Teachers are lifelong learners. You can find this identifying description written in the many bio feeds and “about me” sections of twenty first century teachers in the Twitter world, blogosphere, and Pinterest community. To many teachers, this may mean that as a professional, one is willing and able to keep current on best teaching practices, resources, and curricula. These teachers are always improving their teaching to reflect this in a meaningful way. They strive to create the best learning environment, most engaging curriculum, and inspire their students each day. This identity of a lifelong learner is rooted in a strong desire to be the best teacher possible, and to consciously and actively seek out resources to do so.
To others, the definition of a lifelong learner may mean taking on a certain life philosophy. These individuals see the potential in each day, and view every moment as an opportunity to learn something new. They are curious-minded individuals, who know the power of yet and are always striving to better themselves through observing and questioning the world around them.
And yet still more lifelong learners exist, who are the brave souls who take on a combination of both of these identities. Yes, they are teachers forever wanting to better their craft, but they are also the men and women who identify with a passion and curiosity to understand and learn about the world around them. They are teachers, yet also students.
This summer I participated in the Long Island Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute at Nassau Community College. This small and intimate learning environment of 10 teachers with an agenda, based mostly in traditions and interests, was a wonderful way to learn as a professional in a unique way. It was a way to explore my passion for writing, gain insight into how our students feel as writers, and to collaborate with enthusiastic writers/writer educators. The group consisted of a diverse collection of teachers spanning various grade levels (K- college), content areas, geographical locations, and curricular mandates. However, the 10 of us had one thing in common: each of us was a passionate life long learner in every sense of the identity.
We spent our summer days exploring great texts that were shared by our facilitators and peers, participating in lively (and often personal) conversations that opened our eyes to stories that we have in our day-to-day lives, and, most importantly, WRITING. We wrote reflections, reactions, poems, short stories, notes to peers… the list can continue on and on. Simply put, we wrote what needed to be written, even when it made us vulnerable. We were out of our comfort zones- challenged and grappling to find the right words to write or say, or to perform the perfect demo lesson to meet the high bar that was set…and we loved every minute of it.
Amid sharing our writings on classroom triumphs, valuable resources and watching or performing demo lessons that were complex yet valuable enough for all grade levels, we were sharing stories of life. We wrote about our daughters, fathers and mothers, the feelings of helplessness, success, despair and inspiration.
We wrote funny short stories, speed dating pick up lines, letters to family members containing the words that could not be said and everything in between. We mixed the passion we have for teaching with the passion we have for life in our writings, as we continue to grow as lifelong learners. Through the ISI, I was able to grow as a professional, honing my craft as a writing teacher. I was able to grow as a lifelong learner, because without that title, the other parts of my “about me” description are simply not done well.
So, as I enter the start of my school year, I am proud to identify as a lifelong learner in every sense of the word. I am a professional who continuously strives to grow in my craft. I surround myself with people that inspire me to be the best I can be and I actively seek out opportunities to do so as well. I modify and implement what I learn to better my teaching. I learn from my mistakes, take in the advice of others and adjust accordingly. Additionally, I am a curious-minded individual who seeks out new experiences, new people, new places and is willing to take risks to better myself. I am leading by example to my students as I follow the mantra hanging in the front of my classroom: “Today is a great day to learn something new!”
Lauren McKnight is an elementary school teacher and currently teaches kindergarten. As a student, she is currently pursuing her Masters degree in STEM: Elementary Education. She loves learning new things (especially from her talented colleagues), reading, listening to music and running. You can find her on twitter @MsMcKnightK.