November 6, 2019

Is it Possible to Focus Too Much On Learning?

It’s pretty hard to argue that there has never been a better time in history to be a learner. Whatever topic you’re interested in, there’s a book, podcast, video series, Instagram account and Facebook group you can join. It’s truly amazing.

As educators, learning is what we live and breathe. We’ve also seen teachers, in particular, begin to identify as learners first, teachers second. The information age is also becoming a learning age.

But recently I’ve come to have some concerns about this, specifically around our own professional learning. Great educators are highly self-aware and recognize that they always could do better. I fall into that category. While I don’t read many educational books, I do consume a great deal of content that I hope makes me a better educator and person. But I think we can easily reach a point when it’s too much and not only too much, might be potentially unhealthy.

Unhealthy? That can’t be right. Learning and trying to be better at what you do and who you seem like how we should be spending our time. This is true but I’ve noticed that for me it can become a very selfish pursuit. I’ve also noticed that by learning about all the things I should be doing but aren’t I often linger on my deficiencies and soon realize how flawed I am. Again, that’s not necessarily bad and obviously we should all think about how we might do better but I wonder when it’s too much. I suppose what I’m learning is that it’s not always about me. I think this might be particularly true for those of us who either by choice or necessity are fully immersed in our work.

During my current hiatus, I’ve been reading and reflecting a lot. That’s all about me. At the same time, I’ve been spending time with my grandkids. That’s all about them. When you’re with a newborn and a 2-year-old, it’s hard not to be present and focused. When you’re watching them and loving them, you realize that your self-improvement and learning will never take priority or be seen as a better use of your time and thoughts. Not that it’s a zero-sum game but a wonderful reminder.

My daughter shared something with me that reiterates this point in a different way. She recently started a new job and had been carpooling with 2 others. She is somewhat of an introvert but found herself having some unique conversations with her 2 travel mates during the 45-minute drive to work and home. She came home feeling energized. She described the conversations as nothing special, just normal interactions with other humans. For a variety of reasons, she has been commuting on her own. During her commute, she listens to her podcasts and spends time thinking and reflecting on her day. She comes home feeling tired and just wants to sit in front of the television. In her words, the reflection and listening to various self-help podcasts, she was living inside herself way too much. Being challenged to focus on others shifted her focus and benefitted from the energy and company of others.

If you read this and conclude I’m saying we should be learning or trying to make ourselves better, you’ve misread this. What I’m wondering and exploring is if there is indeed a limit to how much we focus on our own learning? Do we need to intentionally get the focus off ourselves on onto others? I’m sure those of you with young children probably don’t have this problem as you can’t help but be fully engaged in caring for others. Certainly, teachers and principals spend their days focusing on others. So maybe this problem is not yours either. Or maybe you leave your work only to immerse yourself in reading or Twitter chats designed to push you to reflection, reflection about you.

I’ve always been a huge advocate for reflection and self-awareness so this post might be seen as contradictory. I hope not, I think it’s more about exploring the nuance and finding the balance. I love to learn but life isn’t just about learning, it’s mostly about living.

Let me know if this makes any sense.