Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

Do you have a favorite word? Mine is ‘inspire’. Inspiration is such an enigma. We all know what it is, but it is different for all of us. And, do we really know where to find it? Inspiration is good at hiding when we need it most.

Inspire is a word that affects my daily life. Almost every day I think about whom or what inspires me and what actions I can do to inspire others. As an adult educator, I’m always looking out for inspiration, mainly because our students need to be inspired.

So, how can we inspire students to continue learning? That used to be a loaded question. But, I have found the answer! I’ll get back to that.

Let’s talk about why it’s a loaded question. Personally, I struggled to find inspiration because, like many of our volunteers, I’m not a teacher. I have a background in fitness (many, many years ago!), interior design, and I have a degree in history. I took classes like Textiles, Italian Mafia, and Mongolian Conquest. Although they were super fun, not one of them taught me how to teach or inspire others. I’m sure most of you took more practical classes (you know, math, maybe?), but did you ever take Teaching 101? No? Then keep reading, because I have it all figured out!

Last fall, I had the opportunity to attend the US Conference on Adult Literacy. I attended a workshop hosted by attorney, author, and Literacy Chicago volunteer, Rob Shindler. He had written a book, Hotdogs and Hamburgers, telling his story about why he became a literacy volunteer. I listened to him talk. I laughed at his jokes. (He was actually a very funny guy.) Then, Rob handed me a signed copy of his book. I had no idea that Rob just handed me the keys to unlock the doors of inspiration.

I won’t tell you all about the book. You’ll just have to read it for yourself. However, Rob’s book really spoke to me. His book made me realize that you don’t have to be a teacher to teach. Rob taught me that there are teachable moments in everything. I suppose I should say that Rob inspired me to see that there are teachable moments in everything. You just have to be inspired.

People learn in all sorts of ways. Sometimes, using workbooks don’t…well, work. Sometimes, that student gets bored and the information just doesn’t stick. Here’s where inspiration comes in. Does your student enjoy sports? I bet that student may learn a bit better if you can incorporate sports into his lesson. Does he struggle with word segmentation and he doesn’t get the concept of saying something in slow motion (in order to hear all the sounds in a word)? Take your lesson to a park (if spring ever actually arrives!) and play catch. He can toss you the ball, and as soon as the ball is released, he starts the word. He can’t finish the word until you catch it! He’ll be having fun, and learning too! And, let’s face it, that’s the best kind of learning!

While Rob’s book opened my eyes, it may not do the same for you. You may have your inspirational epiphany while fishing, or gardening. Maybe you’re a skydiver. Whatever it is you do, remember that Bob Dylan nailed it when he said the answer is blowing in the wind. The only requirement to gain inspiration is to de-cloud your mind and allow inspiration to penetrate.

Courtney Keating, Education Coordinator

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