Why Wait to Learn?



I received an email today. It was from one of my G & T students from this past year. “What have you learned so far?”, she asked. Her question brought a huge smile to my face.

Every year, I mention to my students how much I love to learn. I tell them that my learning doesn’t stop just because I’ve gone to college or graduate school. I’m a life long learner. “What’s that?” they all ask. Then our discussion begins.

We talk about how important it is as a learner to continue on questioning things. Throughout the year we focus on our curiosities and how they can guide our learning. We discuss our brains and how when it comes to learning, the brain can be similar to a muscle. This muscle, like any other, has to be regularly exercised. As we get older it will be extremely important for us to continue exercising it, and there is nothing that compares to learning and critical thinking for keeping the brain in tip-top shape.

Lastly, I mention how much I enjoy my summer learning. “What do you learn?” they ask. Whatever I am curious about, I answer. “What do you do with what you learn?” they ask. I tell them how I learn for me and for them. I like to know about things that interest me. I like to incorporate what I’ve learned to help others learn too. I then turn the tables and ask them, “What if you really wanted to learn about web design, would you wait for a teacher to teach you? Or would you learn about it on your own?”

“Why would a learner wait to learn?”

Listening to their responses, reminded me of an article I had read while in graduate school. The article was written by Geoff Eggins “Teacher Learners: Towards Realistic and Sustainable ICT Professional Development in Schools” in the journal Education Technology Solutions (Issue 41: April/May 2011). I think of it often and the message that it relayed. In the article Eggins asks:

“Why [do] many schools ignore the lifelong learning goal for their teaching staff’s professional development?  Has it been decided that teachers will not be in the profession long enough to warrant teaching them how to survive their future?  Have we made the assumption that teachers have already learnt how to learn?”

He states that teachers need to be shown how to learn so that they can not only stay ahead of rapidly changing technological advances, but to also be self-starters so that they can learn on their own rather than having to wait for the next time they are able to attend a professional learning course or program. This spoke volumes to me. I was on a waiting list at my former district for an out-of-district professional development opportunity. I look back and think how ridiculous it was to wait! I can understand the financial burdens that weigh down a school district and their reason to limit outside PD opportunities. I understand their reasoning to “spread the wealth”. However, this should not keep teachers from learning. We have so much at our finger tips; books, the internet, social media, twitter educational chats, etc.  We have a world that we can explore to our hearts content. Why wait to learn?

Eggins continues to say, how some teachers are sitting back, waiting to be told what they need to learn or to be directed by others. Sadly, this is the model of professional learning that is rapidly increasing in our schools. He concludes that:

“Professional development should teach teachers how to learn, not just how to teach.”

My hope, as a teacher, is not for my students to achieve the highest marks on a standardized test. It’s not to have them gather around me to hear me spew information that I’ve learned. My hope is for my students to become lifelong, self-learners, who take more of a personal approach and responsibility for their ongoing education. I am not talking about graduate school or doctoral studies here. I am talking about a more creative, independent way of learning that does not stop. Personalized learning that picks up pace  when the learner is curious and inspired, when real learning – based on experience and observation – starts happening for them and because of them.