This post is part of a series on sixteen “Habits of Mind” put forth by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick as being “necessary for success in school, work, and life” (Costa & Kallick, 2010, p. 212).
Remaining Open to Continuous Learning: Learn from experiences! Having humility and pride when admitting we don’t know; resisting complacency.
Of all the Habits of Mind, I think this one is probably the most important, as well as the most difficult, for educators to exercise. I say this because it requires us to remain humble, teachable, and open to new learning despite enormous pressure from multiple sources to appear as “experts”, either in a given content area or in the field of education in general.
That’s certainly not to say we do not achieve respectable levels of expertise throughout our careers. As I begin my 18th year, I certainly know more than I did in my first, tenth, or even my seventeenth, and I hope to continue that trend well into the foreseeable future.
The rub comes when we start to believe our own hype. It takes a special degree of self-awareness to balance the knowledge of what one knows with the understanding that there is much yet to learn. I did not start to achieve that balance until at least several years into my career, having spent the first few keeping up appearances in order to maintain the trust of my students, their families, and my colleagues – at least, that’s what I thought I had to do.
Call it maturity, experience, or something else, but I’m much more comfortable saying “I don’t know” at this stage in the game than I was as a 23-year-old rookie. I chalk some of that up to the fact that when I don’t know something, my background is deep enough that I usually know where I can go or who I can consult to find the information I need. The rest of it, I suppose, is that I’m finally over the need to feel I need to prove my knowledge or value in a given moment because I prove my knowledge and value every day in my job.
I’ve had a few “do-overs” in my career so far, starting as a teacher, then moving to a school psychologist, and most recently to an instructional supervisor. The first year in each position was the roughest, but I took those opportunities to ask a lot of questions, do a lot of listening, and keep my eyes wide open, observing everything I could. Starting those positions in a place of humility, rather than aggressively trying to prove how much I knew or throw my authority around, was not necessarily easy, but it was worthwhile, as doing so helped me to continue my learning and move forward as more confident and, ultimately, more beneficial to my students and colleagues than if I had just tried to bulldoze my way forward from the word go.
Costa, A.L. & Kallick, B. (2010). It takes some getting used to: rethinking curriculum for the 21st century. In H. H. Jacobs (Ed.), Curriculum 21: essential education for a changing world (pp. 210-226). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.