Transformative Learning

Know, Be, Do:

You may have noticed that the News Coach column and blog bounce between theoretical, devotional, and practical matters. Today, I want to explain the intention behind these different modes and draw the connection between what we believe and how we act.

When thinking about the teaching and learning process––­a.k.a. discipleship––we must remember that we are whole-person learners.

We are not heads-on-sticks, for whom cognitive knowing is enough. (Imagine an overly inflated balloon trying to balance on a toothpick!)

We are also not merely hearts, awash with affections or emotions, “gut” reactions leading us into conflict, rushed intimacy, or even danger. Heart needs head to help lead it, to speak wisdom to it, and remind it of Truth.

Nor are we hands alone, habitually doing, even if life is largely routine. I love the image here of a golfer who has to feel out his tempo, but must also learn how to analyze his form and make mental adjustments to his swing for peak performance.

What I wrote above honestly over-simplifies a bit to try to make things stay put for the purpose of definition—but it’s a little bit like trying to describe the Trinity. No part really stays in place; each part influences, aids, and stretches the other. Our learning domains function more like an endless knot than a straight line or even a circle.

We call the movement through these three domains the “Learning Cycle.” For transformative learning to take place, our process must have an impact on each of the three areas of our being. We must know truth, take it deep into our hearts so that it changes who we are and how we act. Know. Be. Do.

The redemptive narrative speaks to us on every level. God’s truth lodges in our minds as biblical stories shape our attitudes and affections. His commands direct our behavior. For our action to flow out of His Truth, we must be awash with it. We must practice obedience—not as a performance, but as a part of our process. By God’s great supply of grace, as our hearts and minds are transformed, so, too, are our actions.

The Fruitfulness of Failure:

After writing the first iteration of these thoughts for our GWN Weekly Newsletters, I meditated on how these topics touch. The heart level, the seat of our belief, gives us direct insight about what we feel is true. Our emotions, attitudes, and affections reveal what we believe about ourselves and the world.

Taking fear of failure in particular, that fear reveals a belief that the buck stops with us, that we are ultimately responsible (with no provision or help), and that our inability to control, provide, or even relate well to others comes with ultimate consequences (as though no entity exists who can mend brokenness, work the curse backwards, do His restorative work). What we believe dictates how we act.

Concretely, I recently wrote something flawed. My blog post on social media incorrectly recounted some details of an experience I had as a tutor at University of South Carolina. I wrote in that post about things I thought I had learned well. My posture towards my friend’s recommended tools of reducing and amplifying even had a taint of pride and a critical air. I provided a false impression, a false narrative based on faulty understanding. Succinctly: I thought I knew the content well enough to critique it. I thought I knew it and did it better.

Later, my friend drew my attention to my misunderstanding and misapplication of his thoughts through gentle correction. He was humble, self-deprecating, winsome; he realized his own flaws and need for growth process. He was able to “confront” my failings because he had already faced his own.

Now, I have two choices: I could stand entrenched in my perspective, defend and justify myself, as I have done time after time in the past. Or I could seize the opportunity to grow by addressing my heart more deeply with the gospel. The good news allows me to say “I messed up. Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for the opportunity to grow.” Today, by God’s grace, I choose repentance, grace, humility: May I be less; may He be more.

When we face our failures, we allow God to be God, and us to be not. Utterly human, not-God words like “I don’t know,” “I can’t,” and “I was wrong” are some of the most powerful an adult believer can speak—particularly if they are backed up with “Let’s find out,” “Let’s pray,” or “Will you forgive me?” All exude the confidence that can be held well only by those who know they are under God’s perfect grace.

In addition, there is a promise: The very things we may do everything to avoid, the things we often fear the most, are actually the most effective tools in the hands of the Father. We engage more deeply in whole-person growth through adversity. Hardship produces character, perseverance . . . hope.

Parents and teachers: Working through failure gives life. We must be willing to fail in front of our children and our students . . . and to fail well. Our transparency in our weakness allows us to point to the Father, displaying our dependence upon Him. It shows our living knowledge that He accepts us, imperfect as we are, in that humble reliance.

When we communicate to our children that we don’t know it all, we can’t do it all, that we fail, we humbly move ourselves into the position of co-learner. The winsome, “alongside” place of the co-learner allows us to practice what we say we believe. If we truly believe we are objects of grace, engaged in the ongoing growth process of sanctification, it immediately lowers the anxiety in the room. Instead of smelling like fear, the atmosphere takes on the fragrance of humility and acceptance.

A healthy learning climate exchanges drivenness for intentionality, a results-orientation for a relational one, and performance for process. Here, teachableness can thrive and transformative, whole-person learning begin.

Photo credit: clipartmax.com

Kelsey Reed

Kelsey Reed