Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, p. 29-30
The purpose of the Capital Mental Health Association’s Education Coaching program is to provide information that assists and supports consumers to become successful students in the learning environment of their choice. Through the program, consumers articulate their educational wishes and develop plans to meet their goals. They then find appropriate courses and facilities, connect with support services available in both the community and schools, fulfil prerequisites, register for courses and programs and secure funding.
Consumers who are not interested in formal academic education or training develop independent learning plans, so they may study topics as diverse as music, chemistry and spelling, or develop individual creative strengths and natural talents for writing, poetry and visual art. Independent learning plans may be supplemented by group meetings, weekly tutorial drop-ins, or by individual meetings with the education coach. Generally the Education Coaching program at CMHA provides ongoing education support, tutoring, individual instruction and learning groups for clients engaged in formal learning or independent learning plans.
For an education coach, the important issue to address is not the intellectual ability of consumers to participate in postsecondary learning, but rather the ability of educational institutions and mental health services to respect the requirements of individual consumers who wish to be successful students. The attention and accommodations that consumers require are as individual as the people themselves, and people with a range of personal histories and experiences and a variety of diagnoses access the program. Young adults return to interrupted education; working people change careers; writers and poets emerge. Men and women who once believed they were forever shut out of post-secondary education become successful students in all sorts of settings, including school districts, community colleges, private colleges, distance education, university and independent learning programs.
People who experience symptoms of psychiatric illness and/or receive psychiatric treatment need lots of time to access information, to think about what they would like to do, to make plans, to establish support networks and to take the necessary steps to enrol in school. They also need opportunities to reassess their needs and wishes throughout their educational experience. Consumers who withdraw from programs or courses because of illness — or simply because they change their mind — need support to ensure that if they decide to try again, that is a safe option for them, both psychologically or financially.
To be an effective education coach, I have learned to celebrate diversity and differences. In doing this, I rely upon the values of social justice and equality of opportunity that are the foundations of adult education. Consumers are citizens first.
They are also self-directed adults with individual learning skills and strengths. They have the civil right to access and participate in an enormous range of courses and programs, in a variety of presentation forms, that address learning choices from basic literacy to post-graduate studies.