Sunday, October 9, 2011

Be a Fearless Learner

Think back to when you were young.  Go as far back in your memory as you can.  Okay, do you remember being fearful?  When faced with obstacles or new situations, did you avoid or embrace them?  I think iStock_000016399116XSmallmost if not all of us remember those early years as ones filled with possibility not impossibility.  We seem to be created with an inherent courage.  I can remember learning to ride a skateboard (we’re talking a board with metal wheels back in the 70’s), it was ridiculous trying to ride that early prototype but my friends and I did it.  Later when we could afford newer skateboards, we would take turns lining up kids and ourselves on the grass and see how many we could jump over.  Anyone see a risk here?  When we’re young we don’t think about risks, rather we only see what can be.  Something happens along the way though – we start to learn to fear things.

Now think back to your days as a student in K-12.  Do you remember what kindergarten was like?  My memories were of play, painting, story times, naps.  For nap time we would get our little mats out and we were supposed to fall asleep on them.  Are you kidding me?  There was too many things to do, to experience. We used to pretend that our mats were airplanes and make them into shapes that resembled them.  Making mistakes when trying new things was expected and common.  Moving on to grade school (as it was called back then), things became a little more high stakes.  We were graded on our school work!  Now there was the risk of not doing something right and receiving a bad grade.  Doing poorly at something was frowned upon while doing well was celebrated.  Carry this on through to high school then university and the stakes just kept on getting higher and the fear of failure as well.

As we became adults many of us learned to fear change and get stuck in our ways so to speak.  Look at technology for example.  How many times have you yourself said or heard someone else say “I iStock_000012625357XSmallmight break it, screw it up, lose it, I can’t do this, it’s too complicated, I can’t learn this, you do it for me, how do I start”.  Would your younger self think this way?  Fear is such a limiter to learning, trying, and embracing new experiences and opportunities.  Fear is a roadblock to success in amplifying and transforming education.  Fear holds us back from stepping out to change ourselves, to embrace new possibilities. But fear can be overcome!

My wife Shelley has journeyed into the amazing world of digital design and online business.  Three or four years ago she was a rather cautious user of technology.  She used email and Ebay.  Around three years ago I was reading an article in Wired Magazine.  For years Shelley applied her artistic abilities to Tole painting and wood craft.  She would create all sorts of crafts and sell them at craft fairs.  It was a labour intensive endeavor and she eventually tired of it.  The Wired article about Zazzle looked like an interesting possibility for Shelley to tap into her creative side and create an online business.  I read the article to her and suggested that she check out Zazzle.  The challenge for Shelley would be embracing the unknown, uncertainty, and going through a steep learning curve with technology and process: to become A Fearless Learner.  She had to learn digital photography, pen iStock_000011390935Smallbased tablet drawing programs (she uses the free Sumo Paint for her hand drawn designs), the Zazzle product system, Internet marketing including keyword strategy and promotion.  The result was her online store Designs by Shell (example product – Teachers Give a Hoot).  I somehow convinced her (she said “no way”) to start a blog “Shell’s Zazzle Journal” (she has 120 followers now) as a way to promote her learning and her product designs.  She also started writing lenses on Squidoo, a site created by the famous Seth Godin, joined Twitter, and more recently a Facebook fan page.  She makes money (increasing every year) from her Zazzle store, her Squidoo lenses, and Amazon referred purchases all from the comfort of home.  How cool is that!?  When she began this learning journey, she used to panic and ask for help whenever something unusual occurred with these digital spaces.  Well, she doesn’t ask me anymore…  she has become a Fearless Learner and an expert at what she does.

Are You a Learner?  If you aren’t, you’re missing out on the vast rich opportunities our world has to offer.  There’s a good book by John Ortberg, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat”.  The context is Christian but I think the message applies in general to learners as well.  A key message is that we have to be willing to take risks, have faith that things will work out, and go for it.  We shouldn’t let fear hold us back from achieving our goals, our vision for our lives, experiencing life to the fullest. 

In this technologically advanced world, change is an inevitable constant.  If we are sitting still and not learning, we’re falling behind.  The future has so much to offer if we would only embrace it.  I think it is very important that K-12 students remain fearless.  What can we do to adapt their journey through our schools such that they are open to change, always willing to embrace new ideas, and to take (calculated) risks?  How about you, what fear might you overcome today by becoming a Fearless Learner?