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A Passion for Learning Can Change Lives

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 -- Stephanie Abbott

We know or have heard how an encounter or someone’s reaction can be a life changing moment, even life defining. Are you thinking of yours?

It was destiny that I would meet Jean Shelton. The conversation that took place during a recent virtual workshop was simply inspiring—two educators joined by similar learning experiences and a passion for lifelong learning.

Jean Shelton is a Program Manager at Mid-Atlantic States Career and Education Center in Pennsville, New Jersey. Education is just one avenue used to better the lives of the disadvantaged and underserved.

Her clients are not typical students. Most have experienced setbacks—some incredibly overwhelming—which result in the students feeling rebuffed and abandoned. Jean is perfect for the role of facilitator/mentor. Her own learning experience, which I share with her, enables her to empathize with her clients. In middle school, she felt crushed when a math teacher rejected her approach to solving a problem after she struggled to understand the difficult concept. Jean could have walked away from education. Instead, she turned the rejection into a passion for learning that she continues in herself and cultivates in her clients.

Part of Jean’s role is to assist her clients in discovering their interests that could become a career path. She uses many tools, trying to determine what type of learning suits them best and where their strengths lie. Once the clients know themselves a bit better, she’ll make recommendations for more self-exploration. It’s all about understanding yourself and the endless possibilities that will open with the right education.

Jean shared a story about a young man who had been asked by a college to take a semester off from a medical program because he was failing. It isn’t that he wasn’t smart enough. Rather, he just didn’t care because he was living his parent’s dream for him instead of his own.

Then, he was telling Jean he didn’t have a clue about what he did want to do. Jean suggested that he take some elective courses. He had physical issues that had required many surgeries, so taking online courses was perfect for him. Exploring the wide variety of Plato Courseware’s elective courses, he found digital photography. Suddenly, he was a different person, asking his parents for a digital camera at Christmas. To his delight, under the tree was that camera, a parental surprise even though he had been told it was too expensive. Great parents, huh?

According to Jean, “It was a joy to see him come alive,” as he showed her his first set of pictures created from the new camera, which were a direct result of the online elective course he had taken. As much as we focus on core subjects, this story demonstrates how important elective course are. All students need a chance to discover the unknown passions that lie within themselves. The added benefit of online availability bypasses logistical limitations.

The collaboration between a passionate educator like Jean and a receptive student proves that Jean’s holistic educational approach culminates with more than educational success. Her client has discovered what brings joy to his life, advancing him a step closer to living his dreams.

Even though I now “teach” teachers, I still have moments when I feel that joy educators experience when their student takes the instruction and flys. Jean reminded that once an educator, always an educator, because of the joy.