Are We Ready to Learn Again?

We’ve seen a major focus on Social Emotional Learning in the past few years. Certainly, the pandemic made it a universal priority for schools. Overall, this has been a good thing and one I’ve advocated for a long time. Our mission is not simply to develop knowledge and skills but also citizens who have a sense of well-being and dare I say, happiness. That said, I’ve noticed a trend that is separating SEL and learning and making it appear at times that the two are mutually exclusive. While no one would ever voice that idea, I think that the ways in which the pandemic has affected people differently are revealing themselves in the lack of readiness for many to really engage in deep and meaningful learning.

It’s difficult to say which comes first: “deep learning” or “wellness”. If I’m forced to make this a binary decision, I’ll likely opt for wellness first, and deep learning second. But that’s just it. I don’t think it is a binary thing. In fact, I think in many cases deep and engaging learning leads to wellness and vice versa. They are complementary. I will say that early on in the pandemic it was clear that the general level of wellness in our schools and the world was so low that it was necessary to put our efforts into the health and well-being of our learners (students, teachers and leadership). We were indeed impoverished and the degree to which schools and leaders took on this challenge was quite spectacular and educators proved they could really do hard things.

But the wellness issue has not been solved and likely won’t ever be solved. And yet what I’ve noticed is a wide range of readiness for individuals and communities to re-engage in deep learning. I know many leaders are working to make this once again the focus of their culture while others remain in neutral because they may be lacking a critical mass of influencers to get back to their purpose. As I talk to various leaders and educators I get these mixed and competing messages regularly. But returning to my previous point that well-being and deep learning are complementary, I’m looking to bring these two ideas together to design professional learning and culture for all learners.

When I think back to my early days with technology, I recall some similarities to what I’m seeing with well-being. Many tended to see technology and deep learning as two different things. They had a difficult time seeing how technology could be embedded into their traditional classrooms. Technology was a class that required specialized teachers and a designated space to access it. It’s taken years for this mindset to shift and some are still working to resolve this resistance. But for the most part and in theory, we understand and believe how one fosters the other.

So when it comes to developing mentally and physically healthy learners we have to include their intellectual health. The concept of intellectual health is somewhat nebulous and academics is not typically considered a health issue but by thinking about it in terms of health, perhaps we’ll do better in aligning it with our overall purpose of young people prepared to live, thrive and become contributing adults.

My research is anecdotal at best but I would still love to hear your voice around this matter. Speaking either for yourself, your district or colleagues, what is the readiness level of staff to re-engage with personal and professional learning? What obstacles or barriers still remain? What steps or structures have you seen that have supported a return to innovative practices and a desire to grow as a learner?