Oct 20, 2019
To Whom it May Concern:
Please accept my highest recommendation for lifelong learning. It’s a mindset, a practice, a habit. One that literally gets better every day. Believe it or not I have only known lifelong learning, or kaizen, or continuous improvement as it is sometimes called, for 20 years.
As I stare down my 42nd birthday, it startles me to try and remember so many wasted moments in classrooms across in Pennsylvania. I day dreamed in an elementary Catholic school, where viciously underpaid teachers were doing the best they could. My mind wandered in a private high school where kids with IQs beyond belief thrived as I clawed to keep up. When I got to college, something clicked and I began asking questions, listening to the words the teacher said as well as the vital meaning behind them. My grades improved as I learned how school worked, but even then, between Division I baseball and other priorities, I largely excelled in classrooms that featured motivated, creative teachers in the front of the room. Interestingly, only when I became a student teacher at age 21 did I begin to unravel the power of lifelong learning. As a teen, I was quick to dismiss a teacher as boring. Are some teachers boring? Sure. So are some politicians, doctors, and even comedians. I now believe it is the learner responsible for curiosity, generosity, and active listening he or she brings to every experience, but because of my bias towards dynamic educators, as a teacher myself, I take the responsibility for creating an environment in which people want to learn. I know my style of classroom presentation won’t be every body’s favorite, but it’s the best version of me that I have yet found.
Only in the last two decades did I feel the power of lifelong learning. First as a student teacher, one book ahead of my 7th graders. Secondly as a college baseball coach helping to rebuild a dormant program. Next as a High School English teacher and HS baseball coach shifting my philosophy to student-centered labs where real-world skills collide with classic and contemporary literature. In each case, lifelong learning has revealed itself to be a source of tremendous inspiration, challenge, and renewal.
Immediately obvious upon meeting lifelong learning is its unique blend of challenge and invigoration. It’s a wonderful elixir . . . instead of getting tired while learning from every experience, you actually feel energized like a slow drip coffee IV. You start by listening, then identifying your own biases that make decision making so challenging. Then asking questions. Really great questions. “what would an opponent in a debate say against you?” “What has helped you develop the confidence you have in your opinion?” “What would it take to change your mind?” “How would you recommend someone just starting out begin?” Once you’ve come this far with life-long learning, you’ll get some great answers. But will you hear them? Will you receive them with an open mind and heart ready to be convinced? What is learning after all if not willingness to be changed? If all of this sounds like a lot of work, remember that ignorance and stubbornness are much easier, and much more damaging. Either side can be drilled into a habit, choose wisely.
It is difficult to pinpoint what I admire most about lifelong learning, but I know what I dislike most about it—encountering those who don’t want to practice it. You won’t recognize these stalwarts by eye. It’s by ear. “That’s how we’ve always done it.” “That won’t work for me.” “I am just so used to my way.” “It doesn’t feel comfortable.” “Someday.”
Please forgive my gushing tone. Lifelong learning is a life-altering mindset and practice. One that starts innocently and slowly. It can begin with a book, like Carol Dweck’s Mindset. With a a famous virtual mentor like Daniel Kahneman, or a real-life mentor like your Little League Coach you’ve lost touch with. It can begin with a newsletter like Farnam Street, or a Twitter account you use to follow deep thinkers. Lifelong learning can begin anywhere. Even in a podcast named after the art and science of getting just a little better each day. I look forward to hearing about your small wins with lifelong learning. It’s an incredible ride.
Please feel free to contact me with further questions about lifelong learning.