Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How Do You Learn?

I make it a habit each summer to try new things and to put myself in situations in which I will inevitably grow as an educator. This summer I made a very important decision. I decided to change the way I learn. Up until this point in my career, much of my knowledge derived from the latest educational best seller or from local conferences.  
With a little hesitation, but much curiosity, on June 13, I made the decision to join Twitter. Within only weeks, I was thinking, learning, and growing among some of the best educators on earth at all hours of the day. I was learning more from 140 characters than a 140 page book. Through encouragement from my new PLN, I began sharing my own reflections on my new personal blog along with participating in stimulating hangouts through Google+. I've come to the conclusion that modernizing the way I learn has undoubtedly changed and improved the way I lead. 

One of my favorite new ways to learn is through #Edchat, a thought provoking forum made up of educators around the globe. Recently, the following tweet caught my curiosity.

"Change how you learn first. Once you change, you won't be able to go back to teaching the same old way." ~ Stephen Downes
As leaders, how can we get teachers to change the way they learn? How do we get teachers to remain intellectually curious both inside and outside the classroom throughout their teaching careers? As a leader, the least we can do for our teachers is to stimulate a curiosity for learning.  Here are five ways in which I believe we can strike up a curious conversation.
As leaders, we should...
  • Recognize what our teachers want to learn, as well as, what they need to learn. Then, make an effort to spark their curiosity.
  • Keep teachers in their uncomfort zone. Ask the right questions and want to hear their answers. “How” and “why” and “what if” questions will stretch the boundaries of their minds.
  • Assist teachers in looking at instructional challenges from a variety of angles. By discovering alternative ways of accomplishing the same problem, the teacher will learn a pool of possible solutions.
  • Commend good mistakes when risks are taken, mistakes are made, and lessons are learned. Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Urge teachers to take the time to practice what they learn. Curiosity without initiative does not translate into results.
Curiosity can steer us into places we never thought we could go and many times we return with leading-edge knowledge. I truly believe the more you learn, the more you will want to know. A little curiosity and a new way of learning can prepare our teachers to thrive in the ever changing environment that we face every day.
Cross-posted at http://www.connectedprincipals.com


  1. Like you, I've embraced Twitter and other Internet venues as efficient, thought provoking and productive learning vehicles. I like the way you frame this as a new way of learning. It's a good way to discuss PLN possibilities with both colleagues and students. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Maureen for commenting. Information is doubling every two years, as a result, we must continuously rethink the way we learn. The more we learn, the more we want to know! I'm constantly reading blogs and sharing with my PLN. Thank you for being apart of my professional learning network. It's fun thinking, learning, and growing together!

  3. We tend to be creatures of habit and if something works, we don't want to change it. Unless something happens that causes us to search out the new and different, we tend to stay with what is comfortable. For me, it was a particularly difficult year topped off by a principal who was less than encouraging. I was desperate to find clarity and confirmation of what I believed in my bones was true about education and a fuel for the passion I have always had for learning. Not only did I find other professionals that resonated my educational beliefs and passion in their tweets and blogs, but I was challenged to continue to grow by adding new schema to my thinking. Creating an environment of need without bringing people to the brink of despair is key. I didn't know I needed a PLN that could only be found through Twitter. I didn't even know the term or the community existed. I think we have to show the need it has met in our professional lives, encourage participation, but be patient. I love what you said about leadership, these are important with staff, as well as students. I think setting up an environment like the one you described builds the excitement and safety needed to try new things.

  4. Thanks for commenting Leslie. "Creating an environment of need without bringing people to the brink of despair is key," well said. As leaders, not just principals but as teacher leaders, we must create a curiosity for learning with both our colleagues and students. Many times it will come across as passion. As we begin to continuously rethink the way we learn, we will begin to become comfortable with uncomfortable. It's this mindset that produces lifelong learners.

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  6. I too embraced Twitter quite recently, after taking on the role of ICT Co-ordinator, and found myself immersed in a myriad of new posibilities and learning opportunities. Such new dynamics helped me to begin forging a new path of leadership; developing a supportive role and leading by example. Utilising new learning opportunities and initiatives and planning a route towards, hopefully the successful embedding of ICT and Web 2.0 technologies, and helping to create exciting teaching and learning opportunities for both teachers and children. A 'learning together' approach has begun to emerge which I need to continue to capitalise upon, with a consistently renewed vigour, to maintain colleagues interest and development of our new teaching and learning culture.

  7. Yes. Teachers should know what they are teaching, and take the initiative before they devolve that knowledge to their students. Otherwise, classrooms lack the incentive, or motivation to learn the material.