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Alumni in Action!

22 July 2013

Mosaiko.gr met with Dr. Taylor and Dr. Tsiboukli and discussed their cooperation, the project they worked on, their Fulbright experience and their future plan.

Dr. Taylor and Dr. Tsiboukli, can you tell us a few things about yourselves? What is your work on?

Dr. Taylor: My journey to the professoriate was unusual. Like most "adult re-entry" (sometimes called in Europe "returning" or "second chance") learners, when I returned to college in my mid-thirties to finish a twice-interrupted bachelor's degree, my purposes were simply utilitarian—to gain academic credentials that would bolster my career as a consultant. However, returning to college—specifically to one designed for mid-career adults—helped me to discover what the authors of Women's Ways of Knowing would later term "the power of her own mind." I developed new personal and professional goals—I wanted to foster change in whole systems, not just individuals. My subsequent doctoral research focused on what I now knew to be my calling: to understand and design transformative adult learning environments.

My field is adult higher education; my central focus is adult development and learning with particular emphasis on individual growth and societal transformation. More recently, I have expanded my research to embrace newly emerging understandings of how the adult brain learns and what these discoveries imply for educators' practice.

While attending an educational conference in Athens in 2012, I learned how vibrant the field of adult education is in Greece. I discovered a rich new vein of relevant research and found that my own areas of competence were well received—indeed, sought after—by several Greek colleagues. I was also deeply affected by my experiences (emotional, intellectual, esthetic) at cultural and historical sites during the weeks spent in Greece before the conference began.

Anna Tsiboukli: I was trained as an Educational Psychologist at the Institute of Education, University of London from where I have also received my PhD and then I was able to carry out further research as a research Fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry in UK in the field of Training Mental Health Professionals to fight addictions. I am working in addictions training since 1992 at KETHEA (www.kethea.gr) and for the last ten years I am also collaborating on a part-time basis as a tutor with the Hellenic Open University teaching at their Master's degree programme on Adult Education. In my professional and teaching career I came across several theories and reading and I was fascinated by the work of Robert Keegan who talks about human growth, development and maturation and places emphasis on how mental health professionals need to be cautious and constantly aware of their role and boundaries. This is where adult education meets the work carried out at KETHEA that mainly provides drug-free treatment and training programmes for drug and alcohol addicts, their families and allied professionals. This is also where we meet with Kathleen Taylor, a distinguished adult educator, with an amazing awareness of human capacities and boundaries that adults experience in the process of learning. I was fortunate to meet her in person and not just through her writing and I was very moved by her idea to research the potential of adult learning and education in a context of crisis.

Dr. Taylor, you are a 2012-2013 US Fulbright Scholar to Greece hosted by Dr. Tsiboukli. Can you both briefly describe the program?

Dr. Taylor: My hosts for the Fulbright were Hellenic Open University (HOU) and the Hellenic Adult Education Association (HAEA). (I was not hosted by Dr. Tsiboukli or KETHEA. I was invited there to do professional development workshop/seminars because the topics were deemed relevant to KETHEA's professional participants.)

Anna Tsiboukli: Kathleen was here as a Fulbright Scholar hosted by the Hellenic Open University and this is how we have first met. Thanks to the encouragement and support of Ms. Artemis Zenetou the Director of Fulbright in Greece, I have invited Dr. Taylor to visit KETHEA (Therapy Center for Dependent Individuals) and explore how we could work together in this context. We had an extensive meeting with Kathleen over 3 and a half hours and we could have stayed much more just discussing openly and sharing our thoughts, critical questions, experiences and even stereotypes on adult education. It was one of the most fruitful dialogues I had the chance to experience and a very refreshing and stimulating meeting where we shared practically all our thoughts and experiences from family life, to politics, stereotypes and the role of adult education at crisis times. We have agreed at that meeting that we would like to have Kathleen share her work especially in relation to the ageing mind and the ways this could affect learning with a team of very experienced adult educators working for KETHEA and get their feedback. Applying this 3 hours programme with lectures and experiential learning activities, which was received with great enthusiasm from the audience, we have agreed to run another three hour session. I was a student at this session and I have to admit that Kathleen managed to make me leave the session with critical questions and creative ideas in mind, to take with me at home. As an adult educator I tend to be more critical and resistant in adult training session but Kathleen Taylor is so resourceful, creative and skillful to truly engage adults in learning and build meaningful relationships. The immediate thought was to repeat the session for a larger group of audience and not to let this opportunity go. As adult educators we are highly aware of the impact of the relationship between adult trainer and trainees. Obviously other people in the session felt like me with the result being to receive about 100 applications from mental health professionals, adult educators, teachers and students who wanted to listen to what Kathleen had to say. We planned the session for 30 people and to be honest we have expected more applications but reality exceeded our expectations. Kathleen fortunately agreed to run the session for 50 people and I am afraid that we had to disappoint many people.

In what way have you applied your innovative practices into work?

Dr. Taylor: I am fortunate that my research interests—adult development and learning—can be part of my everyday work as a professor. In effect, my classroom is my laboratory. Both what I teach and how I teach are constantly informed by my ongoing researches into how best to foster the kind of learning that can (literally) change adults' minds—and therefore positively affect their families, communities, and society.

It's important to note that such changes do not imply indoctrinating them or in any other way imposing on them my own beliefs, assumptions, or ways of thinking. Rather, it means enlarging their capacity to see themselves and the world around them in more complex ways. This greater complexity of mind enables adults to respond more effectively to the increasingly difficult challenges posed by modernity. As Einstein said, "we cannot solve today's problems with the same thinking that created them."

Therefore, in addition to course content (the "what" of learning), I focus on process (the "how"). In keeping with the overarching constructive-developmental framework that informs my practice, I teach in ways that encourage adults to make meaning, rather than simply accept meaning that I or another authority has packaged for their consumption (i.e., Friere's "banking method" of education). This philosophical approach is apparently being confirmed by the new research on the brain and learning. In essence, for learning to be lasting and meaningful, the student must be able to associate the new knowledge with what he or she already knows. This underscores the importance of using active learning approaches that invite students to fully and experientially engage with the subject matter while also surfacing—and perhaps, challenging—their existing assumptions.

Anna Tsiboukli: Innovative practices in training adult learners and especially those coming from socially excluded groups include needs assessment, networking, team work, making proper use of trainees personal experiences, even the negative ones, in the learning process, experimenting and piloting new types of training programmes, maintain freedom, creativity and an open dialogue and above all pursue a specific goal. The most significant and innovative programme we run right now at KETHEA is addressed to 150 former addicts and hopes to train them in order to develop their own small business. We are still in the beginning but with the collaboration and networking with other important key players we hope to be able to achieve our goal in the first Semester of 2014.

What is next for both of you?

Dr. Taylor: With two long-time collaborators, I am embarked on a book that explores how understanding adult brain function can inform adult educators' practice. When I present our workshop on how to construct "brain-friendly" adult learning activities, I ask participants to send me details of any changes they make in their practice that result from the workshop experience. If we include their example in our book, we would name the contributor.

I also plan to remain in contact with Greek colleagues who have asked how to broaden their approach to teaching and learning in these new ways. Though I understand that the Greek educational system at all levels is very much geared to "teaching to the test," I hope to engage in dialogue about more innovative teaching approaches that can still satisfy that essential requirement.

Anna Tsiboukli: I have to continue facing the enormous challenges economic crisis has imposed in the area of training mental health professionals in Greece and also support a large group of 150 former addicts through training and education in order to be able to develop their entrepreneurship skills and set up their own small business as a way of fighting unemployment, social exclusion and relapse into drug taking and criminality. Thankfully KETHEA has a long standing relationship with Fulbright Greece and from 1998 until today with the Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego in training mental health professionals. We were able to build up and sustain this relationship after visiting US based programmes on addictions during an international visitor programme in 1996. We hope to be able to continue this significant work in the future and receive and host more Fulbright scholars in our services. We have also made a promise with Kathleen to stay in touch and I am sure that we will because the challenges ahead in adult education are far too many to cope without fruitful collaborations.

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