Today we are honored to hear from Laura Honeywood, a passionate educator who does amazing things to empower students to fight for justice in her classroom. Here are some of her thoughts (and Aristotle’s) about adult learning. Take a look!
An Aristotelian Consideration of Adult Learning
Sometimes schools seem to have it all (fantastic intentions, phenomenal mission statements, hard-working staff, and students brimming with promise) and yet they are plagued, none-the-less, by an almost tactile strain in the teachers’ lounge. Educators can come to feel that our pursuit of equitable and world-changing education is unsustainable due to our stressful work environments and the tremendous energy that we pour into our profession. Sometimes it seems that our life balance is out of whack. Aristotelian ethics may offer some direction to educators who wish to push back against the burn out and live the good life while teaching students to create a better planet. Our work environments may be more sustainable and fulfilling if we strive to balance pleasure/enjoyment, responsible citizenship, and our own pursuit of further knowledge.
Perhaps the most obvious component of a joyous life is enjoyment itself. While Education to Save the World has already touched on creating joyous learning environments and Kate Hannan and Nariman Kanaan offered excellent tips for implementing joy, it bears repeating that students do well in environments where joy is fostered and where they feel safe enough to take risks and be happy. There is no reason to believe that we, as educators would be any different. Recent scholarship suggests that, in order to foster happy work environments, we should: foster joyous relationships and cultivate optimism by focusing on the positive. In our conversations with our colleagues we can choose to either bemoan our school’s deficits or celebrate our successes. According to research (and Oprah!), when we focus on the positive – we notice more positives. Creating safe, stable, optimistic classrooms with room for fun and laughter is not only productive and fulfilling for our students, it also improves the balance in our own lives as educators and makes our profession both more sustainable and more fulfilling.
The second component of well being, for Aristotle, is political because fulfilling one’s responsibilities as a citizen fosters the civic virtues that allow people to feel balanced and productive. When educators are not able to contribute to the larger picture and digest the needs of our schools and communities for ourselves, we feel stifled and are unable to develop the wisdom, temperance, and justice necessary for a full life. This is, politically, an argument against the deprofessionalization of teaching. We need to exercise our freedom and responsibility as citizens of our school-states, both because, as William Firestone writes, it makes teachers “more committed to the goals and values of an organization” and because it makes us more fulfilled as happy complete human beings. The very act of wanting to change the world through education, and taking steps towards this goal, leads us to develop the ethics in ourselves that lead to true happiness and fulfillment.
Lastly, and similarly, we must continue to develop our love and pursuit of wisdom, which is to say, our personal philosophy. Educators talk a lot about the love of learning and perhaps that is because we are ourselves exhilarated by it. Why else would we give up vacation time to go to trainings or spend our paychecks on new scholarship in our field? When we think about the purposes of education and our own pedagogical philosophies, when we make time for adult learning in our lives, we truly pursue happiness. It may be a bit self-aggrandizing for Aristotle to have called a life devoted to philosophy the best, but it does ring a bit true, for this educator at least, that a life devoted to the joyous, ethical, political pursuit of knowledge and understanding might also be the most fulfilling. Perhaps this is why a recent Gallup Poll reported that teachers “love their lives”.
As we seek balance and sustainability in our personal lives as educators, it is worth remembering that we have chosen a career that allows us to work towards self-fulfillment as we seek to teach our students to fulfill their greatest capabilities. In the Aristotelian view, our own adult learning is, perhaps, the most fulfilling part of that joyous pursuit.
Thanks, Laura! It’s so refreshing to remember that learning should be joyful for us too!