Tag Archives: engagement

Always ready to learn

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”       – Winston Churchill

As humans, we are always ready to learn. Whether it be a new game, how to get results from a garden, ways to best get along with others, or more about a sport we love, we’re ready. Learning is everywhere in everything, but do we recognize it? Do we only associate learning when something is being taught to us?

I feel many students only think learning happens within the walls of schools and classrooms. They believe learning only happens when there is a teacher in the front of the room giving direct instruction. I wanted to check on this from a reliable source, so naturally I asked my son who just finished 5th grade – “Do you think some of your friends feel learning only happens at school? Do you think some of your friends believe learning only happens when the teacher is in front of the class?” To both of these questions he immediately answered “Yes.” At least from his lens, this is true. I fully realize this may be a biased opinion, but it’s compelling none the less. Finally, I asked him “Do you believe that to be true? Where does learning happen? His response – “Learning happens everywhere.” What a proud mama moment.

In my humble opinion, a much greater amount of learning happens when we experience it for ourselves. Natural curiosity is powerful and ignites engagement with new learning. Natural curiosity isn’t fueled by constant instruction. If the amount of learning in life that happens with a teacher leading us is weighed against the amount without one…well, lopsided could be an understatement.

The bottom line – we are always ready to learn.

To me, ‘being taught’ implies that there is a classroom with a teacher leading. It suggests the instructor is in control…hmm…I’m not sure this is the sweet spot in learning. Teaching has its role; however, it should be used intentionally when skills are to be modeled, or probing questions are to be posed. Kids should know that they own their learning no matter where it happens. Outside of school teachers can take the form of parents, other family members, neighbors, etc. But no matter who the teacher is, there is a time to step in and a time to step back.

In the school setting, I watch students in hallways and classrooms. I observe ownership in their learning and investment in the process. They are ready to learn and no one should stand in their way. Consider whether standing at the front of the room and being in control would be a better option than giving the kids the tools they need and watching them take off.

I truly believe that kids (and adults for that matter) want this ownership. We are naturally prepared to learn, but don’t always like being taught. Students come ready to make decisions and mistakes. They are primed to find success and rise to the occasion when challenged. They need their teachers to guide and support them and don’t always need someone else to be in control and take the lead.

Let’s be intentional about when we choose to teach and when we choose to put students in the driver’s seat. Honor the fact that they are always ready to learn, although don’t always like being taught.


Choosing to act

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. -Amelia Earhart

As I watch students work and learn, I pay close attention to the decisions they make. Adolescents need a lot of guidance with decision-making, but cannot be expected to make choices like adults. Meeting our students where they are developmentally and helping them grow will elicit much better results than demanding other behaviors. But teenagers also need space to try out making their own decisions, even if they are not the ones we would make.

Learning is an active process. Our students need to be the ones making the choices and taking action. As an educator, to truly become the guide on the side is difficult – allowing our students opportunities to take risks and fail is not as easy as it sounds. Many times we can predict how things will turn out and want to step in, but the experience can be ruined for our students if we interfere. We have to resist the urge to play superhero and come in to save the day.

This is not to say that we should give up complete control and guidance with our students. But at the moment of failure, we need to behave in the appropriate way. We need to encourage our students to respond themselves. It then becomes an experience of learning, of growth, and of tenacity for the student. So many times failure is seen as the end, but in a  standards based culture of learning, it is just the starting point.

This call to action is not something that our students are used to. It takes practice, encouragement, and patience from the instructor to allow them to find this call. Our kids need to be given the opportunity and sometimes taught how to take action. They have been given extrinsic motivators in their past educational experiences and have no idea how great it feels to be intrinsically motivated.

Once students decide to act, the biggest hurdle has been crossed. They may not choose the course of action we would, but we need to see them out. We need to guide our students to become good decision makers, what an essential life skill! They need to make some poor decisions in the process to learn and grow – this is completely normal and necessary. When they find success on their own, it is so much more than any success we could hand them.