18. Regarding Learning pt. 4


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Good Morning Families, today is Thursday April 9th 2020 and it is now time for our moment of SEL.

Did you know that learning happens everywhere? I bet your families knew that. In fact, maybe as we start to find some positive aspects of our new learning situation we can pause and have a conversation about where learning can come from.

Learning can come from everywhere. Anything can provide learning. Learning happens in schools with teachers and peers, in homes with families, older people, younger people, through culture, in comm unities, in community centers and parks, out of school programs, libraries, online, through music, movies, poems, books, plays, through sports, in barber shops, in beauty salons, in nature, in conversation, in museums, in galleries, in concert halls, on buses, in cars, at malls, at restaurants, in clubs. Learning can even come from within. The only thing that is truly essential for learning, is you. You are the key to learning. No pressure.

And I mean there is no pressure. To learn from all these people and places and experiences, all you have to do is be open. Be present. Be willing.

What does that mean? What does it mean to “be open”? When people say, “be open” they are usually referring the strength of “open-mindedness”. For much more detail on open- mindedness and character strengths and virtues in general please visit the University of Pennsylvania at www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu

And from Authentic Happiness comes this definition:

Open-mindedness is the willingness to search actively for evidence against one’s favored beliefs, plans, or goals, and to weigh such evidence fairly when it is available.


So here’s how to use open-mindedness; ask someone you are staying with to share a family story with you. If that is too broad try asking them this; “How are you getting time for yourself these days?” That’s a good one. Consider how that squares with your thoughts or needs. Weigh both sides. How do you get your needs met with this new information about how other people you stay with get their needs met? There can be a lot to learn from that question.

Seeking the personal or familial stories from those around you can create new learning opportunities. Under “normal circumstances” this might seem like being work-avoidant or distracting or even, a privilege of “idle-time”. And, under the rush and crush of the usual school calendar, particularly in April maybe we have had to minimize these conversations in order to be successful. But we don’t have that calendar right now, so, we get the rare opportunity to adapt. Now we can expand our thinking and understanding of learning and work to be open-minded.

Here’s another thing you can ask about. Ask those around you, “Have you ever been through something like this? How do you feel about what’s happening?” How might what they share connect to what you are feeling? Does it match your feeling? Does it push against your thinking?

Regarding our current situation with this coronavirus, there are no people living today who could speak of their first-hand experience with the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. However, that does not mean that there is not living memory of that event. People who know people who knew people are all around you. This is how Indigenous communities know that wisdom is still living with us, even if the events are from Time Immemorial. This is how Stories Among Us can continue to teach and inspire even as the generation that survived the Shoah transcend. This is why Montgomery’s Legacy Museum connects us to our shared national heritage and provides us the fire to really make change.

All we really have to do, is listen. Well, that’s not all, we also have to hear. We need to use empathy to truly be present with what someone is sharing. We have to take their words to heart and doing that can make learning challenging. Learning may in fact bring us many thoughts and feelings that are difficult, even uncomfortable. That’s okay. In fact, for a lot of learning that’s the point. Easy math is not likely appropriate math. If musicians don’t take on more difficult and challenging pieces than you’d never have Ornette Coleman. If athletes never pushed themselves there would be no such thing as the alley-oop or a 540 backside rotation while holding the board. That’s a McTwist, just fyi.

The same is true for your thoughts and feelings. You have to be able to challenge yourself or else you won’t grow.

The folks at Authentic Happiness also make a point to provide this:

The opposite of open-mindedness is what is called the myside bias which refers to the pervasive tendency to search for evidence and evaluate evidence in a way that favors your initial beliefs.

That means as you take in new information you also have to question your own thinking. Is it possible that your thoughts and feelings may be challenged in a way that makes it difficult to hold on to them? That can be okay. Particularly if you are hoping to gain knowledge, not lose it. Did you know that open-minded people tend to score higher on test such as the SAT?

Here are also some very important guiding word from Authentic Happiness.

Being open-minded does not imply that one is indecisive, wishy-washy, or incapable of thinking for one’s self. After considering various alternatives, an open-minded person can take a firm stand on a position and act accordingly.


There are certainly challenges to this. One of the biggest challenges to using this type of thinking is in situations where there is time pressure. Time pressure would be things like the feeling of immediacy, a fast approaching deadline, or even a long-range deadline but a limited number of resources that create issues for the time it will take to complete something. Time pressure can create a situation where a person may “go with their gut” or rely on an initial, habitual response to something. Time pressure is something that exists often in school and in the adult working world. However, again, to connect career and college readiness to Social Emotional Learning, the ability to use open-mindedness is a highly sought after skill for employers, seeking new workers and colleges seeking students.

Research, has suggested that when there time pressure is present it can work against being open-minded. For example, we cannot, nor should not always “trust our feelings” without interacting with them. In fact, the skills of SEL are the exact skills that help us interact with our feelings to determine if we should trust them. Often our initial feelings, though valid in their existence, are not always informed by the most accurate world view. Many “gut reactions” are informed by past experience that may or may not be appropriate for the current situation or the immediate task at hand. Sometimes, what’s in our guts, may even be subject to distorted or catastrophic thinking.

Fortunately, at least regarding the learning we are doing in our new “online schools” time pressure is not something weighing on all of us. I don’t want to discount what is happening seniors and juniors, their situations are very different. However, for pre-k to 10th grade, we have sometime and some obligation to figure things out in a more measured and, open minded way.

You are not an empty vessel waiting for wisdom to be poured into. You have thoughts and you have feelings and you draw connections between these thoughts and feelings and the more connections you make the wider your thinking becomes the stronger your foundation will be. Provided you take in new information.

Be curious, ask questions listen to responses, hear what others are saying, think about what they say. How do their thoughts compare and connect to your thoughts? How do their feelings compare and connect with your feelings? Okay so maybe that is a lot. And maybe that takes a lot of time. But, now is probably the best time for it because, you’ve probably got the time for it.

I wish you the very best and look forward to connecting in any way we can, tomorrow.

Until tomorrow,

May your thoughts and feelings be with you.

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