"The truth of Zen, just a little bit of it, is what turns one's humdrum life, a life of monotonous,..
Every teacher has a dream of encouraging lifelong learning in all their learners. They will not rest until their students shine. When you think of it, this seems like such a tall order but it really isn’t.
It happens by osmosis when you demonstrate you are as passionate and curious a learner as you want your kids to be. The ultimate trick to teaching lifelong learning effectively is to become a lifelong learner yourself.
Lifelong learning is a conscious and joyous effort to keep learning as we grow. So what does a lifelong learner look like? According to LLCQ there are 4 pillars to lifelong learning:
- Learning to know
- Learning to do
- Learning to live together and with others
- Learning to be
In addition, lifelong learners are able to manage uncertainty and communicate across and within cultures, sub-cultures, families, and communities. They are also exceptional at negotiating conflicts. We can keep encouraging lifelong learning habits in our classrooms by taking these pathways as both teachers and parents.
6 Powerful Ways of Encouraging Lifelong Learning
- Be a model of inspiration
- Speak the language often
- Rethink the definition of failure
- Assume that everyone learns by doing
- Teach and model positive self-talk
- Remember learning doesn’t stop after school
1. Be a model of inspiration
Kids are always watching and imitating us. By showing that you are always learning, students will realize that it continues throughout adulthood and is an unending journey of personal growth and development. A famous example of a lifelong learner is the late Richard Feynman. He portrayed a love of solving difficult problems just for the sake of it. His most famous moment was deciphering the problem of the o-rings which caused the explosion on the Challenger space shuttle in 1986.
During a hearing, he performed an experiment where he placed the o-rings in freezing water. He then showed how they disintegrated in heat. Millions watching saw this dramatic event play out on their televisions. His students were so touched by his infectious love of learning that many speak of him to this day.
2. Speak the language often
What can you say to keep encouraging lifelong learning? Take cues from Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset. If we praise effort alone, even if the outcome is not satisfactory, we might hear ourselves say, “Great effort!” to make them feel good. This may cause disillusioned students to feel misled when they realize their low achievement. Better to “praise a child’s process and strategies, and tie those to the outcome.” Here are some of Dweck’s own examples:
- “Wow, you really practiced that, and look how you’ve improved.”
- “See, you studied more and your grade on this test is higher.”
- “You tried different strategies and you figured out how to solve the problem.”
- “You stuck to this and now you really understand it.”
We invite you to get a copy of this great discussion tool below for your classrooms that compare the beliefs that embody both the fixed and growth mindset. Spark lively discussions with your learners about what they can do to positively transform mindsets to empower rather than disempower themselves.
3. Rethink the definition of failure
Too many of us are setting our children up for a fixed mindset and a fear of learning. So we need to begin redefining the word “failure” as “opportunity” to debrief, improve, and excel.
When students are ashamed of failing, they will do everything in their power to look like they didn’t fail. They will hide their failures for fear of looking stupid. Patience is of the utmost importance here so be sure to plan carefully to set your children up for success. Scaffolding skills deliberately and thoughtfully set up realistic expectations and minimizes failure.
4. Assume that everyone learns by doing
Use all resources and materials around you, even the great outdoors if the weather (and school policy) permits. Get their heads out of the textbook, go out into the world and gets hands-on with learning, and be prepared to get messy. There’s no better way to get kids excited about learning and discovering that it can be fun after all.
5. Teach and model positive self-talk
The skill of positive self-talk lives on long after students have left your classroom. Encouraging lifelong learning involves remaining positive about the journey, and with this focus, we can turn negative into empowering ones. It comes down to choices—what we choose to think, say, and feel. No one crawls inside our heads and controls our thoughts and beliefs. They are ours and we must own them as lifelong learners.
You can guide children to turn around negative self-talk using logic, compassion, and encouragement to help them banish those deconstructive ideas.
6. Remember learning doesn’t stop after school
Most kids think that learning stops during summer vacation. We see students leaving for summer as a happy time when we should be figuring out how to keep the students learning during summer. If we make learning fun, there should be no problem in getting kids to come back for an awesome summer session.
Have learning clubs during a long break can help you all learn and bond together, forming lasting relationships. For some schools that pay extra for summer activities, this might mean an added income for the teacher wanting to foster lifelong learning.
We’re All Learners for Life
We are all lifelong learners whether we know it or not. Some are more conscious about it than others. Now you’re conscious of it. From here on, emanate outward joy by encouraging lifelong learning in yourself and in how you speak of it to others. Be an awesome example to your learners and children.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Feb 19, 2019, updated September 19, 2021