Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals never stop learning new techniques and strategies to hone their craft and remain on the cutting edge in their field – and so, too, do teachers. Teachers should consider the concept of “lifelong learning” and a few reasons it’s a great frame of mind for educators to have.
Image via Flickr by duane schoon
According to Gerhard Fischer, director of the Center for LifeLong Learning & Design (L3D) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, “lifelong learning is an essential challenge for inventing the future of our societies; it is a necessity rather than a luxury to be considered … It is a mindset and a habit for people to acquire. It creates the challenge to understand, explore, and support new essential dimensions of learning such as: (1) self-directed learning, (2) learning on demand, (3) informal learning, and (4) collaborative and organizational learning.” Fischer explains that lifelong learning “requires progress and an integration of new theories, innovative systems, practices, and assessment.” For teachers, putting in this kind of lifelong work will help better amplify their capabilities, collaborate with colleagues, and transform in turn the way their students navigate the world.
Kati Lepi’s Edudemic article titled, “How to Become a Learning Teacher,” references an infographic that captures several key points about lifelong learning and teachers: what it means to be a learning teacher, the types of learning that teachers do, and reasons to continue learning. Professional development days don’t necessarily target the areas in which teachers want to focus their learning or address their concerns. Teachers who adopt a lifelong learning mindset have access to information and use it to collaborate with others. Learning teachers also view mistakes and challenges as part of the learning process rather than as failures.
In her Edutopia post, Heather Wolpert-Gawron explains that to fully adopt a lifelong learning mindset, teachers must understand the ways in which it benefits their career and themselves. Wolpert-Gawron says that the best teachers are willing to learn from their students. She also contends she “learned more from other teachers, my students, and their parents than I learned from any class in my teacher-credential program…. In turn, when they saw my own enthusiasm for learning, students were more inclined to learn from me. And that’s how my own happiness and growth has translated into the success of my students.”
Paul Jun also makes the case for becoming a lifelong learner: “By embracing a student-like mindset and learning to turn self-education into a daily habit, you can hone your current skills and develop new ones while enriching your mind. Then, when the time to adapt arrives, transitions are less bumpy.” Teaching is by far the career that demands the most flexibility as schedules, students, standards, and regulations change nearly constantly. Teachers have to think on their feet when students ask questions, and the only way that they can approach the daily challenges of their career is to be a lifelong learner.
Similarly, Fischer outlines some of the key reasons to adopt a lifelong learning mindset, and two of them are the most critical for educators. First, he explains that in the information age, people lack creativity (a debatable claim, but for the purposes of argument, let’s run with it for now). He references a study that shows that lifelong learning positively influences creativity in individuals, groups, organizations, and countries. He also contends that for people to thrive in the 21st century, they must have the ability to proficiently use new technologies and media; learning to use these new technologies and media is a key component of lifelong learning.
Fischer also describes the pace of change in the 21st century as being “so fast that technologies and skills to use them become obsolete within 5-10 years.” Ask any educator if he or she was using Edmodo, iPads, apps, Chromebooks, or other such technology in his or her classroom ten years ago, and you would likely get a negative response. Yet, technology is an essential part of teaching and learning today, and teachers must be knowledgeable about technology in the classroom to meet state requirements and prepare their students for their futures outside the classroom walls.
Fortunately, teachers who adopt a lifelong learning mindset are not intimidated by technology in their classrooms or in their students’ hands. They are willing to learn about technology from theirs students and fellow teachers and adapt their teaching practices to meet the demands of their 21st century students. Moreover, digital literacy is a critical component of education today, and teachers must know how to teach and assess it in their classrooms. The bottom line: Being prepared to teach in the 21st century automatically equates to being a lifelong learner in the 21st century.
Though the current state of education promotes standardization and common curricula and teaching methods, teachers must be innovative to engage and inspire 21st century learners. In fact, the days of teaching through rote memorization and organizing the classroom with desks in rows are long gone. Teachers must adopt a lifelong learning mindset to continually push themselves to learn new ways of facilitating learning and increasing student engagement. By taking courses and collaborating with colleagues on creative teaching methods including collaborative learning environments, flipped classrooms, and student-centered learning situations, teachers will reap the benefits of adopting a lifelong learning mindset and being innovative educators.
Can a teacher successfully educate students without becoming a lifelong learner? In the age of accountability and high stakes, it is unlikely. With all of the benefits and advantages that lifelong learners accrue, teachers who adopt this mentality are more than excellent educators: they’re excellent models for their students.