How do we, as educators, create environments where informal learning is supported, encouraged and fostered? What are the characteristics of educators who cultivate fertile learning environments?
As Stephan Carlson and Sue Maxa wrote a few years ago, "The role of teachers and volunteer leaders in non-formal education is to help youth process information on a deeper level and develop strategies for lifelong learning."
Carlson and Maxa offer these guidelines:
- Individuals are encouraged to ask questions and reflect in a safe environment.
- There is active cooperation of the learning and guidance from the leader.
- Relationships and connections are built in order to have understanding.
- The leader creates an environment where exploration and discovery can
take place and youth are safe to construct new meaning and knowledge.
In addition, I believe that educators must be willing to:
- See injustices,
- Act noble,
- Question behavior, thoughts, and words,
- Create learning environments that instill fairness, trust, mercy, humility, honor, inspiration, openness and respect between teacher and learner, and
- Be knowledgeable in quality youth and adult partnerships to open the exchange of learning and teaching.
Informal educators go about this differently than classroom teachers do. Mark K. Smith of YMCA wrote on Infed that informal educators tend to emphasize certain values of respecting value and dignity of human beings, work for the well-being of all, fostering dialogue, equality, justice and citizenship. "In conversation we have to catch the moment where we can say or do something to deepen people's thinking or to put themselves in touch with their feelings. Through this action, learning becomes real."
Youth educators should be committed and willing to see the soul of every individual youth and inspire them to become fully engaged participants of their lives through knowing how to capture on-the-spot learning opportunities and guiding youth through everyday events.
How do you create a fertile, engaging learning environment in your youth program? In your opinion, what does a high quality learning environment look like?