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Learning is a dance

Updated: May 12, 2023

I wrote this mid last year and it came to mind again today so I thought I would share it here.

The last month or two have been huge for me- recovering health (#wip), a lot of change, taking a leap of faith career wise, studying te reo Māori, learning about running a business (so. many. little. things!), and rehearsing for a show. Some days I cry because it all seems too much, other days I laugh at the joy of discovering new (to me) things and all of the time I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences I am lucky to have.

I am writing this as I have been processing a lot about how I am coping with the changes and learning processes that I am going through. I am a teacher, at heart I always will be, I've been doing it for so long now I think it is just part of me if that makes sense, but I have been immersed in being a learner in a very confronting and focused way lately too... I think that's where the tears have come in! I will use the dancing for the show as an example.

I love dancing but I am not a dancer, unless the 80s music comes on loud and the vibe is really good then watch out world I am owning that dancefloor (it doesn't always look pretty or co-ordinated but the enthusiasm is off the charts)!! Despite this I have ended up in a whole lot of dance numbers for the show I am in at the moment, and I thought 'oh well, I'll give it a whirl'. Unfortunately I missed two weeks of rehearsals at the start due to illness and then I went to my first dance rehearsals... oh my goodness! I was everywhere except where I needed to be in the routines that I had looked at online, and I was so bound up with not getting the first part right that new routines were lost on me. Quite frankly I had no idea what I was doing. Our choreographer is a genius (I don't say that lightly either) and a brilliant teacher who really does a fantastic job with our community theatre. She was so kind and patient with me as I tried to catch up but I felt like I was letting everyone down, hogging our choreographer's time and I just got so frustrated and annoyed with my inadequacy. I would try to practice at home and fail in my own living room too so I'd give up. What was worse was that many of the other dancers seemed to have either studied dance as they'd grown up or were studying dance... oh and they were a lot younger too! I seemed to be getting worse, not better, at each rehearsal. So there I was having a pity party... everyone is better than me, I can't do this, I'm too old, it's too hard, I suck. Then it dawned on me, I had heard things like this somewhere else... yes, at school from some of our learners (except for the 'old' bit). Embarrassingly, I realised that everything I taught my learners about learning; resilience is something we gain from doing hard things, that it's OK for learning to be hard, you have to go through hard to get to easy, that we can use our mistakes as information etc; all that wisdom I espoused so liberally as I coached my kids to their own greatness, was lost in the rhetoric of beating myself up for not being good enough fast enough. Not only that, I was inadvertently diminishing the years of hard work and dedication of my cast mates who seemed to get the steps so easily. Of course they would pick it up easier, they had trained and put the hard yards in for years in order to do this. I needed to acknowledge that I need to work harder, break the steps down a little further, take it a little slower, because I don't have the well honed skills they have from the hard work they have put in. They are experts, heck they could even help me... if I was brave enough to ask! I expect my learners at school to embrace the discomfort and take responsibility for their learning and they are just kids! Thank goodness for this flash of insight and taking responsibility for my own learning... I am pleased to say I am getting there- literally one step at a time.

Erika Twani quotes Leland Val Van der Wall in her book Becoming Einstein's Teacher who describes learning in the following way:

Learning is when you consciously entertain an idea, get emotionally involved with the idea, step out and act on the idea, and improve the results in some area of your life. Becoming Einstein’s Teacher, page 77

If this is learning then we can see why it can be overwhelming at times. It takes consciousness or awareness, you need to connect with it in some way, and then you have to do something with it. You need to know what you don't know so you can know when you've learned it. There's nothing passive in here.

As an adult I think we sometimes forget that learning is hard work and that it takes effort, action and time. Many of us who have been successful in our study or previous roles can feel out of sorts and become frustrated with ourselves when it isn't easy in our new roles... we were successful there, why can't we be successful here?! Many of us have well-honed comparison muscles, which have been exercised in making us feel good when we have been successful in the past, but when we become learners again in our new roles, it seems that everyone else is doing OK and we are left feeling confused at our perceived lack of competence. I used to train experienced teachers working in a new environment with a specific resource, we had high standards so we sought successful classroom teachers to be our educators but often during the 10 week training period there would be a moment or two of utter despair... when will I get it? I feel so dumb? Why can't I get it!? What's wrong with me???? One of my colleagues, Kathleen who had a long experience with this organisation and had trained many educators, would use the following analogy and I loved it... you see the athletes at the Olympics, like the ice skaters, they are amazing to watch, graceful, strong and flawless. They make it look SO EASY! Of course it looks easy, they've trained to make it look easy; we don't see the years and years of getting up in the small hours, training for hours, organising their life around this passion and pursuit. We don't see the hundreds of times they fell, the tears they cried, or the frustration they felt. We just see a few minutes of a beautiful, flawless performance.

When we start something new, we shouldn't be surprised that it is hard. We should expect to feel a little uncomfortable... this is learning after all. When we look at others around us we can choose to compare ourselves and come up wanting or we can choose to appreciate the work that has gone in to what we perceive as better than where we are right now. We can seek advice from experienced peers, they may even become like wayfinders for us, and we can also acknowledge that it will take effort, action and time for us to get from where we are to there (wherever you decide there is for you)- this is self compassion in action. A child learning to walk doesn't just go from rolling over one day to sprinting like Usain Bolt (although I admit toddlers can get some speed up when necessary!). There's a process, and it takes effort, action and time. We don't dismiss their efforts and refuse to acknowledge progress if they aren't up and running immediately, in fact it's quite the opposite usually, there is often great celebration for the smallest step (pardon the pun) in the right direction.

I figure this is a reminder to me, and anyone who reads this, that as life long learners there are going to be times when things get hard and that's OK. We have a choice when it gets hard, we can sink into despair at our perceived inadequacies or we can step boldly towards the learning knowing that we will need effort, action and time. We can fall into the comparison trap and limit ourselves based on what we perceive of others, or we can put one foot in front of the other and take responsibility for our journey whilst learning from those who have navigated these paths before. And finally we need to remember that shame will keep us small and stop us learning, self compassion will help us grow and learn more. The choice is up to us- learning is like a dance and it can lead to wonder and joy if we step towards it with everything we've got.

Megan brings her teaching experience, intense interest and curiosity about the brain, and coaching skills together in all that she does as she helps ignite sparks and create meaningful magic in the world. Do you need help with:

  • personal or professional coaching for you or a team

  • creating engaging course content or learning materials

  • finding a motivational speaker for a seminar or conference

  • training in topics such as team dynamics, wellbeing, goal setting for success

  • PLD facilitation for school and Kāhui Ako on a range of topics including hauora/wellbeing, curriculum design, student agency

Phone: 027 473 9971

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