Building stronger families and stronger communities: Be a Learner

John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, is often quoted as saying, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” But if a person knows it all, what is there left to learn? The answer is plenty! The world is always changing, and new knowledge is being created. In interviews, the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year (TOY) award winners echoed Wooden’s sentiment. When asked about their personal habits, one refrain was repeated: teachers never stop learning.

These award-winning teachers have approached lifelong learning in different ways. Many were engaged in formal educational training and working toward advanced degrees. Others focused on professional development. For example, Cecilia Ramirez of Arizona (TOY 2001), completed the process to become a certified trainer for the National Center for Families Learning. Cecilia humbly said, “I am also a learner. The things I learned in professional development, I took back to my family literacy team and also to parents.”

Other educators focused on learning from experiences. Maria Antonia Piñón of Florida (TOY 2009) said, “See yourself not as a teacher, but as a learner. If we remain in the mindset of being a learner, we walk in their shoes. Be a learner and grow from your own experiences and from your students.” In this way, everyone in a class or program can take on the role of both teacher and learner. Jean Ciborowski Fahey of Massachusetts (TOY 2016) also talked about learning from experiences in terms of mistakes. She said, “Mistakes are okay…indeed, they are instructional” and from them comes something new and better.

Listening and learning is also important to relationship building. Kristen Whitaker of Washington, D.C. (TOY 2015) emphasized the importance of learning about families. Her learning also includes keeping up with international news. “How can I understand what troubles the immigrant families I serve if I do not know what is going on in their countries and with their families?” Learning more about what is important to families helps her to better understand her students and build stronger relationships with them.

Learning takes many different forms. These award-winning teachers recognize that the value of all types of lifelong learning. From formal education to experiences and from mistakes to the daily paper, they can pass their love of learning on to their students while also learning from them. Mark Faloni of Washington, D.C. (TOY 2006) summed it all up when he said, “I get to teach my students English and the American culture, and they get to teach me life.”

From teacher to teacher – learn in order to teach. Learn from your experiences and from your students. 

This blog is part of a yearlong series focused on the habits of past winners of the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year Award. Visit NCFL’s newly designed website to read the entire Stronger Families, Stronger Communities series.