For Here or To Go?

"Yes, I'll have that lesson to go..."
“Yes, I’ll have that lesson to go…”

This morning I was out for a jog and something dawned on me: Great teaching is something that sticks with you. That was the start. Then the thought began to evolve.

Is it the teaching or is it the learning? I asked myself.

What great teaching am I carrying with me right now as I pick up the pace?

I began assembling my stories; stories of the great teachers, the great lessons, the deep learning I was sporting as I lengthened my stride.

  • Story #1: The speedskating race. I did my first long distance speed skating race on January 2nd. I completed 15 laps of a 2.1km course in a little less than 2 hours and 15 minutes. Throughout, I could hear my coach’s whisper at each step, “feet together, feet together.”
  • Story #2: Reading aloud. One of my greatest joys as a parent was and still is reading aloud to my sons (aged 20 and 7). My mother surely instilled and inspired this habit in me. Every time I hear myself read aloud with passion, I imagine my mother looking on with pride.
  • Story #3: Sticking with the run I was on. It would have been easy to stop and walk, especially as I was plodding uphill. And there I heard a variety of voices, including my own, reminding me that I could and would succeed because: I know how this goes, I’ve tackled this before, I set the pace, the choice is mine and look at the blessings that surround me.
  • Story #4: The will to keep writing. Several folks have had a hand in this one, yet my thoughts actually go back to two of my high school teachers, Mr. Hawkes and Mr. Nelson, who encouraged me to recognize my writing as a definitive strength and that I should therefore dare to be confident in doing it. That lesson took a long while to kick in (some 20 years, at least). If they only knew…

So as I continued to chew on this line of thinking, I arrived at this: Great teaching, which often goes hand in hand with great learning, becomes great because it has staying power. Great lessons stick with you, are portable and transferable. Over time these lessons can become so uniquely and intimately useful to you as to no one else. This is what makes the learning your own.

I hesitate to draw the connection to education or schooling, because we know teaching, learning and lessons to be so much more, so much broader than what we tend to stuff into our favorite labeled compartments of education and schooling.  So think big and broad with me here, let’s go deep and not linger on the surface. When you consider some of your own great teaching, learning and lessons, both in the past and to come, would you like that for here, or to go?

Personally, I’ll take all three to go with a big side of uncertainty because there’s the catch – we just can’t know or predict before hand exactly what will stick with whom and when. All the same, let’s have the “to go” model in mind when we are serving up our best fare to students, colleagues, and loved ones. They will thank us. Someday.

New learning: a crafting yarn

Yesterday I brought home three new balls of yarn to prepare for my next round of crocheting adventures.  I reconnected with this handicraft skill of my youth just a few short weeks ago.  All it took was an enticing display in the book store: attractive yarns, a nice selection of crocheting hooks and an abundance of instruction books.  Unusual for me, I took the material bait and left the books there.  I figured I’d do just as well looking online to find whatever I needed to get started.


Three beginner scarves later I can say that the digital promise was fulfilled.  But that was only the start.  My soon-to-be 6 year old saw my selection of yarns and immediately seized the opportunity to get in on the act.  He’d been bringing home his own yarn creations from the Austrian kindergarten he attends.  After making the tough decision of which colors, he set to work independently and began creating a three meter long chain by knitting with his fingers.  I asked him to teach me and within a few minutes I was creating my own funky chain. One day later we have three beautiful chains (one of which is actually a snake) and I say, Christmas can come!

The beauty of this experience has many faces: I followed my son’s lead and the payoff was so astoundingly rich. I got to remember how much I enjoy working with my hands and making things for others. It brought me back to the notion of “lifelong learning” and how much more multifaceted it can be beyond the realm of professional development. I chose to renew an old interest and found more than ample resources online to get me going on my path. I can hardly wait to decide on the next creative project! Beanies or bags?  Learning momentum in action.  I’m hooked! (Couldn’t resist that pun…)

The snake
The snake

How we can actually create lifelong learners – a response

Wondering: so is this the answer?

I read this post because I was intrigued by the title. And it was a link provided by Edutopia, so I figured it would likely be worth my while.  Well, I have to admit I was a little disappointed and a few hours later after I thought about it some more, I found myself actually somewhat bothered.

The blog post bears the title: How We Can Actually Create Lifelong Learners and within a  couple of short paragraphs we learn that the author has found the key in his district’s 1:1 iPad program.  The program is in its 4th year and where they previously failed to produce lifelong learners, they now are regularly hitting home runs through the addition of these versatile gadgets which allow them to (finally) offer student-centered learning and to abandon that traditional instruction model of teaching as telling.

While I do not wish to discount the perceived advances achieved with students as seen through the author’s eyes, I do question the assumptions made about lifelong learners, past, present and future.

After lamenting having fallen short of the lofty goal of creating lifelong Learners over the years, he says this:

However, after all these years I now see that we have been working extremely hard and not realizing the benefits we should because the right tool hadn’t been developed yet for the job. I’m now enjoying the most exciting times of my career because I see that the dream of developing lifelong learners can be a reality.

“I was blind but now I see”? Is that what’s going on here? First of all, the presumption that teachers “create” lifelong learners leads us to the wrong river. We may inspire, foster, encourage, or further lifelong learning and learners, but we do not create them.
Concerning education outcomes, much  remains in the realm of the unknown and unknowable. Cause and effect are not readily obvious even if we often behave as if they were. We easily mistake correlation for cause and a particular outcome for the effect. And yet our perceptions are so uniquely and spectacularly flawed on many occasions. (See Daniel Kahnemann on this topic). What we teach and what our students “learn” can be wildly different depending on whom you ask and when. So how do we know which of our students have become the desired “lifelong learners”? What are the criteria? And at which stage in their development can we make that assessment? Upon admission to college? After grad school? When they become the helicopter parents we dread? When can we say, “here’s the lifelong learner I educated”?

Please let’s give ourselves and our students a break. In the quest for fostering lifelong learning in our students, it seems to me that the best we can do is to model it. We need to demonstrate our struggles and successes in striving to become the people we most wish to be. We need to make our mistakes and admit them and be able to move beyond them. To do this means making ourselves vulnerable. We can create student-centered learning opportunities that are meaningful, differentiated and engaging both with cool technologies and without.

I challenge us all to bear this in mind as we connect with each of our students daily. The learning is happening on many levels with each individual in multiple ways. At some point we need to give in to that mystery and have faith that our own contribution to the mix is helping, not harming; empowering, not impeding.