Learning again

Many of you know I’m on sabbatical. Having witnessed other people take sabbaticals, I had a vague idea about what it would be like. I thought I’d enjoy it but wondered if I would be a bit lost without a regular schedule and if I would have a had time getting motivated each day. Others worried I would have a hard time not being around other people on a regular basis. (A far concern from my perspective.) Almost one-fourth of my way through and I am happy to say – I am loving it.

It didn’t take me long to develop patterns for organizing my time. (Working with a coach probably helped! Thanks Dawn!) I do commit to showering and “going to work” each morning (in my office across the hall) and I have enough connections to the outside world that I haven’t lost contact with colleagues and friends or my social skills. And, believe it or not, I run out of time each day, each week, and each month to do all I had hoped to do. Needless-to-say, motivation has not been a problem. My lists of books read and to read are both growing. My time writing is both focused and spontaneous. My networking is strategic and open to new possibilities.

Reflecting on this first chapter, my biggest discovery is I’m learning to learn again. I love learning, well mostly. I love the kind of learning that happens on my terms – when I get to choose the topic, the timing, and the grading scale. I don’t love learning that is forced on me,  that disorients me, and that exposes my weaknesses or blind spots. As an educator, my “business” is to cultivate environments were others learn and to learn myself. Most of my world lives in the first category – learning that happens on my terms. I am in this work because that is an environment where I can thrive. And I got to this place by being a learner…mostly through traditional avenues of campus classrooms and accredited degree programs, with some contextual learning thrown in. Yet in today’s networked, information age, traditional pathways of learning (at least in my 53 years experience) are being disrupted and learning itself is being reimagined. This places me more in the second category – learning that’s hard and not on my terms. This disruption has challenged me as a teacher. In the past several years I have been rethinking “the classroom,” and even more importantly, my own approach and paradigm for learning. But I’ve been doing it all in the midst of a long to-do list. Learning with limited time and tight deadlines is instrumental, and while there is a place for that, what I need is to do the harder, transformational work that comes from the second category.

This year, I get to open up space to rediscover what it is to be a learner in the midst of new realities and challenges. My learning is not guided by a professor, and I’m not learning to get credit for a course. I’m learning because as an educator, I need to rediscover the joy and pain of transformational learning. I have goals for my learning (mostly attached to my writing project and to the courses I teach), but they serve more as guideposts along a journey than agenda items for each day. As you can see by the picture above, the pile of books on my desk is diverse, and that is just the current “to read” stack. I’m also learning from podcasts, online lectures and presentations, and experiences in the world. Finding resources for learning is not the problem, the challenge is creating space for reflecting and processing the ideas- that is where I need to exercise discipline (and perhaps interrupt my preconceived schedule for the day).

This morning I had the joy of stumbling across a podcast with one of the authors in my stack of books. (Kate Bowler is the author of Everything Happens for a Reason and is a colleague I’ve appreciated for years.) Wavering between curiosity and procrastination, I started my workday by listening to the podcast. Kate’s words provided theological language for my own experiences, challenged my thinking about leadership, and expanded my thinking about this journey of learning I am currently on. I invite you to take a listen – the link is below. And here are some ideas and phrases that stood out to me today:

  • are we willing to abandon our own assumptions? about life and about God?
  • facing our own arrogance is painful and a deep sense of gratitude might be a gift on the other side.
  • there is freedom is knowing our limits.
  • the resurrection is real – and all around us.
  • resurrection is preceded by death – real dying and decade.
  • death is coming to the end of ourselves.
  • hope (and faith) is knowing God is present.
  • God makes things new.
  • community matters – and maybe we need to lower our bar and receive what others have to give.
  • needing others is hard – at least for those of us who value individualism and illusion of autonomy.
  • loving a preschooler through the journey of death and new life makes it real – and perhaps forces us to name the hard parts of life in simple, honest terms.

Podcast – Can These Bones w/Kate Bowler

I’m going to dwell in Kate’s words – and these takeaways – today as I get back to my previously “scheduled” day. I’m going to let these ideas interrupt me, as I also am not going to force myself to name three concrete lessons I have learned by dinner time.

So how is your learning going? Do you have some practices that allow you to shift from pragmatic learning (think YouTube videos to fix the toilet) to transformational learning? As I continue on this sabbatical journey I will use this space to periodically pause and offer some resources and reflections. Drop in if you are interesting. And I’d also like to hear from you about your own journey of learning in this information age. How are you pairing old ways of learning with new ways? In what ways is your learning being disrupted? How are you finding learning partners?