In Seth Godin’s book What to do when it’s your turn (and it’s always your turn) he has a section titled “The Secret of Teaching (and the secret of learning) where he makes a useful point:
“I’ve taught all my life. And I’ve discovered that there’s only one thing that separates successful students from unsuccessful ones.
The good ones show up and say, “teach me.”
They look at failure and confusion as temporary conditions and say, “that didn’t work, show me another way.”
They are thirsty.
The other students have their arms crossed. They want to know if it’s on the test. They are restless. They need to be sold before they can be taught.
And that’s most of what happens in organized education. If you can’t sell it, people don’t learn it. When frustration (the twin sister of learning) shows up, most people stop trying.
Not thirsty enough."
Students need to hear messages like this from time to time. I know it sounds harsh but the days are long gone when just showing up to school and work led to success. That's not enough. Learning is an activity and it needs this thirst to drive it. I'm often amazed by how my students allow me to confuse them without stopping me. Of course, I don't mean to confuse them but it's clear they are confused. And, they aren't thirsty enough to say "that didn't work, show me another way."
What will happen when they graduate from school and are put in situations where they are confused about what to do? Will they remain just as silent and passive?
I think that often students look around and don't see any other students thirsty enough to learn and so conclude that they are just fine doing nothing. But, someone, somewhere is thirsty and acting on that. Someone somewhere is doing what I call thinking like a philosopher: asking more questions, demanding better answers, learning more than they think they need to know.
In other words, they are thirsty enough. Are you?
You've been given an assignment in a class you're taking. It could be a paper, a presentation, a research project. The question is what are you going to do with it?
Are you going to try to make it something interesting for yourself? Are you going to try to learn something? Or are you going to do just enough to pass? Just the minimum, no more.
It's only a history paper. It's only a speech in public speaking. It's only an assignment.
But, it could be an opportunity to do something remarkable. It could be an opportunity to learn something, even do something worth your time and effort.
It's your choice.
What does it take to succeed? I'm challenging my students to think about that question this semester. Often, success comes about because someone was willing to do what others weren't willing to do.
Most students won't ask questions. Successful ones will.
Most students won't work ahead of schedule when given the chance. Successful ones will.
Most students won't establish professional connections with professors on LinkedIn and other venues. Successful students will.
Most students won't learn more than is required.
Most students won't talk in class.
Most won't put in a little extra effort.
What about you?
Are you waiting? If so, why?
Are you waiting for the teacher to give you an assignment?
Waiting for the professor to give you instruction?
Waiting for your supervisor to give you directions?
Waiting for your customer to ask for something?
Waiting for your leaders to fix your problems.
We do a lot of waiting for others to act. Why?
Why are you waiting? Take the initiative. Take action.
Everyone has their comfort zone. It feels safe. No risks are involved. You know your territory.
But, it's dangerous there when you're too comfortable. You're too isolated and you risk missing out on good and useful ideas.
It's an interesting irony that some of the people most prone to stay in their comfort zone are educators. It may be their job to push others out of their comfort zone, but educators often don't stray from their comfort zone.
The world is filled with interesting people and big ideas. Some of these could be very useful to you though they are not directly related to your field. You'll never know if you don't step outside your zone and explore.
Are you in the health care industry? Learn about engineering, design thinking, philosophy.
Are you an educator? Learn about health care, marketing, construction.
Are you a student? Learn about everything you can.
Start with the assumption that every subject has something to teach you. Start with the assumption that every subject is related to what you're interested in.
Now, go and find how they are related.
We’ve all heard the quote that a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. The secret is to keep making steps consistently. Progress in life consists in continuing to make these small steps again and again and again. Those who have difficulty making progress often only see each small step by itself and fail to keep in mind the cumulative effect of all the small steps taken together.
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator