I like to learn. That’s a vague and simplistic statement, but true, nonetheless. I’ve been learning my entire life. I love to eat so trying new foods is always a fun learning experience. Learning how to grow different fruits and vegetables, and prepare different dishes is also fun. My family lives in the country and has had outdoor cats for years, but within the last couple of years, I had to learn what it was like to be the owner of an indoor dog (waaaaay more work than owning outdoor cats, in case you weren’t aware). I’ve learned all kinds of travel hacks over my last few years as a road warrior. I can also tell you where to get the best brisket in Texas and the best pizza in Chicago. Most of this experiential learning is fun and feeds a larger purpose of living my life.
Professionally, I think I’ve learned more in the last three years than ever before. Of course, as a classroom teacher, I learned from my students, my peers, and other educators via books and conferences. Then, as a curriculum director, I learned from the other administrators on my team, other curriculum directors in my area, and again from books and conferences. That was also when I discovered Twitter as a professional learning resource and gained new ideas and insight from educators around the globe. But these past three years that I’ve been an educational consultant, I’ve learned and grown more than at any other time in my career. I’m constantly talking, emailing, and visiting with other educators. We share tips and strategies. I watch great lessons and lead the teachers through reflective practice. I hear about what school leaders are doing in their buildings and help them strategize to set goals and action plans. I’m surrounded by other learners on a regular basis. It’s invigorating! Even though I’m in a leadership position, I’m learning alongside and from them. Some educators are younger, some older. It’s less about experience and more about mindset. My favorite people to learn with are those who are also hungry for learning.
Years ago, I read a book that mentioned that if we wanted to increase our physical energy, then we needed to expend energy. Give energy to get energy, so to speak. I think the same is true of learning. As we take in learning, we have more to share –> Learning in leads to learning out. If I never learned anything new, I wouldn’t be able to share anything new. My practice would become stagnant, my impact would diminish, and the joy I find in my work would slowly disappear. I’ve known professionals from many industries who have turned into that person. They used to be passionate about their work, but now merely show up to do their thing and collect their check. They may still be able to be effective at getting the job done, but where is the joy? Where is the impact? Where is the purpose? I think this mindset is especially dangerous in education. If teachers have stopped learning and stopped growing, how can they expect their students to strive for growth? Most educators (even those who are burned out) say they want their students to become lifelong learners. But how can students embrace this mindset if they aren’t seeing that lived out by the teachers in their lives? I guess my question is what happened along the way? Did they get overwhelmed? Bored? Complacent? Was there a lack of commitment and modeling from their leaders? Speaking of the leaders, I have met many principals and district administrators who have no problem spending money on their teachers’ professional development but rarely take the time to invest in their own. The importance of continuous learning must be modeled by every leader, at every level from the school board and district administrators, to the leaders of the classrooms. What needs to happen to keep those fires lit? I think the answer lies in the growth mindset. People stay passionate as long as they continue to learn and grow. Sometimes I don’t feel like picking up that professional book (anyone who knows me well, knows I’d much rather read a fictional novel). I’m not a huge fan of podcasts or webinars (because I’m not naturally an auditory learner). But I choose to do these things anyway. Not always with a gleeful smile, but always with a mindset to learn something. That’s what we need – a dedication and determination to keep moving, keep learning, and keep growing. Then we can share that with those around us, in every part of life. Learning is more fun when it’s reciprocal. Learning in (along with that growth mindset) leads to learning out. It’s a win-win for everyone.