March 23, 2020

Connection and Beginner’s Mind

Tang Institute director reflects on the challenges and opportunities of teaching & learning remotely
by Andy Housiaux

This is a blog post unlike any other I’ve written. Here at Andover, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, our students have gone home and our faculty will be teaching remotely for the foreseeable future. It is a time of deep uncertainty in our community and across the world. I am sending thoughts of care and support to our readers. Please continue to take care of yourselves, your families, and your communities.

As I reflect on what the Tang Institute can do to continue to inspire teaching, learning, and partnership in these unprecedented times, two thoughts come to mind: reflect on what is most essential and practice beginner’s mind.

Now more than ever, it is imperative to ask ourselves what is essential, especially as we move into a new setting for teaching and learning. I found inspiration in addressing this question in a wonderful letter from educational experts and entrepreneurs Stephen J. Valentine and Reshan Richards; I encountered it during my participation in Global Online Academy’s superb Design for Online Learning course. They write:

"The job of an online teacher is the job of an offline teacher is the job of a teacher. Connect to people and help them to feel connected to you and to the dimension of the world you are leading them to experience. Connect your students to one another in a way that enables them not only to learn content from one another, but also to catch life experiences from one another—to shape one another in the way that only peers can. It’s that simple … and it’s that complex." (from A Letter to Educators Teaching Online for the First Time)

Connection is central to our work as educators—and we cannot connect in person right now. We must reimagine community and connection and do so in a way that creates and supports inclusive learning environments. I imagine I speak for many teachers when I acknowledge my own inexperience with this kind of learning, and my own lack of clarity about the exact best way forward.

Here, I am reminded of an idea from Buddhism known as Beginner’s Mind. This term comes from Shunryu Suzuki, a Japanese Zen master who helped bring Buddhism to America in the 1960s. He said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

To me, the beginner is someone who is unafraid of saying that they don’t know, someone willing to try out new ideas and to do so with a spirit of openness and curiosity. Just as important, they approach people and situations with this same humility and willingness to learn. We will be doing our best to keep this attitude in mind here at the Tang Institute, and, as ever, we invite all of you to stay in touch. Please share, collaborate, and help us continue to reflect on what is most essential.



*We look forward to updating you on the ways we are (re)imagining the Workshop, our connection with students, and our approaches to teaching and learning in the coming days and weeks. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Notes on Learning.

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