Who Dares to Teach Must Never Cease to Learn

The content of this post is a continuation of an earlier post penned by Rob Jacklin of the MTM Project.  This blog entry focuses on the idea of mindset verses the lifestyle, as detailed by Rob Jacklin in the earlier posting.

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”

-John Cotton Dana

 As educators, I think that sometimes we forget what this statement really means.  Indeed, many of us involve ourselves in professional development through teachers’ conferences and other learning activities, but is the idea of personal and professional learning a constant thought at the forefront of our minds?  Most often we get caught up in writing lesson plans for our next set of learning experiences, grading tests and papers, or finding time to talk to students who need our specific attention.  Professional development for most of us takes place at a specific location and at a specific time with us being in a specific mindset.  This should not, however, be the case.  We as teachers must not limit ourselves in the traditional frame of learning, where we specifically focus on improving our knowledge of education, usually in a set time and for a specific focus.  If we expect our students to learn only when they are “expected” to learn, they will fall into the same trap in which many educators have found themselves.

So how do we change this mindset of professional development and the continuing education of teachers?  For one, it has to start with teachers who are just entering the profession: those at their first call or first teaching position.  These teachers have to realize that even though they are “just out of college,” they do not “get a pass” on continuing education.  They should recognize that they are entering a profession in which “lifelong learning” is not just another term.  This idea should define who we are as professional educators.  If this seed of an idea can be planted from the very beginning of an educator’s time in the classroom, half of the battle has already been won, especially for the future.

The question which then arises is how we change the mindset of those teachers already entrenched in the classroom, those who are focused on their way of teaching and neglecting to learn and adapt with the world around them?  Many have said that one cannot force someone else to learn; rather they have to take ownership of it themselves.  So how do you encourage someone to learn, or continue to learn, without them rejecting or refusing the process?  It has to be something that is ingrained in their mind.  If teachers never realize that they should be lifelong learners alongside of their students, they will never consider this idea.  If the idea is presented in a positive and enriching manner, however, many of these individuals who are already committed educators will see the benefit of the idea.  Most times, hopefully, the planting of this idea is unintentional and brought about through the interaction between members of this group and those educators that are already working from this mindset.

So perhaps the change in the mindset of teachers lies with those educators who are already practicing this in their daily life.  These individuals who are already constantly learning and adapting their teaching style to the evolving world around them must be the ones who lead the others into the same mindset that they practice.  They must not be afraid to step out and lead those who are either unwilling or afraid to step out of their comfortable teaching style.

In reality, these individuals are usually the ones who are already helping others learn and grow in their teaching styles.  They are the ones who, through their constant learning, are viewed as revolutionary in the classroom.  Apple said it best in their “Think Different” advertising campaign from the 1980s in describing the character of these types of individuals, and in my mind it fits perfectly with those that must lead others into the mindset of learning:

Here’s to the crazy ones.  The misfits.  The rebels. The troublemakers.  The round pegs in the square holes.  The ones who see things differently.  They’re not fond of rules.  And they have no respect for the status quo.  You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.  About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because they change things.  They push the human race forward.  While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.  Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

-Apple, Inc.

So where so we go from here?  We dare to teach, but do we dare to constantly learn as well?  Schools and administrators must identify those “crazy ones” who can help with the change in mindset toward viewing professional development differently.  Teachers have to be willing to listen and learn from their colleagues who have made the shift.  Perhaps growth can start  from taking an online class through the MTM Project or accessing a webinar from the MTM Project website, www.mtmproject.org.  Knowledge will be shared through personal and interactive collaboration among educators–what could be better?  Through all of this, a shift begins to emerge in how educators view what they are doing in and out of the classroom.

Tackling this problem in today’s society and culture comes slightly easier due to the effect and impact of technology.  Teachers are constantly surrounded by tools that allow them to interact with others around the world and their ideas about how to improve education.  Services such as Twitter, Skype and the countless education blogs provide an amazing resource of knowledge to educators that would not have been possible or even dreamed of as short as ten years ago.  Today, these technologies allow for the instant sharing of ideas, which is essential for a lifelong learner.

In the end, it comes down to the individual to change her own mindset of what it means to be both a “lifelong learner” and an educator at the same time.  No matter the influence leveraged on an individual, that person must take these ideas and own them in order for the process to work.  Only then, when it has been accepted by the individual educator, will the idea of being a constant learner have a profound and lasting effect on their teaching and the classroom around them.

Matthew Bergholt is the Director of Technology for Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Orlando, Florida, and a District Champion of the MTM Project for the Florida-Georgia District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  Also a classroom teacher of middle school social studies, technology and math, Mr. Bergholt constantly strives to integrate technology into his learning designs that serve to enhance the learning of his students.  He can be reached for comments or thoughts at matt.bergholt@mtmproject.org or @mattbergholt on Twitter.