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The Beginner’s Mind

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

September 20, 2018

students listening to professor“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryo Suzuki, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”

Beginner’s mind: a Zen Buddhism term that refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject.

Take a SIP of this: Beginner’s Mind

Diving off the deep end: For many, the older we become, the less likely we are to take risks, to jump into the deep end. Instead, we tend to settle deeper into our comfort zones. As teachers, this can lead to a cycle of the same routines, same lesson plans, same assignments semester after semester. Not motivating for you or your students. Be open to new possibilities by trying something different. Try a new lesson, technology or teaching strategy. Update your learning materials. Incorporate more cooperative learning. Search the Well for SIP ideas. Be willing to take a risk.

An open state of inquiry: There is a danger that comes with expertise. We tend to be resistant to information that doesn’t conform to our long-held beliefs and schemas of the world around us and gravitate to information that confirms our current philosophy or previous experience.  We tend to “cherry-pick information to justify our current behaviors and beliefs. Most people don’t want new information; they want validating information.” To move beyond the familiar, look at old concepts with a beginner’s mind or, better yet, become a beginner. Challenge yourself to learn a new skill. Immerse yourself in the beginner’s mindset, and let that mindset influence your teaching.

Bursting bubbles: We live in bubbles. We tend to surround ourselves with others who share our beliefs, opinions, likes and dislikes. We engage in activities and participate in events that reinforce our bubbles. How you choose to structure your life determines what kind of experiences you will encounter. Over time this creates a loop, a cycle of normality. How often do you step out of your bubble? How often do you experience discomfort due to unfamiliarity? How often do you encourage your students to step out of their bubbles? The more time you spend with people who are different from you (whether that be religion, race, sexuality, lifestyle, etc.), the greater the perception of common interests, common humanity and, most important, compassion. As teachers, we have the opportunity to model acceptance and compassion in our classrooms.

Be passionate: Passion is contagious. You aren’t likely to ignite the excitement of learning in your students if you aren’t excited yourself. Take time to share what makes you passionate.   Equally, it is important to let students pursue their own passions, especially in the absence of feedback or judgment.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of the Beginner’s Mind

Check out a few of the many resources available to help us burst familiarity bubbles and cultivate a beginner’s mind — in our students and in ourselves.

Visit the Well for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom!

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