When our public schools began operating, we knew much less about how people think and learn than we do now. Schools grew into knowledge factories, since access to information was limited – no internet, many households without books, and so forth. Since information is available at the stroke of a thumb now, we need to shift our focus toward capacity to learn. We need to be involved in our children’s learning.
We know now that learning is the default setting for people—children and tall children (adults) alike. With this new insight, we can re-define how we see learning. We don’t need to make anyone learn. We need to remove barriers that stand in the way of learning. Schools can be at the forefront of exciting, vigorous learning. So can parents Encouraging a passion for learning is simple, though not always easy, as we all have some “old-school” thinking from the industrial model of education: grades, grade levels, sitting in rows, detention, and so forth. Here are a few gentle practices to encourage lifelong learning with our MLL’s (marvelous lifelong learners—our children):
- We can ask fewer closed and judgmental questions (especially letting go of questions that contain the words why and but). So instead of Why didn’t you finish your homework? we can ask questions like If you were the parent, how would you help your kids get their homework done? So we can enlist our children as fellow problem solvers rather than imply that they’re the problem.
- We don’t know more than our children, we know different. That sounds strange, yet, for instance, they know a lot more about having fun than we do, right? So we can see their opinions, viewpoints, and knowledge as a resource rather than as less than ours. We can shift to a conversation among equals. This is not about everything, of course, AND (no but, right?) the more they see their input as valued, the more they will embrace learning.
- Model continuous learning ourselves. Value museum visits as much as soccer games. Spend ½ hour every evening watching and discussing a show or a post about science, history, or nature. Let these discussions flow without opinions so that children can embrace different perspectives without feeling wrong.
- Set aside the idea that because we’re the parents, we know everything. Too many children grow up with a fear of being corrected, and that’s one of the greatest barriers to learning. Be willing to say I don’t know so that we can enlist our children to help us understand. That kind of humility levels the learning playing field.
Laugh with our children. Make learning the family’s favorite game. We know from research that when we laugh, not only do we lower our cholesterol, the whole brain is activated to learn. All games, after all, involve critical thinking.
We can learn because of teaching; we can also learn in spite of teaching, because teaching and learning are fundamentally different. Involvement is what makes learning stick.
Mac Bogert is the founder of AZA Learning, which provides leadership coaching and learning-design support to 200 clients nationwide. His latest publication is “Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education.” The book explores the disconnect between what schools do and how people learn. In it, Bogert suggests concrete steps to remove barriers to learning in schools and training centers.