Do we practice what we preach?

small__2980678175photo credit: Eric M Martin via photopin cc

“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.

8 thoughts on “Do we practice what we preach?

  1. “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”

    I think you have put your finger on it, Jennie. In my experience, learning processes used in classrooms often mirror those used in professional development. If we want our students to engage in deep learning, then teachers’ learning must also be deep. If we want students to learn to work effectively with others, then it is essential that their teachers be engaged in meaningful collaboration. At least that’s how it seems to me.

    • I could not agree more, Dennis. This the challenge in our work! Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  2. I am increasingly coming to the opinion that professional development is a state of mind and an individual process for every member of staff as an individual learner. The emphasis in any learning community is to create a professional development structure that facilitates all these different pathways and to get away from a ‘one size fits all’ outdated model.

    • I agree. As with student learning, we need to recognize the different strengths and needs of educators. The “one-size fits-all” does not allow for this kind of differentiated approach. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion.

  3. I wholehearted agree with your observation that we need “to rethink how we approach our own learning and growth.” Do we allow for the messiness and uncertainly of “more active and meaningful” learning? Are we growing a culture that allows, embraces, and even celebrates experimentation and mistakes? How able are we to say “I don’t know” or “I messed up?” We do, indeed, need to practice what we preach! Thanks for bringing the conversation to the forefront.

    • Hi Anne,

      I think you’re onto something. Taking risks in our own learning is messy. It also involves experimenting with new practices and being comfortable with “messing up.” I think this is a key to growth.

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciated your thoughts and questions.


  4. I agree we need to rethink our approach to leading the learning of teachers. Often anyone in the position to be a trainer in education feels a need to be the expert, and speaks in solutions from the secure footing of what is known. It’s challenging enough to get up in front of others, let alone do so with more questions than answers. Yet doing so is the key to igniting the same courage in others. To push the edge of learning in a collaborative space, we need to be more facilitators than trainers and build a culture of trust and risk-taking that thrives on the complexity of facing unsolved challenges.

    When leading teachers in planning lessons to observe together, I always emphasize that the goal is not to teach a perfect lesson. A lesson planned to be seamless stays within the comfort zone of teacher and students (e.g. what most try to do if being observed). A lesson that pushes the edge of teacher and student learning often has think-on-feet moments where there is uncertainty, and the direction of the learning shifts. Those moments are profoundly rich for collaborative professional learning. Sharing them together, and discussing the details in a safe context, is a rich way to collectively inspire one another to be continuous risk-takers, seeking knowledge in the rich space of uncertainty.

  5. Pingback: A time for change… | Jennie's Blog

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