Learning and ‘being’

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about identity, or as my colleague Dr. Nick Pratt would re frame it; identifying. In education we often consider what people learn, but I am finding it an increasingly useful concept to consider not what they gain, but who they become.

I’m doing some research into the blogging community that we started at Plymouth University just over two years ago, that has now clocked up hundreds of posts. The original intention was to give trainee teachers an identity as professionals from the start of their course.. the result is turning out to be far more complicated than that, but that’s for another day.

Nick has been challenging me with the idea that we do not have an identity, it is not a single thing that we possess, or even a static concept we possess at all. Instead he argues that it is a process, we identify with certain groups, certain ways of being. Learning can change the way we identify with groups, introduce new groups we identify with or remove our identification with those we already did. Our self concept shifts as we learn.

Whilst considering this I found a document from my distant past… a review of my year in Year 4. This isn’t a random phrase I cam up with, I remember writing this document as being an important event. I was asked to think really hard about (at the time) a ninth of my life and, amongst a few other things, I wrote:

I am good at making things and I like it.

I remember a lot of the things that I did in Year 4, I explicitly remember some learning and, no doubt, learned and still use other things that I don’t consciously ascribe to that period of my life. However, I don’t remember identifying with being someone who made models. Quite a few of the models I made have been jogged into my memory by reading that, but I still don’t remember feeling like a model maker. I have had to think really hard to understand what that must have been like.

This takes me back to a time when I had just moved to Plymouth, and one evening I decided to listen to an album of music I made during my first year at University at 19. That did take me back to the range of specific emotions that each of the tracks I made were based on. More broadly though, across these emotions and this music I got a real sense of what it was to be me at that time. I remembered my reactions to the events that inspired the music and thinking that at that time I used to feel certain things far more deeply than I do now. My way of being is different now, I am much more measured, but I am not sure that is due to knowing how to deal with specific situations in specific ways. I have learned to be differently, I have become a different person.

So often in learning we focus and reflect on the specific things that we do, the knowledge and skills that we gain, but not the ways of being that we experience or the people we become. This document I created when I was nine gave me a small insight into who I was and how I existed then, simply by recording it in some way. The music was a far more detailed record, and has given me some profound insights into what I have learned in the last ten years, who I was and who I have become.

I am a great believer in the power of documenting learning; this blog is testament to my documentation of what I do and the knowledge and skills that I have learned. I am now wondering how we might more deliberately capture not just these more tangible artefacts of learning, but also the ways of being we experience, how the way we identify develops; who we are and who we become. 


Nick’s article on identifying is well worth reading, and is available here.

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