Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How do people learn?

That's the big question I need to work to express an articulate answer to in the coming weeks. . . . As I write this I am sitting at a table in an apartment in Jerusalem. I had the opportunity to come and live here for two months for personal reasons, but I made a commitment to my employer that I would use this time to work on the papers I need to write as part of my effort to become certified as a professional teacher of chaplains and other spiritual caregivers. The next paper I need to write is about my educational theory.

Back before the summer started, I made a stab at writing in a single statement what I believe about how people learn:

Through participation in a loving community of mutual caring, learning and personal transformation led by a teacher/role model(s) able to bless students and give them a balance 1) of structure (דין/din) with flexibility/compassion (חסד/hesed), and 2) of immediate presence with (progressively increasing) withdrawal (tzimtzum).
That statement needed work then and it still does now. . . . . Most importantly, I need to do some serious work reflecting on how the work I did leading a group of chaplaincy students this summer relates to that statement. Is that really how the learning happened in practice? If not, is that because I a) really believe something different about how learning happens, or is it because b) I just didn't get it right this time (and I can work to better implement my theory next time I lead a group of chaplain students).

I also need to work towards asking myself what educational theorists or models correlate with my belief. I need to seek out those sources and engage them -- asking myself how they enrich, or undermine, my understanding.

I am so grateful to be able to do this work while I am in Jerusalem. I have missed this holy city so much. I have not been back since my rabbinical school year (2000-2001). . . . It is certainly a frightening place to be, however. . . Although it might surprise people to know what it is that I feel fear about. . . . It is not so much terrorism (although that is a real concern). It's the challenge of being somewhere so foreign. . . . Where just doing little things -- like going to the supermarket, or crossing the street -- can be confusing and make me feel small and incompetent. . . . . Minna put it well in a conversation she had with her Hebrew language teacher -- Jerusalem is a place of strong smells: both the beautiful smell of the abundant flowers . . . and also smells that are a bit more like manure. . . . This is a city of contrasts. I love it for that. Those contrasts are part of what makes life feel so incredibly intense here. . . I feel so alive here!!! . . . So grateful to the Holy Blessed One for sustaining me and upholding me so that I might see this, again.

[X-posted to smamitayim]

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