L&D Lessons Learned from Being a Parent (Part 1 of 5)

My colleague Erin Clarke joined our team at Endurance Learning last year. Every once in a while when we’re talking in a meeting or a 1:1, she’ll mention something about her experience as a parent and I’ll respond: Wow, that’s true in parenting and in instructional design!

Over the next few weeks, Erin will be sharing a series of posts that offer some transferable lessons she’s learned by being a parent that can also be used in the world of learning and development or instructional design. Some topics Erin will touch on include:

  • Surprise and delight
  • Poop
  • “I do it!”
  • Try something new

For today, however, Erin begins with a lesson on how context can be everything.

Here is Erin, in her own words:

What my kids taught me about my work

In early 2020, with the onset of the global pandemic, I was laid off from a job in Learning and Development that I loved. This caused both a state of panic and a state of relief. One on hand, I was unemployed and that felt scary. And on the other hand, I felt like I finally had time and space to more fully focus on my “other full time job” of “mom”. At that time, my kids were 7, 4, and 4 months. I felt like I was drowning in all the unknowns and concurrently trying to raise three humans who were equally as confused. It felt bananas. You can likely relate.

But I did it. I woke up every day and changed from my nighttime comfy clothes to my daytime comfy clothes. I supervised online school, did countless crafts, and played with my babies. I had traded my trusty Mr. Sketch markers for crayons, my emails for coloring pages and my team meetings for hours watching Daniel Tiger.

I’d never not worked outside the home before and it felt important to me to not “lose my skills”. So I made it a priority to slowly (think 1 or 2 a month) network with folks I had worked with in the past to keep up with trends and ensure I could stay relevant in the field. One of those early conversations was with a coach friend of mine. She shared that she has often coached professionals who are also parents and encouraged them to draw parallels from their home life to their professional life. This made me curious. Could the things I was experiencing as a full-time stay-at-home parent actually help me in my future career? Could it be that I may be a better employee and manager one day because of my time at home?

Spoiler alert: the answer to those questions is “yes!”.

This is the first of five part mini-series where I share a few lessons I’ve learned from my kids. Lessons that have sharpened my skills and made me a better professional. Perhaps they will inspire you to reflect on things you may have learned “off the clock” that make you a better you in the workplace. If so, please share so we can learn together!

Context Matters

I’ve got three kids. My husband and I joke that we have moved from one-on-one to zone defense. Sometimes it feels like there are kids everywhere and life is loud.

My youngest is now 2. He’s vibrant and charming and very stereotypically two. He also has two older sisters who take great joy in helping him and teaching him new things. One day recently, we were driving to the grocery store and from the back seat he said “Abbott”.

“What?” I said, waiting for the light to turn green and trying to keep my eyes ahead.

“Abbott!”

His voice was a bit more intense.

I had no idea what he was saying, so I tried distraction. 

“Oh, that’s ok sweetie, we will be there soon! Here’s your water cup” and I handed back his water.

“Abbott!!!”

Oh geez. I really had no idea what that meant.

“Yep, drink your water!” Smiling and saying it in a sing-song voice hoping that would be a ‘good enough’ reply.

“Abbott! Me Abbott! Abbott me!!!”

Now he was crying and I was truly confused.

Ok. I’m going to have to figure this out.

“Girls?” I said to my older kids who were also in the car, “do either of you know what he’s saying?”

My oldest leaned over in her seat next to him, picked up his stuffed elephant off the floor and handed it to him.

Oh! (facepalm)

Elephant! Of course. (In case you’re wondering, “elephant” sounds like “Abbott” when you can’t properly pronounce all your syllables yet.)

My oldest kid knew what my youngest meant because she could see the stuffed animal on the floor and saw him fervently pointing to it. From my perspective as a driver, I couldn’t see that. She also had been the one to help him nickname the elephant “Abbott” since that’s what it sounded like he was saying and I didn’t know that. Her perspective and context helped her make sense of the ask.

I was thinking about this car exchange later that day and realized that it is not unlike my work when I wear my instructional designer hat.

When it comes to learning, our context and perspective shape our experience and help us make sense of the information we hear. When we create training, we always keep the learner in mind. What context might they already have? What perspective will they be taking on when they complete this course? Adult learning theory posits that adults learn best when they can bring their past experiences and build on them. And much like what I was reminded of from this backseat exchange, we need different ways of having content presented to us in order to make the most sense of it. Had my two year old said “floor” or “down”, I might have been able to glance there and better intuit what he needed. 

My kids taught me: We all listen and interpret things differently. Good instructional design will bring different ways to learn the content.

Share your experience! What ways have you presented your content in a slightly different way to engage your learner and help them bring context and experience? 

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