Typhani Harris | February 2014

Life Long Learners: the quest to practice what we preach

While discussing focused note-taking, at my latest literacy team meeting, a colleague mentioned that she feared our teachers are getting burned out because every year there is something new…first there were thinking maps, then there were new writing programs, now there’s Common Core.  Every year it changes, which begs the question: why relearn, rework, and redesign our classes with the “latest” method when it is just going to change?  And yes this is true, once we get the hang of something it changes.

But we are educating our future citizens…and since the world is ever changing, so should we, because we are ultimately preparing students for a world that does not yet exist.  As educators we need to be life long learners who are in a constant state of change, revision, and renewal.  We can’t possibly teach the way we did a decade ago, we can’t even teach they way we did last year.  We need to be the proponents of change, which means we need to embrace the ideology of life-long learning.  We all know that this, and we all preach life long learning to our students; but what does this mean, and how do we find the time to practice the very words we preach?  In preparation for this article, I posed the following questions to my staff:

1.  What does being a life-long learner mean to you?
2.  How do you personally remain a life long learner?
3.  What tips would you give fellow educators who want to be life long learners?
4.  How do you encourage your students to be life long learners?

Here are some of my favorite responses:

“By being perpetually interested in the life condition—what it means to be human, to live life fully, to have professional, relational, and spiritual direction that I fill with gaining understanding. It does not mean chasing dry, dull statistics; forgetting that we are all human, all fallible, all incomplete, and that therefore, no scientific approach to our condition as humans will fully realize ourselves. I chase those instincts that resonate with passion, with pain, with love because these things matter in life.”  –Gina Morrison, English

“I would suggest that educators take risks.  Try new things, have open-dialogues with your colleagues and try and discover new ideas.  Give yourself time to “step-away” from the daily grind and try to challenge yourself.” –Candace Cayer, Assistant Principal

“Stay Humble and Hungry.” –Justin Kirkpatrick, Social Sciences

“To me this means being engaged in learning new things throughout a lifetime and knowing how to acquire new knowledge. I remind students that learning is a life-long process, and no one ever knows everything.  I encourage them to take advantage of greater freedoms as they progress through educational systems, and to take classes and study subjects that really interest them.” –Julie Hollingsworth, English

“It’s all about curiosity and the willingness to investigate things you don’t understand/know.”   –Patricia Gough, Math

“The simple answer is choosing to be one; the reality is having to make time in our schedules and making the effort to find the best and most reliable information.  The latter also means that we will pursue information and resources that are applicable to our classrooms, instead of attending district-led meetings and discussions that we simply justify as being part of our job or responsibility.” –Chris Mitts, Social Sciences

There is much we can do on our own to maintain a life of constant learning.  Although furthering our education and attending conferences are great opportunities, we should also reflect, research, and revise on our own.  Ironically, all school districts attempt to impart this philosophy through district led/mandated professional development opportunities, which places us in a similar situation as our students.  We are forced to sit and listen, but our value in the information is not always present.  Preparing this article brought a couple things to the forefront when discussing the idea of the life long learner.  If we maintain a life of reflection, research, and revision we will forever be life long learners.


This transition to Common Core really requires us to be life long learners and consistently better our craft.  Take the time to reflect on your best practices as well as your tremendous failures.  If a lesson doesn’t work, that is ok, reflect on the process and find ways to make it better the next time.  Talk to your colleagues, share the trials and tribulations.  That act of networking will provide a valuable resource for your future lessons! Plan an outing, or a day of appetizers and conversations. Camaraderie within the school environment is so important, but some of the best ideas have been born outside of the school walls and in familiar and fun settings.


Remain curious.  We are in the digital age, where information is literally at our fingertips.  Although there are numerous blogs, online articles, and even online training and tutorials that can help us daily to fine-tune our craft, it is important that we also feed our curiosities.  We must take time to engage in the things that make our souls happy.


We all have those favorite timeless lessons that we enjoy teaching.  So, let’s revise them for the 21st century.  The 21st century skills are: learning and innovation skills; information, media, and technology skills; life and career skills; and of course our core subjects (reading, writing, and arithmetic).  So how can you take your favorite lesson and bring it into the now? Make it new, make it fresh, and make it exciting all over again!

As life long learners we need to consistently better our craft.  When was the last time you attended a conference, or read research and literature about the current changes in your subject or teaching in general?  What about the last time you took a cooking class, gone to a museum, or learned something fun like how to surf?  Education is everywhere, and if we don’t better ourselves, how could we possibly better our future?

Next Week: Secrets of a Dance Teacher

Professional Organizations: life long learners and learning at the core!

One obvious way to remain up to date in our field and foster the idea of life long learners and learning is to be actively involved in professional organizations.  This article will share the many organizations available to the Dance Educator!

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.