Striving for “Life Long Learners” is Not Enough

I have officially submitted my last assignment of the term which means I have also officially completed my NZ exchange!!! Kind of crazy to think 8 months have gone by already and I only have two weeks left in the country before I head back to the US.

One of my classes this term was a philosophy course called “The Big Questions” – basically it was like a philosophy sampler course. The final topic we covered was “epistemology,” ie the study of knowledge. Talking about knowledge so much, and just thinking about why I even bothered to study philosophy, made me think about the term “life long learner,” and how often times schools will make statements about how they want to create/nurture life long learners.

Taken at face value, a life long learner is someone who continues to learn new things throughout their life span; it’s the notion that learning can and should happen beyond formal education. I think this is a super valid goal for schools to have; I mean why would we ever want for people to stop learning? I wonder though, what if this isn’t a lofty enough goal?

The way I see it there are 3 general outlooks one could have on the idea of learning beyond formal education:

  1. Someone could be really stubborn and not willing to learn new things in adulthood. Either they think they already know best, or are too lazy to care about learning anything new.
  2. Someone could accept that the world is constantly changing and new things must be learned in order to stay relevant in the work force.
  3. Someone could just really enjoy learning, so they learn even things that maybe aren’t particularly “relevant” or “useful.”

I would argue that outlook 2 is a “life long learner” – someone who continues to learn beyond education in order to better themselves. This is great, especially considering I have met various people in my life with outlook 1 and they are very challenging to work with… But wouldn’t it be awesome if more people had outlook 3?

The difference is about motivation. Are people learning because they are motivated by the need to learn in order to achieve specific work goals or are they motivated to learn simply because they enjoy learning?

I’m sure some educators would argue that when they use the term “life long learner” they are implying the ideals of outlook 3, and truthfully they desire for their students to become adults that genuinely enjoy learning. But I think it could be important to make this distinction more clear, because they truly are two different outlooks.

I’ve found this applicable to my past semester because every week I would find myself thinking about why I bothered to take philosophy. I mean half the times our discussions would end with someone saying something to the extent of, “Yeah maybe we will never know, but for practical application we can just ignore that.” Sure philosophy probably has enhanced my ability to craft an argument and think outside of the box, but on the whole studying philosophy to me is kind of the epitome of learning just for learning sake because often times conversations just go in circles and there is no true conclusion or any outcome that will necessarily be applicable to work or life. It’s all just thoughts and wonders and learning about other peoples thoughts and wonders. This isn’t to trash on philosophy – I really enjoyed the course most of the time – it’s just to say that studying philosophy feels like the sort of thing that one would only study because they truly enjoy learning not just because they are trying to learn some skill or concept in order to stay work relevant in a changing world. Studying philosophy therefore seems to require something more than just being a life long learner.

And obviously there are more things that fit into this scenario besides just studying philosophy; I’m not trying to say we should aim to have every student want to take a philosophy course. Think about this scenario: an engineer who decides to learn more about excel to potentially move into a managerial role I would consider a life long learner. An engineer that decides to learn the bagpipes just because I would also consider a life long learner. But these two things don’t quite feel comparable.

I’ll admit I don’t know the best term to use to describe the bagpiping engineer / anyone who poses an outlook 3 view of learning. Right now though I’ve been going with the term “life long explorer,” but I could easily be convinced a different word is more appropriate. I just really think it would be neat if schools made this distinction and decided to strive for more than just fostering people who continue to learn in adulthood, because honestly being a life long learner is starting to feel pretty status quo and not really much of a goal for education. As our world continues to change at ever increasing rates, it seems almost impossible to not be a life long learner anymore. And just like in gymnastics, once it gets to a point where everyone is doing a double back tuck and that just becomes the norm, then that’s no longer a very impressive goal, so standards have to change and the bar needs to be set higher.

Perhaps the reason schools don’t specify this distinction is because outlook 3 requires a value that from my experience isn’t emphasized at school: fun. If students are to continue learning throughout their life due to intrinsic motivation – “just because” – then they need to believe that learning is fun. This kind of thinking always make me wonder, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if students wanted to come to school? Like if you walked into a classroom and asked every student why they were here today and the response was, ‘Because I want to be. School is fun.'” I feel like that’s the dream, but the idea of striving for school to be fun never really seems to be expressed in school mission statements or community announcements, at least not in my experience.

If we made it a goal though to not just create life long learners, but to develop life long explorers in the world then I wonder if we would start to talk more about fun and if we would start hearing more students excited and wanting to come to school. Those students already exist, and I’d bet that there are even some school that make these goals explicit that already exist, but I would like to see this on a larger scale. I would like us to strive for more than life long learners because this no longer feels challenging enough to be stated as an end goal for formal education.

A Good Smile

Today was a very Disney inspired day.

I started the morning on a video chat with some friends and old teachers playing some Disney Trivia, which I’m honestly shocked to say I won – it’s probably the only trivia topic I even have a chance at winning. Then I watched the ABC Disney Family Sing-Along special which aired last night in the US, and it was absolutely amazing!!! It even included a High School Musical cast reunion with a beautiful mashup of Disney stars singing “We’re All in This Together” – a very appropriate song for right now. Plus lots of kids of your favorite stars made special guest appearances which were absolutely adorable.

At this point, I found myself officially in a Disney rabbit hole which continued with watching lots of various YouTube videos related to old Disney stuff. It was very nostalgic and heartwarming. I feel like I was probably smiling all day, but I mean who doesn’t smile when listening to Disney songs?!

Looking back to some of the classics of your childhood is truly a great way to stay positive during all the chaos going on in the world. Watching old movies, looking at old photos, talking to old friends – I’d recommend doing all of the above if you’re also in need of a good smile.

A Grocery Adventure

Today I went outside for the first time in three and a half weeks. I finished all of my snacks and fruits/veggies, plus I’ve been really wanting to make cookies but haven’t had flour, so I figured it was time I finally went to the grocery store.

Really it was a very productive day overall. I woke up early and taught a dance class, took the garbage out for the first time since lockdown, sent some important emails in regards to my hopeful second semester abroad, attended a virtual info session with the Boston Consulting Group, then began my three and a half hour grocery run. It took so long because I had to go to two stores and one of them is 30 minutes away from my flat, and once I was there I had to wait in line outside of the store so they can make sure as few people as possible are inside at once. I kind of anticipated grocery shopping being a big endeavor which is partly why I’ve been putting it off all this time, and today proved me right.

But the wait time was worth it because tonight I made an amazing dinner! I made Hungarian chicken paprika with homemade pasta, and for dessert, I’m finally getting to make cookies!!

And now I’m officially exhausted but also so deeply satisfied from really doing something with my day. I kind of forgot how tiring it can be to actually go do something during the day. I’ve been keeping myself amused while indoors, but I think real adventures require leaving the house. It’s just a totally different experience when you have to make the decision to go out and you never know what twists and turns the rest of the world might throw at you.

Nothing particularly amazing happened today. I saw people not through a screen which was nice. I gave someone directions which made me feel like it’s almost setting in that I’m living here not just on vacation. I got to brainstorm some new recipes I want to try out. And I listened to more of an audio-book I had been listening to daily on my walks to school before lockdown. But sometimes the best part of an adventure is just knowing that you’re going out on a journey and enjoying that process.

Indoors is safe and can even be fun, but I can’t wait to get back into the world and have real adventure again.

Team Bonding in the Classroom

Today was team bonding day for our gym Zoom call. I’m glad I was even able to make it, especially since I forgot to turn on the outlet that charges my phone last night so my alarm didn’t go off this morning…

I found it funny how you can be on a team with the same people for years, and yet somehow still not know basic information about them. Things like where people were born, when they started the sport, how many siblings they have, favorite x,y,z, etc.

Today’s team bonding session was all about discussing the answers to questions like this and it was really fun. I liked getting to learn more about the kids I coach from a whole-child perspective. You never know when it could come in handy to know someone’s favorite animal is a narwal and they were born in Texas having started gymnastics as soon as they could walk. The more you know about a person, the more you can empathize with them and the better you can work with them.

During the normal season, we hardly do any team bonding and it’s something we’ve always regretted, so I truly appreciate this time for allowing us to start implementing this new norm of taking time to value who we are as individuals and a team beyond just gymnastics.

It’s also made me wonder, what if classrooms considered themselves a team? I mean when you think about it, a class is a group of people working together for a year to hone their skills in order to overcome various challenges related to their discipline. That’s pretty similar to how I’d define any sports team…

And yet, in a classroom we often don’t act like a team. There isn’t typically an emphasis on group norms, bonding, and support for each other’s learning and progress. Even in gymnastics where we compete against our teammates, we still talk about the importance of working together in practice, cheering each other on during competition, and doing non-judged group activities to help encourage unification and love for the sport.

I guess it’s assumed in a class that kids already know each other because they’ve been in school together for years, but even when you’ve known people vaguely for years, each new arrangement of people creates different team dynamics.

What if classes spent more time during the year intentionally bonding as a class and thinking about how they will support each others’ growth throughout the year? The more you know about our classmates, the more we can empathize with them and the better we can work with them – and this goes for teachers too. Some teachers are great about getting to know there students, but what if this was even more intentional at a cultural level for the entire school vs just the occasional teacher that everyone knows really takes an interest in learning about all the students? For example, what if the first week of class was all about “class bonding” and setting the norms for the year and thinking about how everyone can best support each other – teacher included?

I wonder how learning might improve if we took more time to know our “teammates” as whole people outside of just the subject material.

Moment of Visible Impact

The best part about working with kids is the moment you realize how much of an impact you’re making in their lives.

Since our gym had to move to online training sessions, I’ve actually gotten to stay in touch with the kids I coach a lot better since I can participate in the Zoom calls no matter where in the world I am at the moment. Today we had a team bonding video chat that was just meant to be a fun way to keep up engagement. One of the girls though wasn’t really responding to any of the questions being asked. She ended up messaging me on the video chat first just saying it was nice to see me. Then eventually she finally admitted that she wasn’t really responding much because she’s sad that her family might be moving out of the country over the summer and it won’t be the same as being at Jump Start and she might not get to see me in person again.

I told her how sometimes change can be a good thing and Jump Start will always be welcome to her anytime she’s back to visit. Also that I’d miss her too and her mom has my phone number so she can always ask to talk to me any time she wants to catch up.

FullSizeRender.jpegAnd the kid, being the sweet kid she is, followed up on my offer pretty much immediately after the video training call was over and sent me this text from her mom’s phone:

 

While I’ve been coaching gymnastics for over 6 years now, this is really only my second year with a consistent schedule and being a main team coach. It really makes the world of difference in job satisfaction when you get to form these kinds of connections with the kids. Moments like this also remind me just how important it is to think about the “whole child” when teaching and coaching because there’s a lot more going on in these kids’ lives than just gymnastics or school or theater or soccer or dance, etc, etc…

I truly love coaching gymnastics and especially so because it allows me to be apart of these girls growing up. It’s nice to know I’ve made as much an impact on them as they have on me.

Theater Appreciation

Happy World Theater Day!!!

I haven’t been in a theater production in about a year now – not since Mid Summer Nights Dream last spring. It’s still weird for me to think how long it’s been considering once upon a time I spent 15+ hours a week in the blackbox pretty much every day of the school year and then some.

Even though I’m not physically involved with theater now nearly as much as I used to be, it still holds a very special place in my heart due to everything I learned and the people I got to learn with. So I thought I’d share just a few of my favorite things I’ve learned from my involvement with theater and, to drive the point home, some evidence of how I learned it:

  • Confidence – It takes immense emotional vulnerability to do both the comedic and dramatic aspects that come with performance arts.
  • Empathy – Every time you take on a new character you have to get in their head to understand what it would be like to really be that person and then show others what that looks like.
  • Collaboration – A cast without a team mentality is a horrible show to witness.
  • Critical thinking – Building sets: where do we need to drill this hole in order to create the angle needed to support this shelf?
  • Creative thinking – How are we going to make vines fall from the sky on cue?
  • Quick decision making / Improvising – The certain just broke mid-show but we can’t stop the show, so how are we going to work around it?
  • Verbal communication – Try memorizing 50 pages of lines verbatim…
  • Non-verbal communication – Great acting often happens in the moments of silence.
  • Active listening – Don’t just wait for it to be your turn to say a line, it has to feel like a real conversation where each player gives and takes off of the other.
  • Fail up – After messing up tragically, getting back up because the show must go on.
  • Trust – Know your scene partners will be there to do their part in making the show great, from helping if someone forgets a line to insuring the props they’re in charge of get to where they need to be, and let them trust you to do the same.
  • Presence – Rocking back and forth or twiddling your hair while speaking are all distracting gestures during any presentation; theater teaches you to stand firm and make intentional physical choices to emphasize your points.
  • Acceptance – Theater people are different. It’s a fairly known fact, and I love this about theater people. Everyone is welcome period.
  • Managing emotions – Even on the last night of senior year, tears are for later because there’s still a show to put on.

 

I’m sure I’m missing items from this list, but for now, this is a good start to explaining all the things I learned that make me love theater so much. Not to mention it’s just so much fun! I’m glad that in the midst of schools going online and everything closing down, arts programs are still finding ways to connect and learn these lessons even if we can’t be physically connected in space.

I miss my theater fam new and old and all the theater nerds out there enjoy this day.

The Gift of Time

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Felt like I did pretty well for day 1 in isolation.

I started the day by reconnecting with some of the gymnasts I coach. I woke up early so I joined their afternoon Zoom workout and it was nice to see so many smiling faces in the midst of so much crazy. One kid changed her username to say “I love coach Anya” and it was kind of the sweetest thing ever.

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I then spent a good chunk of time playing my flute – I am very happy I decided to prioritize bringing it with me to New Zealand despite the extra weight. I’ve been practicing getting better at keeping time and listening to different parts by “playing with myself” (ie videoing myself playing each of the different parts in a song). Today my song of choice was, “Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton the Musical.

After lunch, I decided to start brainstorming some ways to make this challenge into an opportunity, specifically in regards to our gym. We’ve always said we wanted to get better at journaling and now that we have to move online anyway, I figured it was a great opportunity to start making progress on this task. So I made some prototypes of “Gymnastics homework” where we can give conditioning assignments and a place to share weekly goals and accomplishments related to healthy living; that way all of our girls feel like they can be making tangible progress on their gymnastics even without being able to train their skills full out. I also started brainstorming some potential new gymnastics social media challenges and various workshops we might be able to offer via zoom.

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 7.05.55 PM.pngNormally around this time of year, I would be finishing up choreo for our end of the semester showcase and starting to teach the routines to the girls. Since this isn’t going to happen under normal circumstances, I’ve been working on creating a whole new routine so it can be performed and recorded at home and then I plan to video edit all the parts together. Two things I needed to learn to make this happen: better video editing skills and learn more sign language to use as part of the dance. I got started on both of those learning goals today and feel pretty good about the progress I’ve made.

The most important thing I was reminded of today is how much fun it can be to learn new skills and to revisit and build upon old skills. I know of my friends and family have already come to this conclusion after having lived in this reality of social distancing, online learning, and lots of free time for about a week now, but experience really does make a huge difference in understanding. Sometimes having time for “nothing” can truly be a gift for all sorts of wonderful new ideas.

Life Update: Living in Budapest

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It’s amazing how one person talking for an hour can be so inspiring sometimes; the thing is if you don’t reflect and act upon what you learned it can be so easy for those inspiring messages to get forgotten.

William Benko reminded me today of the importance of having habits and strategies for how we tackle life. I’ve been well aware of this concept for years now, and yet, as evidence of my lack of blogging in the past few years, I think I’ve allowed myself too much slack with what were once my daily habits. So at the very least, I felt it was time for a life update on my blog because I’ve been having some amazing experiences the past few weeks and haven’t done the best job capturing and reflecting on them.

DSC_0510.JPGIt’s been about 2 weeks since I arrived in Budapest, 4 weeks since studying abroad, and 5 weeks since beginning the Leadership for Social Good program. Since I’ve gotten to Budapest I’ve also been interning with Teach For Hungary. (Part of our program is that each participant is partnered with an NGO in Budapest who we intern with for the 6 weeks we are here.)

Teach For Hungary follows similarly with the Teach For All model where the basic concept is to get professionals committed to a two-year fellowship working within schools as teachers and mentors to kids specifically in rural/small town areas. Teach For Hungary is very much in start-up mode at the moment, being only about a year old, and one of my primary roles has been to help the team as they work on developing their hiring and onboarding process for new full-time staff members and later working on how to recruit and train fellows. 

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It’s been fascinating learning about the education system here in Hungary and so far I’ve also really enjoyed my work which has included a lot of strategic planning and brainstorming. Even the location I’m in, the Innovation Lab of Central European University, is just so fitting for me. I’ve been amazed by how much of my work in the gymnastics world has been applicable; for example, I’m currently working on the online test and accompanying assessment tool for the hiring process and I’ve been able to apply lessons I learned from creating the gymnastics assessment tool for evaluating gymnasts looking to enter one of our invite programs. I’ve also noticed my background in design thinking coming in extremely useful as I’ve been asked to give lots of feedback since I’m a fresh pair of eyes for documents like the onboarding information. Most of my meetings thus far have begun with a “Like, Wish, Wonder” feedback protocol, and I even looked up my old Innovation Diploma application earlier this week as an example of a “choose your own adventure” technical skills/thought process assessment. It’s always fun to connect the dots between your seemingly different worlds and I’m excited to see what other connections I make as I continue to work with Teach For Hungary.

IMG_7169.jpgIn addition to my internship, most mornings I’m in class, though I’m sure many people wouldn’t think of it as “class” per say. We have class Monday-Thursday from 10-12ish (sometimes we start earlier sometimes we end later), and our typical week consists of two guest speakers, a group presentation/facilitating class deep dive into any topic we’ve discussed thus far, and one activity/field trip to places like the historic baths and largest synagogue. Our guest speakers so far have been great! Each one has a story about their involvement with Hungarian NGOs and so far everyone has had such powerful messages I couldn’t possibly go into detail about all of them.

IMG_9513.JPEGOne guest speaker, in particular, was from an organization called Bator Tabor. This is one of the most well known NGOs in Hungary, and in fact, it is one of the top 3 NGOs in terms of gaining public funding through Hungary’s special 1% law; this law allows for taxpayers to donate 1% of their tax money to an NGO of their choice from the approved list. Bator Tabor is a campsite for children with serious illnesses. They have an incredibly well-developed program and volunteer training process. What was especially cool is that last weekend we actually got to visit the campsite for our own leadership retreat! I love everyone in this program and it was great to work together to accomplish odd challenges like lifting everyone over a rope between two trees, climbing a rock wall and swinging between hanging tires, and a more complex archery session than I’ve ever done (including learning to shoot backward and off of a wooden horse).

IMG_3136.jpgIMG_3126.jpgAnd in terms of giving a full update, this wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how beautiful Budapest is and how much I’ve loved exploring the city! My friends and I have had a number of random photo shoots and trips to hunt down the best-baked goods and ice cream. I even attempted to make paprika chicken (a Hungarian traditional meal) in our apartment and it turned out surprisingly good. I had never before considered how stressful grocery stores could be when you can’t read any labels and the store set up just doesn’t seem to make sense at all. And to top it off I finally feel pretty comfortable with the public transportation system which knock on wood is true since I’m about to head off to figure out where my bus stop is to take an overnight ride to Munich for the weekend!

Every day’s a new adventure, and I’m excited to see what new discoveries I make in the next four weeks! I have also found that the sense of adventure and exploration has reminded many of us that we need to spend more time being explorers in our own communities because there are bound to be hundreds of things we’ve yet to discover even in our own backyard.

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When You’re Lost

Sometimes the greatest things are found when you aren’t looking for them.

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It’s hard to believe it’s only been two full days since I arrived in Prague because it feels like we’ve already done so much and know the area pretty well. I’ve gotten pretty efficient at using the metro and tram to get around and we’ve gotten to that point now where we are wanting the “non-tourist experience.” And what I’ve realized is that some of our best discoveries and adventures so far have been the times we’ve gotten “lost.”

IMG_2596-1.JPGOne time we legitamently got lost by taking a wrong turn at some point on the way to the Charles Bridge (I’m still not fully sure where exactly we went wrong, but we got there eventually). We had a great time though trying to figure out our way back without the use of phones or communication. And then we went on a hunt for the Lennon Wall and found some weird status instead where we met some other people we were able to follow to where we actually wanted to be.

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Then today we intentionally got “lost.” We wanted to go to a new part of town rather than always going over by the bridge (the one area we felt comfortable that we knew), so we just decided to go down a random new road. This road ended up leading us to find beautiful buildings, including a theater, and we even found a little street market with food and crafts and live music which was awesome! Not to mention we had some great ice cream along the walk.

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It’s truly great to just be an explorer sometimes with no real mission or direction, just excitement for whatever might come up along the journey. Not to mention, getting lost really made us think quite a bit. We had to use spatial awareness and memory for figuring out our way back; critical thinking to make the best decisions when there was little info to rely on; communication and leadership to make sure the person with the best idea was truly heard; we even had to embrace our creativity and kid spirit when we found ourself in an interactive toy store.

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So much fun and learning happened while just wondering around and getting lost and trying to get unlost that it made me realize that some of my favorite learning moments have been when I “got lost.” Like when you lose yourself in a good book or lose track of time because your so absorbed in the prototype your building, or when you lose your bias/preconceptions about a character in a show. I wonder what school would look like if we embraced getting lost.

Tools for the Back Pocket

Every now and the Georgia Tech multimedia lab hosts workshops to learn new technology/art skills. I just happened to discover this fun fact when I accidentally opened an email from the school library the other day.

I noticed that there was a workshop for PhotoShop, and for me PhotoShop has always one of those tools I’ve wanted to know how to use, but haven’t necessarily needed to know how and thus haven’t learned. Therefore, when I saw this workshop was being offered at a time I could attend I decided I should look into it. But then the registration was full…

I left the event on my calendar anyway though, and all day today I was debating if I should just show up. I knew I had other things I could be working on, including studying for a test this weekend or trying to get ahead to limit my work over the long weekend. Plus I was very confused about where the workshop was actually taking place, which made me contemplate further if I should even attempting to go to it or just stay working where I was 20 minutes beforehand.

However, something inside me said that I would regret not at least trying to attend. So I packed up my stuff and wandered around the library until I found the right room in the back of the basement.

And man am I glad I attended!

PhotoShop is really super cool and I’m not sure when I would’ve learned the basics to this tool if I hadn’t today. I’m not sure when I’ll use this tool, but I feel like having it in my back pocket just in case will be an asset sometime down the road. Plus, often times the best teammates are those who come to a team with a random assortment of tools they can use even if they haven’t really needed to in the past.

Sometimes you just have to take a chance and not be afraid to show up. I got there early and was able to find a seat and there wasn’t a problem with me not having registered in advance. Turns out a bunch of people didn’t register in advance, so I’m not sure why the event invite was shown as “full”… I’m just glad it worked out and happy to add PhotoShop to my toolbox.