Rookie Courage

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If you read some of the current literature on brain research and learning, a major maxim jumps out: be a rookie every year. From Ian Robertson’s Mind Sculpture to James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain to Eric Jensen’s Brain-Based Learning to Daniel Amen’s Making a Good Brain Great, we find that the brain has somewhat of a use it or lose it protocol. And you are best served by not only deepening your current learning, but by stimulating fresh neural-synaptic pathways through explorations of the new and novel. Learning a new language, new technology, knitting, or horseback riding, it really doesn’t matter. Just learn something new. We’ve known the value of learning renewal for some time. Remember Merlin’s admonition to the Once and Future King: “The best thing for being sad . . . is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” Still, it takes a lot of courage to admit you don’t know what you’re doing. The best of teachers understand the raw courage of this moment for their students. In The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer argues that this realization is essential in breaking the cycle of fear—the fear of both the teacher and student that the other will find out that they don’t really know everything. Rookie courage is sometimes quite difficult for veterans in particular. Their expertise weighs on their minds; their pride in past accomplishments restrains them from embracing a learning experience which might make them look like a duck out of water. However, the best of veterans know that living out loud with this experience—right in front of your students—may be the most important gift. It teaches students about the importance of rookie courage, and the fact that they need to develop it as a skill for lifelong learning. The great news is that our modern technology changes so rapidly we continuously have opportunities to be a rookie. From trying out online learning to experimenting with Podcasting, there is an endless array of moments for us to keep our own brains fresh with new learning and to engage our students as well. Yes, we may look foolish at times, as we fumble with new hardware, software, and systems. But we’ll not only survive, we’ll thrive because of it. We all just have to have a little Rookie Courage.

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