As students are returning to school, this is a worthwhile question to ask. It is easy to criticize teachers and complain about deficiencies in our schools, but teachers are only part of the equation. Students and parents share responsibility for learning outcomes. Great schools are determined not just by the caliber of their faculty, but by the caliber of their students. I have been fortunate to be associated with great students at Rockbridge Seminary. Our average student age is 42. Some haven’t been in a formal educational environment since college, decades ago, yet they exemplify what it means to be great learners. Here is what I have learned from them. Great learners are:
- Curious– This quality sets good students apart. Curious students ask thoughtful questions (not “is this going to be on the test?”). Great students want to know how things work. They ask, “How did you do that?” or “What would it look like if we did that?” They are inquisitive, hungry to understand the world. Our students at Rockbridge thirst for the knowledge of God.
- Humble – Humble students understand they don’t have all the answers. You can’t learn if you already know it all. People who live long enough usually look back and laugh at how they thought they had life all figured out in their earlier years—time and experience taught them that they didn’t know as much as they thought. Recently, I bought a t-shirt that reads on the back, “Pon-tif-i-cate: Express one’s opinions in a way considered annoying, pompous, and dogmatic.” The front of the shirt reads, “If I pontificate, snap my wristband.” This is a reminder to not take myself so seriously and to learn by listening to other points of view.
- Teachable– You can acknowledge you don’t know everything, but that doesn’t always mean you are open to learning new things. People who are unteachable say things like, “I just can’t do that.” “I’m not wired that way.” “I’m stupid.” “I’m not good at ______.” Teachable people are open to learning from everything and everyone. They love to be around people who challenge their thinking and help them grow. They look for ways to apply what they learn.
- Unlearners – In order to learn, sometimes you have to unlearn. Good students discard old ways of thinking and assimilate new ideas. Jesus repeatedly said to his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, . . . but I say to you . . .” (Matt 5:17-48). Jesus taught that you don’t put new wine into old wineskins. The disciples had to discard some old ways of thinking.
- Failures – Yes, you read it correctly. Whether you are learning racquetball, speaking a new language, preaching, or going back to school in your 40s, there will be failures. Some of our greatest lessons in life come when we fail. Failure is part of learning. You can’t walk on water if you don’t get out of the boat (Matthew 14:22-33). Do poorly on a paper? What did you learn that will help you do better next time?Did poor time management affect your study habits? What can you do to prevent that? Got dinged for grammar? Thank God for spellchecker and the Internet. Every failure provides an opportunity to learn.
We are created to learn. We live in an amazing time in history with abundant opportunities for growth and exploration. May each of us make the most of our days by being great learners.