efforts. Focusing my attention with greater care, I wish to weave both the theory and practice of Adult Education into the community centred work I am most passionate about. As my practice matures, I continue to gain greater clarity of its purpose and find myself taking the steps necessary to form an unique identity. With time, I am hopeful that these intentional actions will shape a practice that is not only in the service of others but in the service of myself as well.