Mindful learning. It’s such a powerful concept. As one of the last blog posts going up this week, I had the pleasure of reading the reflections of so many of my classmates before I composed this post. I have to say that was probably the best thing for me as I have been struggling with what mindful learning should/could look like for an educator in the design field. I enjoyed reading my classmate’s stories because I realized that we all have a shared experience of classrooms/learning environments that are not actually designed for student learning. Each story I read was different, some students shared stories of triumph over the obstacles that stood between them and accomplishment; others were sadder: reflections on surviving in an educational system that wasn’t designed to educate but to test.
In the end, I realized it’s not what you teach, but how you teach. Dissecting “how you teach” for me became another series of questions I’m asking myself: what will my lessons be like if I’m going to encourage mindful learning? How do I create a culture and environment in the classroom that can facilitate the learning outcomes I want for my students? What small changes can I begin to incorporate so that I can systematically overhaul my teaching style to reflect the kind of educator I want to be for my students? What can I do to make sure that every student leaves my class feeling like they gained something beneficial?
For any readers that are new to this concept, here is the link to the TED talk given by Sir Ken Robinson “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley.” It’s a 19 minutes well-spent.
So here’s the honest truth: there’s a learner in each of us. It’s human nature to be able to grow as learners. To suggest that some people are just incapable or don’t want to–well, to me, that’s just preposterous. To give up on a difficult student is a failure of the educator and the system that the student is in. Sir Robinson is right: “Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery system.”
Coming up, I could tell the difference from day 1 in the classroom whether or not the class was going to be fun, exciting, and something to look forward to or if it was going to be difficult in the sense that I was going to have to force myself to survive it until the term was over. Even today, I can generally tell on the first day of class what my experience is probably going to be like over the upcoming semester. And despite there being all of these awesome resources out there-seminars, TED talks, workshops, and the like–we still seem to have a large population of our educators who either don’t know or just don’t get it. I’m a class right now that I find super-fascinating and I’m excited to be learning the topic–but the lectures—well, they’re fast, full of jargon, and truth be told, after the hour and a half is up, I find myself thinking “what in the hell just happened?” Because I don’t remember a bit of what he just said. Thankfully, I’ve learned to develop an independent reading list from the sources that get cited on the PowerPoint or else I would be completely lost. I’m determined to make it through the course, but it’s proving to be a rough ride. So then I think about it in the context of this course, and I wonder: why isn’t it fun for me? What can I do as the student to make this more fun? I don’t have an answer to those questions yet.
But learning IS fun and exciting (I wouldn’t have chosen to spend my life learning new things if it wasn’t!) And learning IS an adventure (Thank you Dr. Nelson!) So why, if these ideas about changing the way we approach teaching and learning are we still running into educators (and administrators) who don’t appreciate that there is a difference and there is room for they themselves to grow?
Again, I don’t have an answer to this question, but I’m working on a philosophy. In the meantime, I am working hard to change how I choose to think, act, and react in the classroom (and out of it). Bringing mindfulness to every aspect of my life has been a real challenge–I’m having to step outside of myself and learn to view the world with a new perspective. I’m fighting falling into the trap of automatic behavior, thinking, and responses. Just because we were trained in our formative years to be good little students doesn’t mean that we were actually being trained to be good learners and thinkers.
For me, the real challenge is learning how to see the difference and then changing my approach so that I can be a facilitator instead of a road-block in my own classroom and learning environments. I’m grateful for this experience in Contemporary Pedagogy–every week, there are new seeds planted and I am eager to support this personal growth.
I’m late writing my blog this week because we had a family emergency over the weekend. I have a 9-month old who has been very ill the last few weeks. Friday night was pretty difficult. She spiked a fever, so we returned to the doctor Saturday morning and we ended up spending the night in the Pediatric wing at Carilion in Radford for her to undergo some testing and receive IV fluids. Lucky for all of us, she had a positive response to the new medication they placed her on and we were able to return home Sunday to continue her care. After a sleepless weekend I am finally starting to catch up with my academic life (as I put everything on the back burner for a couple of days), but I’m still feeling pretty scatter-brained from the mental and physical exhaustion. The lessons on mindfulness were extremely helpful in coping with the ups and downs of the last few days. Interesting how that works.