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May 15

Chris Smeaton

What have you learned?

I think it is quite sad that our world is so driven by achievement. What did you achieve this year or what award did you receive or simply what did you get, are common questions that surround us. It is not that I’m anti success, quite the opposite. My issue is that achievement seems to be the most frequent and narrowest evaluator of success. Sometimes, especially in the education world, it is the easiest to measure but does it really tell us what is most important.

As we near the conclusion of the school year, I would like to change the conversation slightly. Instead of what did you achieve, I would like to suggest we ask what have you learned? One of my favorite sayings on learning comes from Eric Hofer who writes, “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Relating to my thoughts, achievements come and go but learning is continuous.

To complement the conversation on what have you learned I think you need to add from where and from whom. In education, I think we have a rich resource of who we can learn from daily. So here is my list:

  1. Learn from the world- It is easy to become myopic in education. Our world can quickly become our classroom or our school or our district. We can become so consumed with the busyness of our own lives that we forget to take the time to see what is around and beyond us. The fact is, there is much to learn from “out there.” Thinking outside the box or learning from the world requires us to first take the box off our heads to see what is out there. Our “norm” may not actually be the “norm.” It is extremely difficult to bring a multiple perspective into your classroom, school or district if you only possess a singular perspective. Learning from the world should both be affirming of current practice that is truly making a difference in the lives of students and challenging on practices that are not. While this could likely be a blog post in itself, suffice to say, learning from beyond your borders is a requirement.
  2. Learn from your parents- How often do we state that parents are the primary educators of their children and then don’t listen to them? I know we own pedagogy- it is what distinguishes us as a profession but parents know their kids! Don’t get me wrong, I know we have “snowplow” parents, ones who cover up and make every excuse for their child but that might be the learning lesson in itself. Parents are a valuable resource to our learning when we listen to and communicate with in order to form a strong partnership. Just because they may not have a teaching degree doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to our learning.
  3. Learn from your students- “Out of the mouths of babes!” Some of my greatest lessons have come from daring to listen to my students. Schools may be hierarchical but learning is not. Students have great capacity to teach us many things…if we are open, honest and willing. Often our learning can come from simply observing them- witnessing their innocence, seeing their fears and frustrations and watching for what excites and motivates them. Our students don’t just come as learners, they come as teachers as well.
  4. Learn from your colleagues- A frustration of mine is when educators either shut their door and refuse to collaborate with their colleagues or truly believe that they can’t gain anything from their colleagues. The days of the teacher as independent contractor must come to an end. In every school or district there exists pockets of excellence and  learning from colleagues will assist in scaling up and scaling out. Education is not complicated, it is complex and requires a “we” not “I” approach. Raw conversations on pedagogy, comparison of common assessments and colleague visits need to become the norm not the exception. Learning from colleagues means you share your expertise and your problems. There is always great expertise within a building- tap into it and contribute to it!

Learning cannot be optional in our ever-changing educational world. We must be constantly stretched to improve and get better. The students we face are constantly changing, the world is ever evolving and change is the norm. Given that, our own personal/professional learning must take on a higher level of priority. What have you learned must be always front and center in order to move success from achievement related only.

As you conclude this school year, ask the question, “What have I learned?”

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