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Who needs a biography for training? or educational Pandora's box

06/09/2018
by Monika Sulik
Language: EN
Document available also in: PL FR DE RO LV

"Pandora's box is still full of surprises that the fate has in store for us. So what is there left for us to do? You need to maintain the immense fascination, move forward and enjoy everything that happens to you. Sometimes, you will have good fortune, other times not so good, at least at the first glance. Yet, all our experiences make our history, which is very personal and unique. The only of the kind, in fact. I try to stay aloof and observe my life as if it was a plot of a good novel - full of flavour, action, and adventure. And I can only hope that the book proves to be a long one"...


 {A fragment of Remigiusz’s biography entitled "Pandora's box"}

I remember, back at school when we analysed the myth of Pandora, I was convinced that it was the insatiable curiosity and disobedience of the woman that brought all the evil and maladies to this world. At that time, no other thought or interpretation came to my mind. It was quite recently, during a workshop with students of andragogy, that I had a moment of enlightenment or rather experienced a Copernican revolution. One of the training participants, as part of a final project, presented his biography in the form of a Pandora's box, and thus showed me a much different and broader interpretation of the myth. Because what actually Pandora's box is? There are several versions of the myth, but to me, the most appealing proved to be the one, which I had not been familiar with. It has it that in addition to all disasters and suffering stored in the jar, at its bottom there was hope, placed there in accordance with the will of Zeus. At that moment, it was for the first time that I thought that Pandora's great curiosity, which in accordance with prescribed interpretation is criticised, was, in fact, one of the most important and natural reasons for learning and exploring the world. It cannot be denied that learning requires much courage from us, as it is often associated with risks, challenges, and threats. So, in other words, it calls for leaving the comfort zone.


This is how the metaphor of Pandora's box served for me as an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the biographical approaches to work with adult learners during training, workshops or other educational events. At this point, I would like to stress that I understand learning and education as a continuous, natural process, which covers all aspects of adult life and takes place as part of formal and informal education and learning by doing. I quote after P. Dominice that education and training are lifelong processes, which relate to the everyday lives of individuals. They involve complex situations related to the development of personality and shape the identity of individuals (P. Dominice, 1994).

So why use the Pandora's box in biographical approach and why is it important for adult education and training? Well, there are several reasons for that, but two arguments seem the most convincing to me:

  • first of all - the biographical approach has recently enjoyed a renaissance and great popularity, which is best reflected by numerous publications, workshops staged using this method and didactic activities based on biographical experiences of training participants;
  • secondly - there are many people who stand in opposition to those fascinated by the possibilities, which the method offers, and voice disapproval or advocate prudence resulting from the fact that this method involves personal or even intimate experiences, and not everyone may be willing to share them. Such an approach also requires a climate of trust and a sense of security. This is why when using the approach during classes, you should always remember the voluntary character of participation in such classes and absolutely respect their privacy.

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Due to the fact that I am a big fan of this method and using it in work with adults, at this point, I would like to focus on the bottom of the mythical Pandora's box, i.e. opportunities, odds and hopes that, in my opinion, the biographical approach brings. Work with using this approach made me realise the role, importance, and impact, or in other words the functions that building your biography may involve:

1) From a personal and individual perspective:

  •      expanding knowledge about yourself and your past;
  •      exploring your personal and social identity;
  •      an opportunity for reconstructing your image and self-esteem;
  •      integration with family and friends (work often involves the help of close ones);
  •      discovering and developing individual talents;
  •      an opportunity to verbalise your dreams, plans, and expectations;
  •      an incentive to reflect on yourself, the world and other people;
  •      therapeutic function (journey into the past often allows to free yourself from bad memories or at least to find consolation).

2) From the perspective of a training or education process:

  •     identifying educational and development-related needs of individuals participating in training or classes;
  •     an opportunity to integrate the group;
  •     inspiring and motivating participants to formulate personal educational and professional goals thanks to analysing the biographies of people successful in a given field;
  •     an opportunity to present personal talents to the group;
  •     stimulating the creativity of participants and unlocking their creative potential;
  •     emphasising the role and importance of memories in the life of each human being;
  •     an opportunity for the trainer or teacher offering training to reflect on their experiences.

It is an undisputed fact that encouraging reflection on carrying out a personal biography project is a major challenge. And below you can read a very suggestive report of a student who was given a task to prepare a personal biography in the framework of the project entitled Biographical life map (which I will present soon):

"Getting started is the most difficult task (...). When I first heard what I was supposed toto, I was really pleased. Something new, at last, I thought. Feeling euphoric that finally, I would have an opportunity to sit down and think about who I am and where I am right now, I started to ponder… what to write down. Then, doubts appeared if I could give something myself when all my work was based on replicating other people's thoughts and quoting individuals who were wiser than all the people I knew put together. No, this wouldn't work. I do not know where to start and on top of that, I have lost heart to this task. Dozens of comparisons to the things that I love were running through my head (...) So what to write about? Over the past ten years, I have focused on the same things: regulations, comments, specialist literature, no escape, as I have no time for that. Unfortunately, this does not translate into a profound knowledge or excellence, we all strive for. So, where am I and where am I heading…?"

In my opinion, asking this very question carries great educational and developmental value with it. In my opinion, tasks and projects related to the use of biographical experience of participants are not only a great catalyst for memories and opportunity to reflect for the authors, but also for the readers of biographies. Here I mean andragogues, coaches, educators, pedagogues, teachers and mentors who thanks to this method not only can better understand the individuals they work with, but also can find a path to an exceptional and unique understanding with them, and they themselves will feel emotions and will be touched by those biographies, and most importantly, will have an opportunity to reflect on or maybe even redefine their own experiences. I went through this process and must admit that this was an unrivalled experience.

translation: NSS Poland

dr Monika Sulik – an assistant professor, academic teacher. She teaches an author class in Biography in Education. A certified coach and academic mentor. Since 2018, the secretary of Edukacja Dorosłych (Adult Education) periodical. An EPALE ambassador.

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  • Monika Proksz's picture
    Bardzo dobry artykuł , pomaga zrozumieć motywy działania nauczyciela jak również wykorzystać zawarta wiedzę w przyszłości . Dobre podejście do człowieka może wyzwolić w nim  jego skryte głęboko pragnienia.
  • Simona Čaupala's picture
    Thank you for this article, it really helps understand the motives of the teacher's activities. The method would be described as very useful for both sides. The educator gets to know the adults or students better so that they can evaluate how to further develop the process of learning.
  • Rūdolfs Pāvulēns's picture
    Uzskatu, ka biogrāfiskā metode ir labs veids, kā izprast sev apkārtējos un pašam sevi. Ne vienmēr vajag to pierakstīt, taču galvā iziet cauri raksturīgākajiem punktiem. Uzskatu, ka tieši mūsdienās šī metode tiešām būtu jāizmanto, jo cilvēki ir atklātāki, kā nekad. 
  • Jolanta_ Zastavnaja_'s picture
    Šo metodi raksturotu kā ļoti noderīgu abām pusēm, proti, pedagogam un pašiem pieaugušajiem mācību procesā. Pedagogs iepazīst labāk pieaugušos, lai varētu izvērtēt kā turpmāk sekmīgāk veidot mācību procesu. Savukārt pieaugušajiem tā ir iespēja piedalīties mācību procesā caur savu pieredzi. 
  • Małgorzata Mazurek's picture
    Jakiś czas temu szukając remedium na sakramentalne "tell me something about yourself" będące zmorą nauczycieli i uczniów kursów języków obcych, które jak inne sakramentalne "I do" musi paść na każdych pierwszych zajęciach językowych natrafiłam na sposób wykorzystania storytellingu do opowiadania o sobie, czyli jak się okazuje na metodę biograficzną stosowaną w marketingu czy biznesie, żeby w niesztampowy sposób zainteresować sobą potencjalnych pracodawców, kontrahentów, klientów. Dobra historia, autentyczność i emocje to coś co zawsze przyciąga uwagę czytelników czy słuchaczy i coś czego poza językiem warto uczyć jako umiejętności przydatnej w życiu również podczas zajęć języków obcych.
  • Monika Sulik's picture
    Małgosiu sama pamiętam zajęcia językowe gdzie miałam powiedzieć "something about my self" - ale dobrze to wspominam :) ... Mówienie o sobie to tak naprawdę naturalna potrzeba człowieka, która może okazać się niezwykle ważnym momentem dla nauczyciela czy edukatora..jeśli tylko oczywiście zechce i ma kompetencje by  ją wykorzystać do celów edukacyjnych.  
  • Beata Jurkowicz's picture
    Zauważyłam, że wykorzystywanie biografii podczas szkoleń staje się coraz bardziej popularne. Wprawdzie nie każdy trener nazywa to wprost, ale często odwołuje się do biografii uczestników.
  • Monika Sulik's picture
    To prawda, w ostatnim czasie dostrzega się coraz bardziej wartość osobistych narracji, oraz ogromny potencjał, który z sobą niosą na wielu płaszczyznach. 
    Doświadczenia jednostki oraz nadawanie im osobistych znaczeń właśnie poprzez możliwość opowiedzenia o sobie i swoim życiu, w swój unikatowy sposób, jest też fantastyczną przestrzenią realizowania swojej podmiotowości. 
    Bardzo doceniam dzielenie się doświadczeniami na temat metod pracy oraz odkryć w tym zakresie, przez różne grupy osób pracujących z dorosłymi. To wspaniałe i niezwykle wartościowe źródło inspiracji :)  
  • Barbara Szymańska's picture
    Chętnie poczytałabym więcej na temat sposobu w jaki korzysta Pani z tej metody. Mam nadzieję, że jeszcze będzie ku temu okazja? Z mojego doświadczenia pracy z grupami o charakterze rozwojowym wynika, że odwoływanie się do osobistej historii prawie zawsze wywołuje głębokie poruszenie i duże zaangażowanie. Szczególnie lubię osobiście spoglądanie na historię osobistą jak na historię mityczną właśnie. Umożliwia to zyskanie dystansu, ujrzenie siebie w kontekście tej historii z zupełnie innej niż codzienna perspektywy oraz identyfikację ciekawych wzorców wokół których organizuje się nasze życie.
  • Monika Sulik's picture
    Dziękuję Pani Barbaro za zainteresowanie tematem oraz podzielenie się własnym doświadczeniem :) Jestem ogromną entuzjastką metody biograficznej i z pewnością napiszę więcej o realizowanych projektach i warsztatach biograficznych. Jestem zachwycona uznaniem potencjału edukacyjnego i rozwojowego metody biograficznej. Czytając komentarze - tutaj i na Fb, czuję jak rośnie mój entuzjazm by zorganizować spotkanie - seminarium umożliwiające wymianę doświadczeń edukacyjnych, trenerskich, szkoleniowych itp. w tym zakresie   Co Pani o tym myśli? Łączę serdeczności :)