I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to learn and how to be a good student. I teach students in a formal setting, when they’re enrolled in a university seeking a degree. These students are learning skills and knowledge with a direct purpose and application: to enter a profession. I also teach people who come to see me in a health care setting, which is less formal. These people need information and direction as part of their plan of care, but there is not specific and measurable endpoint for their learning. Yet learning (and teaching) is a key part of these encounters.
I’m also a student myself. Yes, I went to 13 years of school, four years of college, two more years of college, and four years of graduate school. Somehow, though, I keep seeking out ways to be a student. I study and practice yoga. I took a drawing class. I studied krav maga. I’m always taking professional development classes, for “fun”. I’m taking a class about this history of white supremacy in Oregon. Some of this is my personality (at least, if you ask the Strengths Finder people, which I may or may not think is a good idea. My top themes were “learner” and “input”). That aside, though, it’s an orientation towards engagement with the world, with deeper understanding of perspectives and contexts that are unfamiliar, with experience.
I think about this in a political context when I see a career politician who isn’t willing or able to adapt their approach to a changing environment. I think about it in a professional context when I see providers who are unwilling to assimilate new evidence, and thus continue to practice in ways that are no longer evidence-supported. Failure to learn should be, and often is, a critical failing.
There can be discomfort in actively seeking to learn, because it means acknowledging that you do not know, that you have room to grow, that you may have made mistakes. That you might, as the person you were last week or last year, have done things that the person you are now would not. But if you deny yourself the pursuit of learning, then you’re still the person from before– you’re just not paying attention.
So, get out there. Learn something new. What’s your next idea?