Tuesday, May 21, 2013

341/365: Learning to Learn

I am finding that the process of creative expression and the building of a creative life are very much like the process students go through when trying to learn something new. It's all about making meaning and getting the pieces to fit together for ourselves.

In the classroom, we value approximation. We use inventive spelling until we develop knowledge of spelling patterns. We learn text response strategies that help with comprehension. We study mentor texts to learn the traits of strong writing. We share our thinking and problem solving strategies in math, so we can apply the strategies in new problem solving situations. We ask questions and experiment in science. We find a way to be in the world by learning from those who came before us. This is hard work, undertaken with a sense of play and exploration. We are beginners with wobbly arms, ever aiming at a target, setting intentions, observing, interpreting clues, connecting, relating, finding significance, and not always getting it right, but creating meaning nonetheless.

This has been my journey throughout my 365 project as well, in the creation of my works of art and writing, in my authentic and spontaneous expressions, and in doing the work to transform my life. But despite all my experience with teaching and learning, and my understanding of what a learners goes through, I still beat myself up throughout the process when I don't get it right. I should know better; I am a teacher! Today this realization was my friendly slap in the face.

I am a kid cheerleader, a builder-upper, a big fan of effort, and a believer that students can accomplish anything they put their minds to. I would never dare say anything negative or discouraging to one of my blossoming students. Why in the world would I be so harsh with my own inner child?! I should be building her up, and instead, I let the inner critic tear her down. No wonder my inner child's voice is so tiny some days! No wonder my creativity feels so stifled at times! I must learn to nurture my own inner child just as I nurture and support my young students. After all, we are all beginners, learning to create meaning, in whatever new thing we try. We need to be our own gentle teachers.

Creativity, like a child (or any learner for that matter) doesn't respond well to fear and intimidation. Positive attention, praise and encouragement are key ingredients to a safe learning and creating environment. I'm finding this to be especially true for me now as I take a creative approach to life. I should be telling myself the same thing I tell my students when I see them meeting with frustration, feeling incapable or experiencing low self-concept:

- It's OK to not have the answer.
- It's OK to make mistakes and to experience failure.
- It's OK to take a break when you're feeling burned out. 
- It's OK to laugh at yourself when you fumble, or at the very least, know that fumbling and faltering are normal parts of the learning process.

It is this taking off the pressure, releasing judgement, and making room for error and uncertainty that foster creative thinking and empowerment in my learners. And it works for me as well. I must simply continue to reflect on my experiences during this process of growing into my creative self. It is through gentle observation and reflection that most of my learning has taken place. Now I understand the frequent need for my creativity to come through in writing. Through my written reflections, I persevere toward meaning and wholeness. 

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