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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Students and Learners

I have long promoted a perspective that is apparently a single minded campaign during my educational leadership career. That obsession is to substitute and spread the use of “learner” to describe those who seek to grow and become transformed in our public schools. That’s correct. Replace student with learner. It’s well beyond a subtle distinction in semantics.

The basis for this effort has been derived from the belief that too many people perceive only a nuanced difference in meaning between “student” (one who studies : an attentive and systematic observer – according to the Merriam Webster dictionary) and “learner” (one who gains knowledge or understanding of or skill in through study, instruction, or experience – same source). However, there is a vast discrepancy, most simplistically explained in that student is someone who studies while a learner is someone who learns.  

Additionally, the use of the term student is nearly always associated with those young individuals seated in a chair along a row of desks. That implies that the adults in school (teachers, staff members, faculty,...) are separate and distinct. I employ the word learner because it applies to everyone within the school. I'll paraphrase leadership expert Peter Drucker, who once asked, "How can an organization grow if its people do not?" As such, I have subscribed to a mission - "We will nurture the dreams and sustain the hopes of learners of all ages, at all stages." Isn't that what a learning community is?

Me, I’d rather gain knowledge, understanding and skill than sitting at a seat/desk and simply manifesting behaviors of attentiveness and observation. One seems more active and an extension or application of the other. That is, after attending to and observing an event, experience, phenomena; you eventually expand your reservoir of knowledge and skill. Consider studying a process and learning a product. I can study a subject or issue all I want but it doesn’t ensure that I have necessarily learned anything.

Here’s a quote from actress Natalie Portman that sums it up for me:

I don't love studying. I hate studying. I like learning. Learning is beautiful.”  ― Natalie Portman

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