High Dreamers – Returning to Learning as an Adult
I recently worked with a group of adults returning to learn I.T. Skills. They ranged in age from 20-67 years. On their first day, they were understandably both excited and scared. We teased out their concerns by using a format devised by Alan Richardson called ‘High Dream/Low Dream’.
I asked the group what their ‘high dream’ would be; what would the successful completion of this course mean for them? How would they feel afterwards? How might their lives be different?
The overall sense of the group was that they would become more confident and experience a rise in self-esteem after completing the course. They identified various areas in which this heightened confidence might show itself outside of the classroom: In communications; in overcoming shyness; in cultivating a positive mental attitude; in having a sense of their world opening up; in being more assertive and in the feeling of independence and freedom associated with learning.
Then we looked at the flip side of the high dream, namely, ‘the low dream’ or their nightmare situations. They spoke of failure, isolation, being left behind. Dropping out of education a second time around was their ultimate nightmare. While it was important to look at their ‘low dreams’, the consensus of the group was that their return to education was a journey towards confidence gained through a successful engagement in learning.
Returning to the classroom resurrected many ghosts of classrooms past for them: Bullies in the playground; the voices and put-downs of old teachers; feelings of being left behind during their first experience of learning amongst many others. The group said that bad school memories manifested for them as feelings of stress; of not being able to cope; fear of failure; lack of confidence in their ability to learn and feeling like the bottom of a barrel. Interestingly, one man voiced his fear of success due to the responsibilities or changes it may bring to his life. In naming their fears, the group realised and took comfort from the realization that they were all in the same boat and they were not alone.
We then collectively named the ‘steps to success’ or the repeated actions that would lead to a rise in confidence and self-esteem. These steps included: Showing up; attending and listening; repeatedly putting the foot over the threshold of a learning centre; seeking help and asking questions which would facilitate learning. Paying attention, taking notes and practicing at home would sharpen the saw of learning. Adopting an Obama “I can do this”, “I can and I will” attitude would propel them forward. Mixing with positive people, keeping fit, making resolutions and liking yourself was also part of their formula for success.
This group displayed immense collective wisdom, which I found very powerful. Before the end of the session, the room was filled with hope and an excitement about the freedom and confidence that learning would bring. I was reminded of the words of writer Anne Lamott:
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up
and try to do the right thing the dawn will come.
My heart looks forward with joy to the “Dawning of the Day” for this authentic group of eager learners.