What Do I Think I Know and What Do I Have to Learn?

You never know what you will learn when you step outside your bubble.

The other day on LinkedIn I saw an event posted by Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40. It was the Annual Breakfast for the MS in Executive Leadership program at University of San Diego, followed by a panel about servant leadership, creating a culture of values, and how business skills empower performance. All invited. “Why not?” I thought. I’m on vacation, so let’s see what this is all about. A fortuitous decision!

On the panel:  Ken Blanchard, best selling author of over 50 books on leadership, Garry Ridge, and Barbara Lougee, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs and Associate Professor of Accounting. I have pages of notes (for future blog posts), but today I want to write about one inspirational nugget.

Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, has a constant drive to learn. When he took over as CEO of WD-40, he asked himself, “What do I think I know and what do I have to learn?” Garry realized there was much to learn and therefore enrolled in USD’s first MSEL cohort. How many CEOs decide to go back to school? What tremendous sense of self and lack of ego is required to be able to answer that question when many would consider him to already be at the pinnacle of his career!

My Post (1)

It made me wonder when the last time was that I truly asked myself what I thought I knew and what I needed to learn. When I accepted my current position as Executive Director of Innovation and Design, there was a lot to learn. I knew I had to become well versed in Design Thinking. And I quickly realized there were a lot of cultural and pedagogical values in my district that I needed to familiarize myself with, but what did I truly think I knew? And what did I have to learn?

It’s a question I’m still answering, and I think that’s the point. The more I learn, the more I realize I need to learn more. And then the more I learn, the more I realize that what I thought I knew wasn’t fully developed, and therefore there’s still more I need to learn. Not just about pedagogy and Design Thinking, either. About organizational systems. About change management. About culture. About thinking. About people and values. About visions and missions and the work to carry them out. About industry. And careers. And the Fourth Industrial Revolution. About Sinek’s Golden Circle. And the list goes on and on.

But what if I asked students that question? Ask a student what they think they know, and what they need to learn. Most may look at you like you’ve lost your marbles. Or they may tell you about the facts that need to be memorized for an upcoming exam. Or the items missed on a previous test. Or the homework that is waiting for them at home.

But none of that is learning. It’s just playing school.

When classrooms promote student agency, and the personalization of learning that must co-exist with agency, then students can better articulate their learning because they understand both the purpose and the end goal. Perhaps a student would share how s/he is developing a narrative to include more descriptive elements so as to draw the reader in. Or another student may share that s/he is developing a strategy to approach a complex math problem using known algorithms. Another may say that he thinks he knows how to solve a playground situation, but needs to spend more time empathizing with the users to see if the prototype will solve the underlying issue.

In each of these answers, students are owners of their learning journey. The teacher, approaching classroom leadership as a side-by-side relationship, is providing the space and the time so that each student’s learning is nurtured.

That’s what personalization of learning is all about. Every student and teacher being able to ask, “What do I think I know and what do I have to learn?” and being able to answer it, and then travel down the path that not only answers that initial question, but opens up a hundred more.

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