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Dec 01

Chris Smeaton

Learner vs. Learned

 

“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

Doctors are certainly viewed as learned. They possess an incredible amount of knowledge and their practice is unique. Their medical degree certainly suggests that they are learned. But how satisfied would you be with your doctor if she did not engage in further learning beyond her degree? Would we not want our own doctor to learn about the latest research, most effective practices and prescribe the best new drugs? It would be unacceptable for doctors to be simply learned, they must also be learners.

The same must be true for educators. Although it is not often  recognized universally, educators do possess a unique body of knowledge that satisfies a professional designation. It is easy to criticize educators because all of us have gone to school but the fact is unless you’ve been in the classroom you have limited knowledge of the real work of a teacher. However, receiving that education degree only enables educators to be viewed as learned.

There was a time in education when being learned was all that was required. We held the knowledge and delivered it accordingly. But today’s classroom is far different and far more diverse than ever before. Now, educators must still be learned to a high degree but to be truly effective, educators must be learners through and through. Just as we would expect our doctors to engage in the latest practices, we must expect that of our educators too! Today’s educators must be lifelong learners throughout their careers.

There are two critical drivers of being a learner in our educational system. The first is internal and is a necessary component for learning to be activated. Attitude! Educators, new or experienced must first have the attitude to be a learner. There needs to be a constant desire to improve one’s practice, to hone one’s skills. This is a difficult task because it requires honest self-reflection on the part of the teacher and high levels of feedback from supervisors and peers.

“Teachers who set high goals, who persist, who try another strategy when one approach is found wanting – in other words, teachers who have a high sense of efficacy and act on it – are more likely to have students who learn.” (Shaughnessy, 2004)

Classroom doors need to be flung open to expose our many strengths and also the areas requiring improvement. While that may sound to be a common attribute for educators, like most people in society, they are not overly eager to try something new beyond their own comfort zone!

“To teach like a professional or teach like a pro, as they say in the language of sports, is a personal commitment to rigorous training, continuous learning, collegial feedback, respect for evidence, responsiveness to parents, striving for excellence, and going far beyond the requirements of any written contract. But teaching like a pro, day in , day out, cannot be sustained unless your colleagues teach like pros too. … “Professional capital is about collective responsibility, not individual autonomy; about scientific evidence as well as personal judgment; about being open to one’s clients rather than sitting on a pedestal above them; and ultimately about being tough on those colleagues who, after every effort and encouragement, fall short of their professional mission and let their peers as well as their students down (p. xv)”. (Hargreaves and Fullan)

The second driver must be support. This driver comes from multiple sources but it must begin with an environment of support. A sense of trust must be established to allow for teachers to step out of their comfort zone. The ability for teachers to “try and fail” and risk take with the use of high yield strategies without the threat of outside watchdogs is central to a supportive environment. The support default (time and resources) tends to fall as a responsibility of the school or school system. There is little argument of that! Schools and systems need to create opportunities, time and resources for educators to engage in learning. It is unfair however, to believe that the school or system themselves have all the means to offer this solely. Additionally, educators must seek out other educators to collaborate and share and engage in professional dialogue about their professional practice. To suggest that this can only occur within the confines of the school day, while students are present is unrealistic.

We recognize that a love of learning must be a goal of any educational system since learners will be those who inherit the earth. We also understand that while students are in school, their greatest impact is from their teachers. They have the ability and possibly the responsibility to act as a role model for the love of learning and the importance of being not just learned but a learner! It is no longer permissible to be just learned! Educators must be learners!

 

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