As hard as it is for me to believe, it’s back-to-school time where we live.
It seems earlier than ever this year. Even the dogwood leaves are still green.
The streets in our neighborhood have been full of school bus drivers, practicing their skills at the essential art of blocking traffic.
The football stadium up the road is sporting a new coat of paint on the bleachers while last year’s crop of artificial turf waits expectantly and crows bob energetically in a fountain at Kudzu.
I’ll even bet that guy is skipping around the office supply place on TV, singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
I used to think it really was the most wonderful time of the year. I loved going back to school.
And, even though I’m letting my hair grow at the moment and I wear shoes as rarely as possible, especially squeaky, slippery ones, there’s still part of my non-conscious calendar that has required a bit of reassurance that skipping those particular rituals will be okay.
(I had considerably less trouble talking myself out of the three little plaid dresses from Sears!)
I did, however, invest in some updated make-up, which actually has to do with the prospect of being out of school (again!) in the forseeable future and the need for some photographs.
And, frankly, I’ve kind of solved the whole back-to-school thing by just deciding to stay there and not really contemplating being “done,” at least in a big picture sort of way.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend about learning.
Well, it started out having to do with covering chair cushions and moved on from there to the science of learning which, as it happens, I know a bit more about than actual upholstery.
I was reminded of my studies in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, also known as the psychology of excellence. It is, in many ways, learning about learning and it’s a really big subject.
A subject which involved a bit of book shelf excavation. I found what I was hunting for in a little volume called Principles of NLP. (Mine is the old, tattered, yellowed edition from 1996 but the link, above, is for a shiny, new, updated version in case you’re interested.)
In a section titled Behavior to Capability, authors Joseph O’Connor and Ian McDermott explore the question of how behaviors become skills.
The short answer is practice!!!
The slightly longer answer involves the four stages of learning a skill. I’m going to let our talented teachers take over in their own voices for a bit:
Learning a skill goes through four stages. Think of some intentional skill that you have acquired in the course of your life — driving, riding a bicycle or reading — and see how it fits into this scheme. You start from unconscious incompetence. In this state, not only can you not do it, you have never tried. You don’t even know that you don’t know.
Then you start to do it. At first, although it is part of your behaviour, you are not very skilled. This is the stage of conscious incompetence. You know enough to know you are not very good and it takes a lot of your conscious attention. This stage is uncomfortable, but it is also when you are learning the most.
Next you reach the stage of conscious competence. You can do it, you have reached the capability level, but it still takes a lot of your attention.
Lastly, if you persevere, you reach the stage of unconscious competence, when you do it easily without thinking. It has become streamlined and habitual, and is taken over by the unconscious part of your mind. Beyond this stage is mastery — but that is another book!
Here’s the big message for this moment in time… There are a lot of things I don’t know much about yet. My new Instant Pot. Adding darks and lights to faces! My new cell phone. Upholstery. Most of what Bill does at work, all day, every day.
I do know a lot about learning.
And knowing that — knowing what it looks like and feels like and what helps it to happen — is a big part of the reason that my friend has four chairs in her house that she’s excited about, even though we needed to do still more learning along the way.
It’s also what we should be teaching our kids. And all the folks around us.
Not the answers to the standardized tests but how to tap into the part of them that already knows how to learn.
How to have confidence in their ability to keep learning.
Once upon a time Sally, Dick & Jane was hard. There are moments when getting my paint brushes to cooperate is hard. I’m still trying to figure out the rosary thing. Let’s don’t even talk about head shots.
Except to say that learning is familiar even when what I’m learning is totally new.
If you have a story like this, tell it. The future is counting on you!
And one more word on new adventures from my friends at The West Wing.
Oh, and the crows… symbolic in some traditions of life magic and mysteries. Also intelligence, flexibility, and destiny!