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  • Writer's pictureCathy Sadler

Supporting students in their learning journey - starting from a why

What an honour to have the opportunity to collaborate with The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Dean of Students' Office on how to build an engaging and supportive learning journey for students. This workshop let us consider how we could ensure our students are feeling supported and engaged as they progress through their studies.

Before we discuss the “How”, we began with the fundamental question of- “Why”. Why do we need to create an engaging and supportive environment for our students? To answer this, we need to ask ourselves another essential question: "Why do I come to work every day?" I love using the Golden Circle model by Simon Sinek to guide our thinking as we ponder this overarching question in our lives. By exploring the greater purpose of our work, we then understand that our work actually makes a difference that is meaningful for us at the macro level.

Like putting small mosaic tiles on a wall day after day, what could this mean in the bigger picture? We should remind ourselves to look past the micro day to day activities of our job so we learn the true purpose and value of our work. We remember that we are building a 40-meter-long beautiful mosaic artwork in a railway station to depict the breathtaking South Horizons scenery, and the daily lives of people living along the coast. If we don't know the greater purpose of our work, putting tiles on the wall is just a daily task, a mundane transaction to pay the bills.

The metaphor I used was inspired by the "Soaring Horizon", South Horizns railway station in Hong Kong, completed in 2016 by 120 students from 6 schools with 500,000 glass mosaic tiles.

South Horizon MTR Station in Hong Kong

Our work means so much more than we can see, and it means a lot to others too. Take a simple task such as answering calls and general enquiries from students, if we remain present and endeavor to truly connect, we are actively building the engaging and supportive environment that will, in turn, help them to thrive and have success in their learning journey at HKUST.

Knowing our “Why” is to explore our purpose and the value of our work, then we come to “How”. The “How” is the way we interact, communicate and connect with students, which will in turn lead to our “What’, our unique style that leaves a lasting impression on those we come into contact with.

Here is a great link from Inkmason, demonstrating the why-how-what in their workplace. By designing a small noodle establishment, they can connect to our daily life and dignity, it's truly inspiring, check out this interview.

Inkmason noodle place project explain why interview

To build a supportive learning journey for students, we can start from a small conversation. We use a communication framework for building trust to build our dialogue -from getting acquainted, to sharing facts, ideas and emotions.

So, challenge yourself "What more can I do?" Sometimes it could be just a very simple check in, asking ARE YOU OK? - The impact of one conversation can be astounding. Believe it or not you are changing lives through your work, and you are giving deep meaning to your own lives too.

Thank you HKUST for this amazing learning experience! Thanks to our inspiring participant groups. Beatrice and Hayden, you guys are the best behind the scenes heroes. Thank you Deane and Cecilia for facilitating this workshop.


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