Learning is unique to each of us. Several famous researchers have talked about learning styles trying to help educators make learning easier for children and less perplexing for the teacher. The truth of the matter is, we are innately wired to learn and to seek to knowledge and understanding. From the time we roll over in our cribs, until we take our last breath, most of us are curious. Knowing how to guide your own learning might be more important than having a teacher, or someone else, tell you what it is you need to know. Not that guides aren't necessary - but why go it alone when someone else may be able to lend us a hand.
Looking at how we learn can be a bit perplexing. Take for example, some of the things I like to do; making prayer beads and writing my blog. I didn’t know how to do either of those things until a few years ago. Learning to bead came out of volunteering for a program with young adults with disabilities. Our objective was to find a way for these young people to work side-by-side with more abled people, so a task that fit us all was what we hoped to find. The prayer beads seemed a natural fit - how hard could stringing some beads be? And we could sell them at the retreat center where to group was meeting.
Low and behold, beading was not so simple. After a trip to the craft store this idea seemed more amusing than fun. There were hundreds of types of beads, string and gadgets. I needed expert help to navigate this sea of ceramic and glass, hemp and nylon, tassels and grommets. After wrestling with the string and beads, trial and error, visit after visit to the local craftspeople, we had a product that looked good and might even sell. We made templates and work lines, we counted beads and packaged them for production. We sat together and one suggestion after another lead to a system that had us all working at what we did best. Doing made the difference - for me and others as well. We learned from one another through trying and failing, getting up and trying again.
While beading started as a group effort, writing a blog came out of my personal journals and workshops. It didn’t happen all at once and writing in this manner was a personal journey. In fact, writing was not what I trying to learn, blogging was about learning to trust my own instincts. I penned my thoughts freely in journals for myself. I walked in the woods observing nature and metaphors. I drew pictures in pencil as sat and listened, working through my own fear, joy, pain and life. I had written in the academic world for years - more than I want to count. I wanted to tell a story then, but was always called back to the data points. I had faces for each child that didn’t make AYP (adequate yearly progress). Now, sitting with others, walking in the woods, observing life in airports, the sacred in the moment, I was pulled to tell the story of these faces through my heart. Little by little I shared with strangers at workshops, considering going public.
A blog is public. The choice to step out into the world took time. I was really trying to start a conversation - wider than my circle of influence. A snippet of my view of the heart and soul of education. From the line of a poem - ground out as I listened to the words of others as I was beginning to gain courage. I was getting better with practice. Yet, I worried, what might others say or think? I don’t remember exactly why I let go of the fear of failing or that my stories would seem trite or vain. I was Riddled with doubt about my own ability and value. I remembered the first time I read a poem aloud in a group with fear and doubt surfacing. I had good stories to tell about children and learning. Yet, it was like jumping off a ledge - into cold, dark water and I emerged - alive and renewed. Writing had been mostly a quiet and solitary affair, that changed when I went public with my words. While I thought of writing as a solitary experience - with the push of others and a button it was public and I was OK.
Learning for me has almost always a community effort, but I found I also learn in other ways; by creating, observing, listening, trying, failing and trying again. Alone and together, trying to make meaning of the day to day. I like synthesizing ideas, culling the best of what each person has to offer, working together to shape the plan - but other times I like to learn alone and then seek feedback. The next thing I want to learn is when to let go - and move on to the next adventure! There is so much to learn - so much to do. Leaving the fear of failing behind, the voice in my own head that keeps my from stretching my wings, that’s what I want to learn next. We only really fail when we don’t try, right?