Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Teacher as Learner

Western culture seems to have adopted the notion that, once we study enough to be awarded a degree, we have achieved a pinnacle and have no need to return to the classroom for any more learning. The learner has become the teacher, the expert.

Actually, as many have realized, when we stop learning, we stop growing. That sobering thought has been turned on its head with several "lifelong learning" programs, such as the collective efforts across the United States known as OLLI.

Beyond that, though, many teachers now know the way to keep their approach fresh is to continually be learning, themselves. That's why I've always valued conferences and institutes: when we expose ourselves to new ideas, we grow and improve.

Last week, I experienced a week full of learning. Of course it was inspiring, and I rode on that high for quite a few days. But now, it's time to apply what I've learned. I've gathered up my notes on one particular applied learning session and tried my hand at producing a hands-on learning exercise for my own students. Untried, untested—at least by me, the perpetual genealogy guinea pig—this experiment in learning the techniques of family history research will be launched in my classroom later today.

How it will turn out, I have no idea. That's where I become the learner: I will learn by my students' success...or failure...at demonstrating that they grasp the concepts we've been discussing. Nervous? You bet! This will all be exhilarating fun, or an excruciating flop. The key to the real learning—at least for this teacher—will be in the feedback received after the close of the exercise. Did it help? Was it confusing? What would make the effort more clearly understood? How can it change for the better?

Those are the test questions for this learner. The feedback loop will hopefully lead to improved quality for the next attempt. And the teacher-as-learner will be brave enough to repeat the learning cycle once again.


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