Permission to Learn Requested

by Jim Burke

If we are to become better at something it often, almost always, requires a period of doing that thing poorly on the way to doing it well. This is called learning. It is difficult. It is uncomfortable. It means inevitably passing through all or most of the phases of the ODONO cycle on our way to that new way, that New Orientation that is the evidence of our learning.

We must give ourselves permission to learn–which is not to say to teach badly on purpose–however public it may be if we are to truly internalize the standards and practices of the Common Core. We will teach new material, new units that will take more–or less–time than those they are replacing; thus will we appear to fail or at least fumble to some as we move through those first drafts of these new units, new lessons, new texts we are learning to teach.

When I was in the Peace Corps (in Tunisia) years ago, we had to learn Arabic. It meant studying Arabic 6 hours a day, living with our teachers who would not speak English with us even when we were at home, even at the simplest moments such as when I would ask Fethi “Is there a Coke in the ice box?” Those who would come to learn the language well, with some degree of fluency, were those most willing to make mistakes, those most able to tolerate the embarrassment of asking or saying something which, when we later discovered its meaning, would make us blush or cringe.

Real learning requires giving ourselves permission to endure such moments on the way to learning, even mastering, a subject whether one is a student or the teacher. I suspect many assume that those of us who write books about teaching are always juggling it all with ease; yet the truth is that we seem mostly to be comfortable with, or at least willing to accept and learn from, the mess of our own mistakes as we try to get it right, even as we know we never will, which is one of the things I suspect we all love about teaching.

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2 Responses to “Permission to Learn Requested”

  1. Jim Burke March 4, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks, Tim. That diagram says so much. Seth Godin talks about it in depth in his book The Dip.

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