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Learning to Learn



Jim McCleery is my lifelong friend. He was best man at my wedding and whenever we periodically catch up, it’s like we never had a break. Though now retired, he still swims competitively and often places first or second nationally in his age group events. He lives in Kona and revels in swimming the Iron Man open water course several times a week.


Jim had a career teaching mathematics, from hesitant teens to stressed-out college students. He understood the learning process intimately. But Jim said his biggest "aha" moment came in the 1970s, when he taught a group of students with limited opportunities and motivation. For many, it was a choice between continuation school, the military, or jail. These students were not exactly eager for math lessons.


Yet Jim shared that he learned more about teaching during that time than his students learned about math! He realized that everyone, regardless of background, starts learning something new feeling lost and convinced they'll never understand. Jim made it his mission to spark that motivational fire, helping students push through the frustration to reach true comprehension. To realize that the frustration of now knowing would go away if they spent the requisite time and effort.


Remember learning to ride a bike yourself? The wobbly handlebars, scraped knees, and the voice whispering "You're going to crash!" That self-doubt is where the magic happens. A tiny voice of faith whispers back "You've got this!" - pushing you forward past fear of failure. (As we found out with my son, having him wear knee and elbow pads helps.)


Faith is more than wishful thinking. It's trusting the learning process, bumps and all. It's knowing stumbles are part of the ride, not the end of the road. Each wobble teaches resilience, each scrape shows grit. Just like finally cruising confidently after learning to ride, we can conquer challenges in life.


The same idea applies to every new skill we acquire. With time, focus, and effort we know we’ll figure it out. Jim taught me that faith in myself.

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Feb 27
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Lovely words...

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