Author: Aoife McCormack

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham H Maslow (1908 – 1970) observed human behaviour and developed what we now call Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As adult educators it is helpful to pause to consider the needs of learners within this context. All of us have basic needs which were neatly packed by Maslow into a pyramid divided into 5 distinct parts. Each of us is on a journey to what Maslow called ‘Self Actualisation’ which is when you are fulfilling your potential. That is as important for our learners as it is for us in our own lives. However according to Maslow there are 4 distinct levels that individuals most move through in order to fulfil their potential. At the bottom of the pyramid are physiological needs. It is obvious that we all must have basic human needs and rights met in terms of shelter, food, water and sleep. However we all can cite examples where learners have times in their lives that these basic needs are not being met and how this gap can make learning difficult. Once our physiological needs are met our next need is for safety. This is very evident in our adult literacy environment where people need to feel secure in their learning environment. They need to be sure that that they are treated with respect, that their experiences and knowledge are valued. They need to feel assured of...

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The Green Ribbon

Each May ‘Wear the Green Ribbon’ is promoted to get people to talk more openly about mental health. It is really important that the stigma surrounding mental health problems is challenged. Having 8 Adult Literacy Centres and providing hundreds of Adult Literacy courses provides people with an opportunity to not only improve their literacy skills but also to make connections, develop friendships, be part of a group or activities. While we focus our work on the improvements in literacy and numeracy skills we can all cite examples of changes in a person’s demeanour and their social skills which are critical factors to supporting good mental health. There is always a challenge for us in education to manage our boundaries when students raise serious mental health issues and we support each other in this. A few months ago while on a walk I listened to (and later watched!) a Ted Talk by Guy Winch about called ‘Why we all Need to Practice Emotional First Aid’. He talks about how we all practice good personal hygiene and understand how important good physical care is but that we are slow to see a health professional when we feel emotional pain such as guilt, loss, loneliness or failure.  His podcast is worth listening to and is available at this link In this podcast he talks about the destructive effects of loneliness, failure,...

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Managing Professional Boundaries

Last September 2016 I attended a NALA event to celebrate International Literacy Day. At the event a speaker from Galway ETB gave a presentation entitled ‘Stay in your Hula Hoop’ … which was actually about managing professional boundaries! She outlined the many scenarios that adult educators can be in that can make it challenging for us to manage our professional boundaries. Her honest stories reminded me a lot of the work we all did together in 2014 when we developed the ‘Managing Professional Boundaries’ document. It was a real team effort with all staff contributing to it through meetings, workshops and written submissions. It is great to see, now 3 years on that the document is being used throughout Kerry ETB and was adapted for use in the schools and across Further Education and Training provision. We all had really constructive discussions when the document was being developed. We could all cite examples of when we felt ill at ease, when it was most difficult and strategies we used. It was through real sharing that we all learned so much. At the time we felt that it was important to develop a document that we could use as a guide to help us maintain our professionalism in a wide variety of situations. The aim was to clarify the boundaries between professional and personal relationships. This document is available on...

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The Power Flower

In literacy we often talk about power. Some of our learners will tell us how they feel disempowered by having a literacy difficulty or by their experience of engaging in the education system in the past. One of our key roles is helping people not only develop their cognitive skills but also their affective skills such as a sense of power, self-worth, self- confidence and identity. In the delivery of our service we have to be acutely aware of the power relationships that are at play and how our role as educators is best delivered by building collective power through collaborative learning and working together. Essential to this process are clear group agreements and clear professional boundaries. In doing this there is an equality in the adult literacy setting; the tutor acts more as a facilitator of learning while still bringing their expertise to the fore. On my Erasmus + mobility on ‘Motivation, Leadership and Interculturalism’  I was introduced to the ‘Power Flower’ tool. Essentially, the ‘Power Flower’ tool helps groups identify how close they are to decision making power in their lives or how powerful they feel in relation to a variety of identities such as race, sexual orientation, social class, religion and spoken language. When we used it on the Erasmus mobility we coloured in the inner petals if we felt empowered in the segment area; if...

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Late last year ETBI and SOLAS launched ‘Support Connect Inspire’ – a Strategy for Technology Enhanced Learning in Further Education and Training 2016 – 2019. It is available on line at The focus of this strategy is on using technology to enhance learning for students in Adult Literacy programmes and all Further and Adult Education programmes. The strategy aims to have a focussed effort so that learners can become more confident in using technology and so that all adult education practitioners become more confident about using technology in the teaching and learning process. As the Strategy states ‘Technology is increasingly part of how we live and thrive in our day-to-day lives. The ‘internet of things’ has become a reality, where everyday tools, services and other objects are designed and connected digitally, and people need digital competence in order to access and benefit from these innovations. In modern education and training, it is essential that all learners are equipped to understand and exploit the full advantages of technology in their work, at home and within their communities’. Here in the Adult Literacy and Basic Education Programme in Kerry there are great examples throughout the county of technology enhanced learning taking place. The introduction of smart technology in some classrooms has helped in this. Tutors have made great use of the technology for teaching, evaluation, engagement and building motivation. Many...

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