Professional Knowledge

How do Wayfinders become literacy workers?

I recently did my thesis for my master's degree. It was on the participation persistence of students in our academic upgrading program. 

Christopher Prechotko, Cambrian College Academic Upgrading

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I recently did my thesis for my master's degree. It was on the participation persistence of students in our academic upgrading program. One of the key things I found was the students really appreciated that they were in a non-judgmental environment and they weren't pressured to do anything. Consequently, I'm hesitant to impose more expectations on the students because of what I learned during my thesis.  

I have said to my students, “This is how we've been doing things. I've been fairly easy going, and I let you turn things in when you can. I'm wondering if, maybe you want a little bit more pressure to help you accelerate your pace through the program or to just help you move at a more challenging pace for yourself?” Approximately 95% of the students say, “No, no, no, this is good the way we're going right now.” It's enough for them. I do encourage them though, which is different. Most students appreciate that approach. My thesis would also support that view.

Because of all my experiences*, such as working in restaurants, doing an apprenticeship, and learning a trade, I thought that I had much to contribute to the education of students who I was going to serve. I felt that I could relate with almost anybody when it came to education, employment, and life experiences, but when I moved to the island for my full-time job as an academic upgrading professor, it was a culture shock because the island culture itself is unique, proud, and tight knit. It was a shock because 40% of the island is from an Indigenous ancestry, First Nations ancestry. I realized that I still had much to learn. The students were proud of being from Manitoulin Island, and many of them were also very proud of being Indigenous to the land. 

Based on my experiences with students at Cambrian College in Sudbury, I found the students on Manitoulin to be very different. Some were very sensitive. I'm a sensitive person myself, but I had learned to show less empathy in professional settings because of the military, and being a man probably had something to do with as well. I didn’t know how to be effectively compassionate and empathetic in my daily interactions with people. That's something I really had to learn to transform in myself, and I’m still learning. 

*I went to the Royal Military College of Canada and completed a chemical and materials engineering degree. I was in the Navy after that, and I worked as an engineering officer in training. I voluntarily discharged and decided to pursue other things in life, other experiences. I completed a culinary certificate, my Red Seal in Vancouver, and also an organic farming apprenticeship. And following that, I moved back to Victoria, and I completed a combined honors degree in biology and psychology at the University of Victoria. And at that point, I didn't know what the next step of my life was. I had applied to medical school, and I had an interview in Sudbury; I wasn’t accepted, but I chose to relocate to where I was born and grew up: Sudbury, Ontario. I secured four part time jobs when I returned to Sudbury; I worked as a short order cook. I worked as a tutor at the Learning Center at Cambrian College. I worked as a developmental services worker for a community agency in Sudbury, and I worked as a biology professor at Cambrian. 

I have a degree in psychology from University of Ottawa. 

Elisha Stuart, Brant Skills Centre

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I have a degree in psychology from University of Ottawa. Through my time in school, I did a lot of volunteering and a lot of work in customer service which I think has really helped me to work with different types of people and handle lots of different scenarios that come up. LBS ultimately, it's still customer service on some level. So that has done me well.

I wish there could be more public examples of how liberal arts degrees can be practical in the real world.

Evan J Hoskins, Sioux-Hudson Literacy Council and DOI2T

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Talking to a lot of other LBS practitioners, it appears that most are they're hired and begin in the LBS field without any previous adult education experience.

What happens in Sioux Lookout, and I think also in most small towns, is that social services organizations just need someone to fill the role. The best candidate is great, but most of them will go years without filling the roles, so instead they're forced to hire the first qualified person who applies. In Sioux Lookout, I'm on a lot of social services committees, and I've learned that organizations around our entire region are constantly understaffed. They have lots of things they'd like to do, lots of ways they're like to help, but they just never fill the roles needed to do them.

I wish there could be more public examples of how liberal arts degrees can be practical in the real world. I feel like my job as an LBS practitioner and tech leader is a wonderful example of the importance of the liberal arts. The field of LBS makes it obvious that a well-rounded arts education is an incredibly valuable resource. This field requires adaptation and a wide breadth of knowledge, so a degree in something specific like math or science is often very limiting. People who know how to learn, who know about thinking, who know about the world, those are the people who excel as teachers. Knowing the multiplicities of teaching styles is far more valuable than knowing a topic deeply.

Most LBS programs, and certainly our program here in Sioux Lookout, never teach just one subject. We're always teaching everything. And that is, I think, where the connection happens between a fully rounded, liberal arts degree and LBS, because you are often required to manage every combination of topics, even if it's just very basic. And you're often required to manage every combination person and every type of timeframe and do so with empathy.

As an example, Anita (an SHLC LBS practitioner is in Sioux Lookout) can be teaching math in the morning and then helping with refugee paperwork and language learning in the afternoon.

And our SHLC management understands this too. Our management will often say “We're looking for one workable idea out of twenty.” That gives you an idea of the type of freedom we have to play with things, to play with new learning tools and options. That kind of exploratory freedom really relaxes the brain and keeps our team of LBS practitioners creative. There is no pressure to reinvent learning, but there's the freedom to try. We have the liberal time needed to explore ideas, to get ideas wrong. That's the kind of system we run at the SHLC, and it's the kind that keeps me happy and the kind that helped create all of our incredible programs, including DOI2T.

I came to this concept of literacy and basic skills completely lacking in knowledge of what LBS was. 

Nanditta Colbear, Literacy Alliance of West Nipissing

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I came to this concept of literacy and basic skills completely lacking in knowledge of what LBS was. If you'd asked me, I would have probably said, something to do with weight in pounds, maybe. It was an education for me to understand that in Canada we have this type of an agency to support low literacy levels. That was an eye opener. 

It's my first employment outside of for profit. I have never really been involved in working for a charity or a non-profit. When I was thinking about your question about what experience supported my transition, I have always looked at Literacy Alliance of West Nipissing as a corporation, a registered Ontario not-for-profit corporation, that's also a charity. I have treated it like a business, just like my thirty some years of working life in for-profit businesses at an entrepreneurship level. That is where I think our success has been and that is how we've been able to very easily transition the agency to a very successful one. 

This is my third career.

Shelley Lynch, Toronto District School Board

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This is my third career. My first career was in computers for a bank for 20 years. I progressed from programmer to systems analyst to project leader and then project management. At some point, I figured out that what I liked best was the people side of things, managing and training people—but I just didn't figure it out in time to try and get into admin or training. Anyway, I gained a lot of computer experience, not personal computers but business computers, and that taught me logic, step by step. You come out of school thinking you know everything and then I learned—just having to program a computer in assembler code was invaluable.

My second career was to do with health care, so again, it was helping people. I worked with an alternative health practitioner. I was teaching, training, and helping people with health issues, but I couldn't make a living at that. 

Then I didn't know what to do. Somebody suggested I get my adult education certificate so I did that without any thought as to what I would do with it. 

I started volunteering with ESU [Essential Skills Upgrading] because when you reach your 40s you want to start giving back, right? I was just volunteering at night and after a while, the woman said, “You know, you could supply and get paid for doing this.” And I said, “Could I?” After a year of struggling to find my next career volunteering with ESU was the key that opened every door. I truly think the universe was telling me this is where I should be, and this is what I should be doing. I love it and have never looked back. 

I had a great basic education in England, and I credit that. I went to a convent and got a solid education foundation up to 1st year university there, and basically, that is what I use today. Plus, when I was about 12, I had a teacher (not a nun) who was the first teacher who was nice to me. She gave me positive feedback when I wasn't expecting it or thinking of deserving of any because there was a ton of criticism in my life. She's my role model. I would have done anything for her. That taught me that being kind and giving positive feedback is the way to go and I think that fits with who I am. As a teacher, I aspire to be like her. 

English always came easy to me—I was standing up in front of the class reading to them at 7 and 8 years old. Now Math, I had to work at, but I'm good because I did the work.