When I was a teenager I thought that I’d graduate college and be done with learning. For my generation learning wasn’t something people talked about as taking place out of the classroom or as taking place throughout one’s entire life. It wasn’t until after college that I really began to understand that learning never stops. As that is the case, the YALSA Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff content area on Continuous Learning is important to pay attention to and reflect on.
In the Continuous Learning content area the Developing level includes the phrases “seeks knowledge” and “seeks new knowledge.” I’ve been thinking about these phrases a lot lately and in particular thinking about how these phrases point out that the learning needed is action oriented. Library staff have to actively participate in learning in order to support teens in the community successfully.
What does it take to be an active learner?
- Being ready to do hard work. No one should ever expect that learning is easy. Learning might be fun or energizing or interesting. And, in many cases it is probably going to be hard work. The work comes with deeply engaging with the content. The work comes with constantly reflecting on how the learning relates to the work you do with and for teens. And, the work comes with moving outside of what you think you know and what you think is best. Instead you need to work hard to learn about what teens need and think about how you can support those needs in your local community. This hard work can come with asking questions while at a professional development session, talking to people you may never have met before, going out in the community and building relationships, and so on.
- Being open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Sometimes library staff think that new ideas and new ways of doing things in some way reflects poorly on how the job was done previously. That’s not the case at all. The work library staff do with and for teens is always changing as the world in which teens live is constantly changing. Doing things in new ways doesn’t mean the old way was bad it just means that it no longer resonates with what teens need today.
- Being ready to be uncomfortable. Discomfort is a good thing. As a 2014 Psychology Today article states:
“…Discomfort is good for us. Or, put another way, it tells us that something needs to be addressed. It stretches us by forcing us to view our circumstances through a wholly different lens. Because we’re drawn to safety and security, we do our best to create cushy comfort zones for ourselves and our loved ones through the cars we drive, the homes we live in, and the places we work. But by resisting discomfort, we deny ourselves an important opportunity: the chance to shake ourselves out of our predictable perspectives and allow ourselves to make astute observations we could not possibly have made before. Discomfort gives us fresh eyes.”
- Being risky in learning. Risk in learning can occur by making sure to take advantage of opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone. If you always participate in learning experiences that continue to support what you already know and do then that’s not helping you to expand your knowledge. Take part in learning opportunities that are outside of your normal day-to-day experiences. For example, participate in professional development that is provided by organizations not related to libraries. Maybe attend a learning event that’s sponsored by another out of school time association or organization. Or, attend something that’s sponsored by social service agencies or by agencies that support diversity, equity, and inclusion. Expand your learning horizons in order to be able to bring what you learn to your own work environment.
- Being ready to reflect. Every learning experience should provide you with opportunities to reflect on the learning and reflect on your current and future practices. As you participate in learning experiences ask yourself how does this learning relate to what I currently do? What does it mean for future teen programs and services? What might I change? What might I keep the same? Who will I have to talk with in order to integrate this learning into my practice?
There are numerous ways to take an active role in learning that supports the work you do with and for teens. Make sure that you are ready to take on this role and seek out opportunities to gain knowledge and skills so you can support teens in your community in the ways they need and deserve. No matter what, don’t sit back and expect the learning to come to you or to be easy.