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Education Opinion

Embrace the Messiness of Learning

By Megan M. Allen — March 23, 2017 2 min read
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I’ve recently begun learning visual note-taking. And I’m bad.

How bad?

Many of my drawings look like they were completed by my dog Oliver, in a dark closet, while he is concentrating whole-heartedly on a Milkbone and not on the paper in front of him.

One part of me wants to give up because I’m no good. Especially when my colleagues with more expertise (and talent) churn out beauties like these in comparison (more on this Passion Map in next week’s blog).

But I don’t, because I remind myself learning is messy, confusing, and nebulous, especially in the beginning. It’s uncomfortable.

Flash forward to barre class today (barre is a fitness class that is a blend of ballet, yoga, and Pilates). All 5 feet 7 inches of me was laying horizontally on a Pilates ball, *balanced* with my outer upper thigh as the fulcrum. I looked like a red headed, out-of-control see saw, if you’re needing a visual.

I piped up to our instructor, Jessica. “I don’t think I’m going it right.”

“Why?” she responded.

She continued.

“Are you struggling to balance? Is every part of your body moving and trying to figure it out? Are you constantly trying to realign? Then you are doing it right. It’s new. You are learning.”

Again, I remind myself that learning is messy, confusing, and nebulous, especially in the beginning. It’s uncomfortable.

Lastly, I am so thankful to one of my graduate students who reminded me of the discomfort of deep learning earlier this week. I’m teaching a class on Policy Fluency, where we are working as teachers to unpack what we need to know about education policy, how we can keep up with it, where the access points are, and how we can engage colleagues and stakeholders in the process. It is a big class, and it has lofty aspirations. It’s tough.

It can be murky to wade into the policy world outside the classroom, especially since our lives as teachers are usually confined to the four walls of a classroom. This class pushes us all out of our comfort zones, but right smack dab into the world that impacts our every move in the classroom.

I asked the class for feedback on Monday’s class, and one of the exit tickets really struck a chord:

“I can tell I’m in a place of deep learning, because I feel a little all over the place. It’s messy. But that’s because I am trying new things and trying to figure out how big systems work and how it all connects to my classroom. I am feeling empowered.”

For a third time this week, I am reminded that learning is messy, confusing, and nebulous, especially in the beginning. It’s uncomfortable.

Why do we, as adults, expect learning to be easy for ourselves?

Why are we quick to give up if it’s messy, but teach our kids and students to stick it out?

Are we practicing what we preach as adult learners?

My call to action, for myself and for you: Learning is messy. It’s ugly. But proceed. Deep learning takes struggle and discomfort. Let’s model it for our kids. So pick up that guitar, try out a new hobby you are curious about, or take lessons on a beautiful foreign language. Get uncomfortable. Get messy. Reconnect with the murkiness of deep learning again, so you can remember what it’s like to be a student in your classroom.

Let’s wade on in together.

Photo courtesy of Chris Isherwood.

The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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