When teaching adults vocational skills, it’s absolutely vital to have a secure grasp of the material you’re teaching, that’s a given. However, something that is all too often overlooked in adult education is the trainer’s understanding of pedagogy. Yet it’s just as crucial as being an expert in your field.
Pedagogy is the theory & practise behind all good teaching. For me, as a coffee skills trainer it’s not enough to just know a lot about coffee; I also need to understand how to best get this knowledge or skillset across to my students.
In its simplest expression ‘teaching’ is the delivering of knowledge and ‘learning’ is the intake of knowledge. They are closely linked, but distinct processes. An ineffective teacher will inhibit the success of the learner and an un-engaged learner will not retain information, no matter how passionately delivered by the teacher. The student’s success is dependent on an effective teacher, and also how well they’re able to engage in the lesson.
The proof that the learning process has been successful is almost always in the form of a test, or a demonstration that the student can apply the new knowledge independently. This is a universally accepted model of assessing the efficacy of teaching and learning, no matter the age group or the subject. So far so simple, right?
The challenge for teachers arises from the simple fact that no two learners are built the same. What works for one, may not necessarily equal success for another. So how do we, as trainers, ensure that every student we teach is set up for success?
It’s all about inclusion. That means for EVERY learner you may encounter.
How to facilitate success for ALL learners
The students I teach are a diverse bunch; coming to their learning with lots of experiences, strengths and limitations that make them unique. For me, inclusive teaching is not just a box I try to tick, it’s a responsibility to each learner who has the right to be given the opportunity to excel. It’s something I’m passionate about, and I make no apology for holding our industry to account for inclusive practises.
There should be no physical, mental, cognitive, linguistic or any other difficulty that can’t be overcome with some adaptive, inclusive teaching. And it’s easier than you might think.
The simplistic approach to teaching & learning in the introduction makes the journey of successful learning seem straightforward: Teacher spouts out some knowledge, student takes notes & regurgitates the information during the test. Voila! Learning has occurred!
However the process we go through to get a successful outcome can follow any number of patterns or identities. Delivery of knowledge tends to default to spoken or written, and demonstration of knowledge tends to take the form of a written test. But these are not the only ways to achieve successful teaching & learning.
What if your student understood every word you spoke, but was so severely dyslexic they couldn’t read or write well enough to perform for the test? Have they truly failed or could there be another way to demonstrate how knowledgeable they now are?
Being an inclusive trainer means using a variety of supporting resources and adapting your teaching style to meet the needs of your learning. It’s worth investing some time in creating resources or thinking about the structure of your lessons. Imagine the variety of students you might come across and the barriers to success they may need to overcome: Is your current teaching style up to the challenge?
As an educator and a human being I would hate to think a student felt marginalised, unsuccessful, or excluded during any of my courses. Being an inclusive trainer is a mindset we must all take on. It’s an acknowledgment that a human’s default state is not able-bodied & ‘normo-cognitive.’ It’s a dedication to sometimes uncomfortable reflections on my own performance, prejudices and provision; and being open to learning & adapting my teaching style, lesson content & physical environment to better advocate for students’ achievement.
Once you have adopted the inclusive mindset you will already be thinking of some of the barriers to success your students will bring with them to lessons. Accessibility is the practise of ensuring that, wherever possible you make provision to help the learner overcome these barriers – At the very least we should pledge to not make the difficulty worse through an unsympathetic teaching style!
Accessible lessons are ones where the trainer provides learning materials or resources in different formats, styles or languages. Your students may have difficulty with auditory processing, written language or understanding more than one instruction at a time. But if you have pre-empted and provided for each type of learner your lessons will be accessible through written, visual, auditory & kinaesthetic delivery and activities – all can flourish in this environment.
Students with Physical difficulties may need the environment adapted to promote their success. For example, I taught barista skills to a student with impaired motor skills, (potentially a big challenge to his success as a barista). We overcame a lot of difficulties simply by changing the layout of the equipment on the bar & finding some ancillary items to support efficient workflow – simple steps to success!
Now that your lessons offer the possibility of achievement for all learners it’s important that your students see themselves reflected in your teaching resources. As I have said; there is no ‘default’ human so representing all types of learners in your materials is a clear signal to students that this is a space where all are valued and all can succeed. Whether it’s through pictures, names, anecdotes you use to support your teaching: Show up for BAME, disabled, LGBTQ+ people.
A little louder for the people at the back: I cannot stress how powerful it is to represent minority groups!
Paving the path to success
As a vocational trainer I have a passion for my subject & the industry that has encouraged me to this point in my career. I want to see the coffee industry thrive, despite the difficulties we currently face. The absolute key to our growth & success is in attracting and promoting talented people into the field and this can only be achieved if the route is clear. As a trainer it is my job to pave the way & ensure that success is open to anyone with the drive & passion to succeed, no matter the challenges they face. As a coffee lover it is important that I help support and build up our beautiful industry. By holding people accountable and providing support to inclusion for everyone, right through the value chain, we can strive for a better, more inclusive learning environment for everyone.