“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”
— William Butler Yeats
This week I had the opportunity to talk with a local business leader who passionately believes that to meet the challenges of our rapidly changing world, we need to “unleash our entrepreneurial spirit.”
As we talked, he described the capacities that are essential for successfully navigating an ever shifting terrain: embracing change, engaging in lifelong learning and growth, staying relevant, challenging assumptions, taking risks, considering multiple perspectives, and aligning our purpose and passion. He concluded by stating that educators need to “practice what you preach!”
Our conversation then turned toward the vital role educators play in helping young people develop these capacities. I found myself wondering how well we, as educators, model these critical habits of mind and practices? Do we engage in active, self-directed lifelong learning? Stay relevant? Take risks? I reflected on our tendency to cling to what is known and avoid venturing into the unknown.
We often say that we want to foster lifelong learning in our students. We talk about cultivating active and on-going learning such as questioning, pursuing new knowledge and crafting innovative approaches to problems. This seems like a worthy pursuit. Yet, my conversation left me wondering how well we “practice what we preach.”
In my work, I often hear references to professional development in terms of “getting trained” or the need to “get trained.” Embedded in this language is an understanding of professional learning as a passive process. It is “something” that is “done” to “someone.” To borrow the words of poet W.B. Yeats, professional development, as it is commonly (mis)understood, is more like “the filling of a pail” than “the lighting of a fire.”
If we are to engage our students in developing the essential skills and competencies they will need to thrive in the world, I think we need to rethink how we approach our own learning and growth. In short, we need to “practice what we preach.”
The challenge for us, then, is how do we make our own learning more active and meaningful for cultivating the practices we need to develop to meet the challenges ahead? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and comments.