What does it take to lead a Class of Life-long Learners?

In CCE (Christian classical education) we regularly espouse the ideal of cultivating life-long learners by gifting children with the seven liberal arts.  This is what we are seeking to do.  My question for this meditation is then related and simple: “What kind of person is best suited to lead students to such a place in their lives?”  It almost seems rhetorical, does it not?  Those who are leading a life of learning are best suited to replicate such in their student’s lives.  So that leads me to a set of questions that might compel others to join the discussion:

A.      What are the characteristics of a life-long learner, apart from the obvious that they learn for a life-time.  Are we to be following Solon and state that we can’t know if we are one until we are dead?  Are there distinguishing traits commonly shared by such leaders/teachers?

B.      What can be done to identify such leaders so that they might be gathered in a locale, such as a school?

C.      What role does one such leader play in the development and encouragement of other such leaders?

D.      How much money does it take to finance a “professional” life-long learner’s needs for learning and should a school supplement that financial need or leave it to the learner?

E.       How does a school juggle the issues of time and “load” that compete in a teacher’s life?  Can we afford to give them time to be learners themselves, or is that just something they have to find in their leisure?

I think these are really huge issues because they cut right to the heart of our school’s success.  I have been struck more and more by the way Independent School Management (for instance) has addressed this issue.  They have struck at the monetary issue by saying that a strong, stable, quality school gives 2% of its overall budget toward professional development of its staff.  Just to crunch that esoteric percentage into some more meaningful, a school with a $1million budget who has let’s say 20 teaching staff would be investing about $800 per teacher per year in encouraging them and directing them toward being better teachers.  I will think aloud about the actual activities that such money could be profitably spent on in other blog.  But the notion itself is worthy of discussion.  I find it tough to argue against the notion of Professional Development. 

So what forms of PD are necessary and beneficial to a school faculty?  There seem to be two extremes with the middle being best.  On the one pole there would be the school administration that looked at its faculty and said “what we all need is ____” and filled the PO, sent off the check, and let everyone know that the “expert” was coming, ya’ll be there and sit through it.  He might actually have some wisdom at work there if the school is brand new and everyone needs to get on the same page.  But the opposite of that seems a pole as well.  There would be the Admin who would say, “Hey, we have 20K to spend on your being better at what you do.  You each find something you like, ask, and we will set you up with it.”  Now, again, some might actually really benefit from their choices, but a number would choose something that fit their comfort zone and did not address real needs because they often don’t see those needs in themselves.

So in the middle seems to be the best place.  There are some group activities that can scratch where everyone is itching well, then there is some specific needs that only a few or even just one faculty member can benefit from, but in the end make the whole team stronger by strengthening one member.  That leads to the notion of intent or objectives.  What might be the various objectives for such PD?

A.      Content – there is no question that all teachers can benefit by adding more knowledge to their lives, but this is highly individuated and is best done in either small pairings or single learner experiences; classes, if you will.

B.      Concepts – every good faculty will be seeking to better understand the great ideas of their shared community, and to do so in a manner that brings practical agreement demands that they be learned and discussed together.  This is where the group thing is powerful, if the leader is using proper facilitation and not simply viewing his role as delivering “content.”  He must lead them to the questions, not so much the answers.

C.      Habits of teaching: Pedagogy – teachers are thieves in a very good way.  We love to learn our art by seeing it modeled by others.  We often call these experiences “workshops” or “observations.”  This can be achieved by visiting other schools, having master teachers come and model good teaching, and encouraging peers to observe one another within the school.  Again, the temptation is to hire someone to come in and try to deliver pedagogy as though it were content.  This just does not work.  The experience must fit the objective.  The learner (teacher) must SEE the model, not have it outlined for them on the whiteboard.

D.      Cultural formation / Spiritual unity – The first three objectives are measurable to greater or lesser extent.  A report can be generated to show that the objective was met.  Now we are in the higher order of faculty development that is very “site specific” and driven way more internally than by bringing in an expert.  Faculty must be given time, must make time, must be the kind of people who demand that they talk about student behavior, their own behavior, the day to day joys and headaches of the school, and most importantly are in constant seasons of prayer and spiritual meditation about those things. This is perhaps the essence of a Christian school.

E.       Team building / encouragement / trust – I have made this last for two reasons.  A) it is the most important, so we have been building toward it, and B) it even more than D gets neglected due to its “subjective” nature.  As it is almost impossible to measure, it makes for a hard sell come budget time.  If it does not exist, your school is in peril.

I would simply summarize with the adage: “the Faculty are the School.”  It is a rule: if the faculty are not life-learners, and allowed to be such by the culture of the school, then the students will not be either.

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