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We are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

This is my first blog ever so please be patient with me. I have been a tutor on Blue Sly for the past 15 months as well as teaching and assessing in apprenticeships. I have a diverse working background. I became very ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ ME, a very under researched and unsupported condition. 

I sought refuge in Adult learning as I knew it was a safe environment and I could work flexibly around my condition. I wanted to apply for the co-ordinator role when Blue Sky Derby first started but was still having big bouts of illness and I did not want to let the project down.

I could not have predicted that 15 months on Blue Sky would have featured so heavily in my own health and wellness recovery path that I found the courage to apply for the co-ordinator post for Blue Sky.  In addition to ME I am dyslexic so imagine how stressful teaching is and how that requires very careful management to enable me to work part time hours.

Like many people who experience difficulties I often feel that society is geared to support those that already have ability to work without support. I know that in the work place and in the general population things have improved since I was a child carer of a parent with Bipolar.

The improvements that I am aware of still don't appear to provide a level playing field. We are all still learning how to make a better world. It has been exciting to see famous people do their bit to be open about their own struggles and play their part in normalising something that I think is normal. To be imperfect and to work with our minds to achieve balance, satisfaction and an enriching life while having mental machinery that can work against us at times is very challenging for some people. I am one of those people who have that struggle.

In my teen years I remember thinking this statement was great. “We are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”  I had forgotten who said this and google is only coming up with George Orwell, so I am still no wiser.  I have to ask you to overlook the creationist v evolutionist arguments for a minute while I bring this into the work that we do every day in Blue Sky Derby.

The internal conversation I have with myself is how to truly journey with another person while not being drawn into their pain. It is an ongoing learning process to be able to facilitate pathways for people to explore their own power base and find solutions that will enrich them.

The moments when I stop thinking that I have the answers is the moment when see people feeling their own equal ability to be contributors to everything around them. I used to use the word empowerment but that seems to have gone out of fashion and maybe for a reason.

I no longer see myself as empowering anyone. I can sometimes barely empower myself. I use my knowledge, my love of others and my lived experience to let the people I am working with arrive at their own conclusions, hopefully that if she can do it with all her problems then so can I. Or any other conclusion that is useful and works for them.

With my learners I am open about where I am in my personal journey, without it becoming about me. I remember years ago coming across research that said people who know you have a lived experience are able to trust you and the process more. Thank goodness for that research. Time and again that theory has been born out in my teaching experience while working with people with mental ill health. People have said things like ‘I feel like I can be me because you know what I am talking about, you are not just spouting theory’.

Of course I do underpin my practice with theory but I cannot first use theory to fast track the trust that is needed for people who are not relaxed to relax. Appropriate, timely disclosure can be a very effective tool.

I have been developing areas of learning, like mindful breathing. This is an addition to the usual guided meditation and tense release muscle relaxation techniques I have worked with in the past. In one of my sessions I was became aware that many of the learners there had already done mindful breathing and other relaxation techniques.

They were the experts.

I decided to shift the powerbase gently to them and told them that I was developing my learning in mindful breathing and would they mind giving me feedback on how I did. I took them through the relaxation techniques that I already knew. As a group we explored mindful breathing together.

A wonderful think happened, everyone without exception helped me with great feedback. Everyone was smiling and communicating with each other. The eye contact between each other and to me increased. One of the men pulled out a book on meditation written by a monk and lent it to me. He then opened a discussion about how he only remembers to meditate when he is poorly. This was a great topic for discussion which everyone joined in with.

I had taken a risk to let go. I had so many thoughts, including ‘what if they loose confidence in me? The opposite happened. I was inspired by them to take it a bit further and so abandoned my lesson plan and asked them what they wanted to look at next week. ‘Why do we feel so rubbish in the mornings? was the start of following weeks session, chosen by the learners.

Did everyone feel equal? There was full retention for the six weeks and positive feedback on the feedback sheets. Do we always need to feel equal or maybe it is enough to feel a sense of powerful self. I think that is what I observed. I am so fortunate to be a part of something that does appear to manage and support change for the better, in a way that so few other environments do.  I wish I could be completely altruistic but I have to confess that I get a real buzz from seeing the effect that Adult Learning has on people, there is nothing quite like it.

 

I hope I have done this blog in the right way. I would greatly appreciate any feedback. Thank you.

 

Comments

Thank you so much for sharing your experience of teaching this group Alicia. It shows so clearly the value of lived experience of mental wellbeing issues. As a project lead, I do not get much opportunity to teach, but I will certainly share your blog with tutors at my next training session.

I love the fact that it, in gradually ceding control of the course to the students, you all learned and grew together which, I am sure, helped all of you to develop the resiliance so necessary to being able to function in today's society.

We all need reasons to get up and go to work in the work, and the buzz you get from adult learning is a great one that has kept me going for nearly 20 years, so enjoy it!

Thank you for your words Ruth. I appreciate the time you have given to contribute to my blog.

Hi Alicia

Thanks for sharing this incredible journey - i grew up with the 'all different all equal ' statement which i still use as part of my teaching role and general attitude. It influences how i can support individuals access provision and also stops us from running headlong into providing a 'one style fits all' attitude, which can sometimes be (and often is) the easiest way to plan delivery . I will certainly share this blog with my teaching colleagues and use it to further inform my IAG delivery.

Thank you