28 September 2018

Lifelong Learning is Lifelong Thrival

Lifelong learning is commonly thrown into the purpose statements of schools and educational institutions of all kinds. Lifelong learning is a buzz word for something important, but what?

The following is an excerpt from my book Attitude First: A Leadership Strategy For Educational Success(Trafford, 2004) talking about the role of attitude in engaging students starting from the idea of lifelong learing:

Lifelong Learning Reconsidered

The most important challenge for schools today is the pervasive disengagement of students from the learning process. 
It has become commonplace for schools to set lifelong learning as a key goal in response to patterns of student disengagement. 
The problem is identifying success. 
What is lifelong learning? Unless you define it, you cannot tell if the goal has been met. 
Therein lies a difficulty with the term itself; “lifelong” clearly implies that your result can only be assessed after the life-span has ended. 

Improving schools to achieve a system that supports thrival for everyone requires that we each take personal responsibility for how we are each “being” school. 
We have to strive for thrival. 

Achieving thrival does not require anyone else to change; your attitude is what counts. 
The improvement of schools is too important to leave to those in positions of power, authority, and expertise. 
It is up to you and me. 
If we lead, then the leaders will follow, they won’t have any choice. 

So let’s reconsider lifelong learning. 
Given this thrival theory, how will we be best able to assess the potential for lifelong learning amongst students? 
As John Dewey wrote in 1938, “We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the long run amounts to anything.” 
Thrival begets thrival. 
If we teach children to thrive, then they will learn exactly the skills they need to thrive in the future. 
The lessons of thrival are learned through the investment of attention, navigating by values and actively collaborating on the creation of your life stories. 

Meaningful assessments will have to reflect the six states of mind that compose our subjective experiences and our ability to attend. 
Of course, assessing states of mind is a tricky business under the best of circumstances, so this is a substantial challenge. 
However, we don’t need to wait for the official systemic assessment tools of the testing industry because most humans have a pretty good, though not perfect, ability to assess the state of mind of others. 
We refer to our holistic sense about states of mind by the term “attitude”. 
To revise Dewey’s statement, I would suggest, “if we can achieve a good attitude in the present moment, then that is the best preparation for achieving good attitudes in every subsequent moment. Discovering how to achieve a good attitude is the only preparation that amounts to anything in the long run.” 

Engagement is the first prerequisite for attaining the goal of lifelong learning. 
I understand disengagement as the choice not to actively influence your own course on the river of life. 
Disengaged people choose to passively go with the flow rather than take an active part in navigating toward a more favorable outcome. 
If you've ever floated in an inner tube on a river, then you know how it feels to have limited influence on your own course and the sensitivity of your attitude, which way you are facing, to your ability to exercise that limited influence. 
I remember riding down one of the three rivers in Three Rivers, California, when I was a kid. 
There was a particular section that was great fun for riding down in our inner tubes; so my two older brothers and I would go down that section, pull out, and walk back up to do it again. 
This was a rapid section in three parts, and in between the second and third parts, you had to paddle yourself from one side of the river to the other in order to catch the last good section. 
Well, the inner tubes we were using were quite large and I was much smaller than my brothers, so I could barely reach the water in order to paddle since—in the sitting position—only my forearms hung down toward the water. 
The first few times I tried the run, I would get over the first two sections fairly well except that at the bottom of the second rapid, I would inevitably brush against some rocks and start spinning (an uncontrollable attitude). 
By the time I got back under control, it was too late to catch the good part and I’d wash up on the shallows just below. 
Well, I finally figured out that riding on my belly gave me better paddling control since my whole arm hung over both sides, and I was able to get my attitude under control in time to cross the moving river to get in good position for the final fall. 
It was a triumph of ingenuity for me because not only did it get me over the final obstacle, but my brothers, seeing the advantages in maneuverability and the extra thrill of facing down the rapid, quickly copied my technique. 
Soon, we all became accomplished experts at maintaining attitudinal control even as we were swept along by the immense forces of nature. 
(Disclaimer: The face-down position is of limited application since you also run the risk of having your face smashed into the rocks. My brothers and I were lucky enough not to have more than minor injuries throughout these white-water adventures.)

Now consider using the metaphor of floating down the river to talk about what actually happens in learning/teaching/schooling and education. 
We are immersed in learning all the time. 
We can navigate through it. 
We can observe its movement, as well as our own movement within it. 
I do not know where it comes from nor where it is going to, but I am quite sure that those of us in it are not its true source. 
Even as we are flowing within it, it can also flow through us. We can stay on the surface or we can dive into its depths. 
The experiences available to each of us in this flow is determined partly by the position and surroundings in which we find ourselves and also the quality, quantity and nature of what we allow to flow into and out of ourselves. 
Every moment that flows in and out of ourselves, in turn, influences our position and surroundings. 
Our on-going dynamic interactions with each other and the world within this larger flow create our moment-to-moment experiences. 
At any given moment you have a whole set of relationships with “the current”, other individuals in proximity to you, and with yourself: an attitude.

The only tools you have are the four channels of attention: physical energy, emotional connection, mental focus, and spiritual alignment. 
Along those channels you can go in eight directions—protect, create, participate, be idle, identify, understand, be free or affect. 
Disengagement means you sit back in your inner tube and accept whatever fate the river has in store for you. 
Engagement on the other hand means that you are going to paddle and kick to get to the good parts. 
Full engagement means you won’t just sit back and paddle casually, you’ll get down on your belly and face the river to make sure you get all the good rides you’re capable of catching. 

So what can we do with these four channels? 
How do we use these tools to get belly down and paddle? 
Loehr & Schwartz {in the book The Power of Full Engagement} recommend developing personal rituals that you establish and refine in order to more effectively expend and recover your energy in each of the four channels. 
A more general description of the process of increasing your investments of attention are to first, play around with techniques that seem promising. 
If you find that playing around seems to be effective at making improvements, the second step is to dive into the mainstream of the community that teaches that technique and work at gaining mastery. 
Finally, you need to develop a strategy for training yourself for the long haul and actively seeking sustainable balance. 
The signs of success in all three steps are basically the same, enthusiasm for continuing to engage, joyful personal discoveries, and an increasing sense of overall satisfaction and fulfillment.

The lifelong learning process is one that is best learned by example. 
If you insist on using the term lifelong learning, then it is important to know what you mean by it and also put it into practice.
Lifelong learning is not actually optional, the real question is whether your lifelong learning is actually serving to create well-being. 
Lifelong learning that hones the skills of human and ecological exploitation, fuels the fires of hatred, and indiscriminately spreads chaos, disease and destruction is wrong. 
This was a excerpt from my book, Attitude First.
The rest of this site is concerned with how to change the context of teaching by shifting education policytowards supporting teachers better.

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