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  • Writer's pictureThe Grateful Academic

"Every day's a school day": 3 ways to cultivate opportunities to learn from your students

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

learn /ˈləːnɪŋ/ verb

the process of gaining understanding of something by studying or experience


One of the things I am most grateful for in my role as an academic is that I am always learning. That might sound like a strange thing to say, given that you might think as a lecturer my primary role is to teach rather than to learn, but for me the two things are intrinsically linked.

I have the privilege of working with undergraduates who are intelligent and curious... not all the time, I'll admit, but most of the time, wonderfully eager to learn. They are at a point in their lives where almost anything is possible, and have regained that wonderful childlike habit of always asking, 'why?'

More than once, that simple question 'why?' has floored me. Students have a habit of asking 'why?' about aspects of topics you have never even considered. In those moments, where your own vulnerability as an academic is shown, we must admit we don't have all the answers.

Students response to you saying, 'I don't know' can be mixed. Some will look at you with a sense of irritation or disbelief, others will be surprised, but in my experience, the majority look a little relieved. They see a chink in our armour, we become more human. Saying we don't know an answer also gives us a golden opportunity - to undertake a shared learning experience with our students, to find out the answer.

Shared learning is a term often attributed to team-based learning approaches, and considers a team working collectively towards a common goal. Within this idea though, sits a huge range of additional learning theories, all mingling together to increase either knowledge, skills, attitudes or behaviours. Within a team, all the individuals bring their own past experiences and knowledge with them, building on this in a constructivist approach. This new learning will also be influenced by those around them, so this becomes a social construction of learning. Then, of course, there is the structure of the team itself, and whether that individual feels valued, adding the humanistic approach in.

The bottom line for me is that we are all learning, all the time - if we open our eyes to the opportunity. Sometimes, what we will learn from others is factual, new terminology, new language, other times it can be a new approach or way of doing things. The former of course is exciting, as it can inspire us to go away and read more about a topic, but it is this latter learning around a new approach that for me can have the most impact.

So, how do we make the most of these opportunities to learn from our students? For this we need to think of ourselves, less as purveyors of knowledge, and more as facilitators of learning. I read recently a piece on the work of Carl Rogers on this topic. He suggests three core attitudinal qualities for facilitators of learning: realness, acceptance and empathy.

  • Realness (congruence): Teachers should be 'real', genuine, with emotions, and can and should acknowledge and share their personality with their students

  • Acceptance: Teacher's must have 'unconditional positive regard' for their students, being accepting and caring, and believing in their ability to succeed

  • Empathy: Teachers must look to understand the student point of view without judgement, acknowledging behaviour as information rather than being good or bad

So how do this theory translate for me? Here are 3 ways I try to find opportunities to learn from my students. Have a read below and there are also some linked articles if you want to read more about the works of Carl Rogers.

3 simple ways to learn from and with your students

Link to more on work of Carl Rogers:

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