When The Lightbulb Flickers

These are inevitably my two favorite moments in a given semester.  I experience one as an instructor and I experience the other as a student.  I should note that both of these moments are not restrictive to the semester--they are bred into our lives in many ways.  However, it's the instructor and others in those places of studying and engaging in human development that are so moved and driven by these moments.

We, educators, all crave that moment.  The transcendental moment when a student goes from not understanding it to "getting it."  It's a wonderful moment for instructors to experience the tell-tale signs:  the prolonged blink, the widened eyes, the shake of the head, the mouth drawn open, the head jilted back, the ejaculative sigh as if exorcising a demon of ignorance.  It's a validation of the lesson; it's a validation of the work we do.  We leave the classroom that day and we want to do our own celebratory touchdown dance.  

We do our best to plan for it each class and of course, the actual moment may not happen the way we anticipate.  But in every class, it lingers in the back of our heads in the hopes that it will surface.  We're astronomers out in a field during an asteroid storm, waiting for each and every epic streak across the sky.  Bearing witness to such events are wonderful.  A testimony to learning and its value.  A recognition that learning is not just an internal experience but one that can vicariously lift many of us.

This brings me to the other favorite moment of the semester as a student.  At some point in a given semester, I always hit the point where I can feel my brain expanding.  Granted, I have a large cranium and I don't mean this literally, but while engaged in a mixture of reading from different courses and of course, my own ceaseless knowledge quest, I can feel what Steven Johnson refers to as "ideas having sex" in my head.  It's this awesome swirling mix of ideas and thoughts, some new, some old, some reconfigured in ways previously unrealized.  This isn't the same as the light bulb turning on--though plenty of that tends to follow.  This is the point where I feel my understanding has just been pushed a bit further.  I've been opened to few different ideas that are quickly interlacing with the other thoughts in my head.  The neural web spreads, widens and thickens simultaneously and I feel it.  The learning itself is powerful but the to be cognizant of it happening is even more potent.  I feel simultaneously small in the face of so much I do not know and large in that I have just taken in so much more.  I've drank my body's worth of water but still look amazed at the lake before me.

As a life-long learner and self-professed nerd, these are epic-win moments of my life; where I see someone else get it or that I feel my own learning happening.  It's what I hope I always bring to my classes--an energy and excitement about learning that is authentic and engaging.    

What about you?  What does it feel like when you are engaged in learning or observing someone else's inner world expand?

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