When I became a teacher, it was my dream to instil in all my students a love of learning that would last a lifetime. Such is the desire of many of our best teachers. They have that special heart to not rest until their students shine. When you think of it, this is such a tall order. Trusting your personal fulfillment to young, reckless, often irrational children is hard. Needless to say, I found other outlets. I became a lifelong learner myself. Or at least became conscious of it. I continue encouraging lifelong learning in my students and my own children.
What does a lifelong learner look like? Quite simply, lifelong learning is a conscious and joyous effort to keep learning as we grow. More specifically according to LLCQ, there are 4 pillars to lifelong learning:
- Learning to know
- Learning to do
- Learning to live together and with others
- Learning to be
Lifelong learners can:
- manage uncertainty;
- communicate across and within cultures, sub-cultures, families and communities, and;
- negotiate conflicts.
The 6 Paths to Encouraging Lifelong Learning
So how can we keep encouraging lifelong learning in our classrooms? Walk upon these pathways as both teacher and parent:
- Be a lifelong learner
- Speak it
- Rethink the definition of failure
- Assume that everyone learns by doing
- Teach positive self talk
- Know that learning doesn’t stop when school ends
An added dimension is life wide learning. This honours formal, non-formal and informal learning.
Be a lifelong learner
The kids are watching us. They are imitating us. A famous example of a lifelong learner is the late Richard Feynman. Tirelessly working and discovering, he portrayed a love of solving difficult problems just for the sake of it. His most famous moment was deciphering the problem of the o-rings which caused the Challenger’s demise.
During a hearing, he performed an experiment where he placed the o-rings in freezing water. He then showed how they disintegrated in heat. Millions watching saw this dramatic event play out on their televisions. His students were so affected by his infectious love of learning that many speak of him to this day.
By showing that you are always learning, students will realize that it continues throughout adulthood.
What can you say to keep encouraging lifelong learning? Take cues from Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset.
If we praise effort alone, even if the outcome is not satisfactory, we might hear ourselves say, “Great effort!” to make them feel good. This may cause disillusioned students to feel misled when they realize their low achievement. Adults may inadvertently use hollow praise to belie their low expectations. Better to “praise a child’s process and strategies, and tie those to the outcome.”
Here are some of Dweck’s own examples:
- “Wow, you really practiced that, and look how you’ve improved.”
- “See, you studied more and your grade on this test is higher.”
- “You tried different strategies and you figured out how to solve the problem.”
- “You stuck to this and now you really understand it.”
Effort is nothing without strategy or skills. Skills and strategy are nothing without effort. They go hand in hand.
Rethink the definition of failure
Stop shaming. Redefine the word “failure” as “growing.” Too many of us are setting our children up for a fixed mindset and a fear of learning. When students are ashamed of failing, they will do everything in their power to look like they didn’t fail. They will hide their failures for fear of looking stupid.
Patience is of the utmost importance here. Also, plan carefully to set your children up for success. Scaffolding skills deliberately and thoughtfully sets up realistic expectations and minimizes utter failure. When students do encounter failure, you can say, “The reason your head hurts when solving a difficult problem—that’s your brain growing.”
Assume that everyone learns by doing
Use all resources and materials around you, even the great outdoors, if weather (and school policy) permits. Get their heads out of the textbook. Have extra test tubes on hand when they break during a science experiment. Be prepared to get messy.
Case in point: my 11 year old son has been eagerly cooking since he’s been out of school. I cringe when he wastes mountains of flour or rice, spilling on the floor, making a mess that I know he won’t clean up. But I know that he’s got to learn by doing, and I won’t interfere. I have to keep any criticism focused on the process, not the child. His process can improve with practice. I don’t need to comment about him being a messy, careless child. The truth is he is learning by doing.
On another note, my other son has taken up drumming. On everything. Am I prepared for the noise in the house? Am I ready to give him a time and place where he can go all out and drum to his heart’s content?
Teach positive self talk
The skill of positive self talk lives on long after students have left your classroom. A previous post tells you how negative statements can become empowering ones. Encouraging lifelong learning involves remaining positive about the journey.
It comes down to choices. What do we choose to think, say, and feel? No one crawls inside our heads and controls our thoughts and beliefs. They are ours, and we must own them as lifelong learners. You can guide children to turn around negative self talk.
Take some suggestions from this chart below. It’s from Fieldcrest Elementary School. Imagine if there was one of these on the wall of every classroom. How different would things be?
Know that learning doesn’t stop when school ends
Have learning clubs during a long break. Most kids think that learning stops at summer vacation. We teachers are guilty of furthering this idea when we celebrate the end of school with children. We see students leaving for summer as a happy time, when we should be figuring out how to keep the students learning during summer. If we make learning fun, there should be no problem in getting kids to come back for an awesome summer session.
As a band student, I remember we would have band camp in the summer. We’d begin preparing our competition performance well before the start of the next school year. This was also a time where older veterans would mentor the new students. They would get them acclimated to a gruelling practice regimen.
Though it was hard, we helped each other and bonded, forming lasting friendships. Why shouldn’t math or reading clubs be the same? For some schools who pay extra for summer activities, this might mean an added income for the teacher wanting to foster lifelong learning.
We’re All Learners for Life
We are all lifelong learners whether we know it or not. Some are more conscious about it than others. Now you’re conscious of it.
From here on, emanate outward joy by encouraging lifelong learning in yourself and in how you speak of it to others. Be an awesome example to your students and children.