School News

The Practice of Learning

Kim Ridley, Head of School
I love April Fools Day, as I am a prankster at heart. I love the feeling and laughter that follows one of my pranks. I am the middle child between two brothers, who enjoyed nothing more than getting one over on me with a good trick. I was totally out pranked one Halloween when I was about eight years old. My older brother decided that he would use invisible string to thread a small skeleton that glows in the dark and would hang down like a pendant on a necklace. He placed the invisible string between my room and his and waited for me to fall asleep. I jerked awake as I felt something brush against my nose, only to see this glowing and dangling skeleton that appeared to be floating in mid air. I released a loud scream, and I could hear laughter in the next room. The prank was implemented with precision and success! Needless to say, my brother was in trouble with my parents. I share this story because I want to capture the idea of what we choose to practice grows. The very idea of learning should mean that mastery is something that we are always working towards, and it is never a state to be found. Learning is a process of on-going practice.
I want to reflect on the practice of continuous learning, which is only possible with the practices of self-reflection, perspective taking, and curiosity. Vanessa Rodriguez, who wrote the book, “The Teaching Brain,” describes learning as a brain activity that is in constant interaction with the environment, which includes interactions with family, friends, our physical and natural environments, formal schooling, our social identifiers, and so on, provide contextual influences on the learning process. Rodriguez describes learning as dynamic, changeable, time-oriented, cognitive, emotional, context dependent and interactive. Embedded in the learning process is transformation and change. Yet, schooling in America is an on-going struggle to grasp the true reality of what it means to learn. Even though there is much research to suggests the benefits of helping students develop “growth mindsets, adult learners struggle mightily with this concept. How does our struggle with change and continuous learning get in the way of providing a dynamic education for our students? How do we model, in our actions, what we want our students to practice?

Perspective taking, self-reflection, and curiosity are the conditions we need to cultivate in order to practice a continuous learning stance. Perspective taking is about understanding the world as others see or experience it. Remember the term, positionality-- “the recognition that where you stand in relation to others in society shapes what you can see and understand about the world” (Sensoy & DiAngelo, Is Everyone Really Equal). Knowledge, or what we know and understand depends upon “a complex web of cultural values, beliefs, experiences and social positions.” Many of us are privileged to situate ourselves as the knower, including educators. “Perspective taking requires becoming the learner, not the knower” (Brene Brown). 

Self-reflection, or self-awareness is a practice of understanding how your lens (your identity markers) shape how you view yourself and others. From an educational perspective, how do we view ourselves in relation to our students and colleagues? How do we practice self-reflection from the various relationships and roles we have within Fayerweather? It is essential to pay attention to how we impact others, and how we are being impacted. Self-reflection is about being alert and responsive to feedback, and being open to growing and learning from our interaction with others.

Curiosity is the emotional work of reframing our thinking and challenging our judgement. It is about exploring, investigating and unpacking ideas that can lead to clearer understandings. In order to practice curiosity we have to make peace with discomfort. The practice of curiosity creates more possibilities.

Continuous learning requires reflection, perspective taking, and curiosity in order to build healthier relationships with ourselves, and ultimately, within our school community. As educators and parents when we use or hear words like, joy of learning, growth mindset, and openness to grow, we must ask how we are willing to hold ourselves accountable to practice what it means to continuously learn, grow and transform ourselves.

In partnership,
Fayerweather Street School | 765 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 | 617-876-4746
Fayerweather is a private PreK, kindergarten, elementary and middle school. We engage each child’s intellect.