Just over a year ago I was directing a short Christmas Play with my students on the T’O Reservation. It was a cute little skit about finding the true meaning of Christmas which was, of course, inexplicably missing. While rehearsing, one of my young actors continually made the same mistake with her lines: she replaced the word “process” with “progress,” a mistake I soon discovered was a losing battle to correct.
It was only recently that I realized that her substitution was actually profound.
Think about it: what is really the difference between “process” and “progress”? Is one more important? The two are most definitely related in some cause/effect way. But does one matter more than the other?
Should one matter more?
I’ve had several opportunities recently to consider the implications of this relationship. During school hours, my students almost always desire progress (though on some days, I must admit, even that desire is lacking) but dread the process necessary to achieve it. And, I suppose, it is a normal attitude to have – we all work better with clearly defined, achievable goals.
But the whole institution of schooling – of learning – is about so much more than results.
It’s about the process.
So much of what children learn growing up is based on experience and practice, not facts and data. Math skills – practice. Writing skills – practice. Communication skills – experience and observation. Critical thinking – practice. Work ethic – practice.
And the most important thing for a child to learn: How to LEARN – practice.
And practice, as any musician can tell you, is more about the process than about the progress. It’s about disciplining yourself; developing the muscle memory and skill necessary to perform whatever task it is you are practicing for consistently and with excellence. And that leads to results – to progress. But it would be a mistake to assume that the practice – the process – is merely a means to an end.
One of the main tenants at the Ranch is that children are always learning, often more outside of school hours than in. The process of life has just as much to do with a child’s development as the progress found in formal class time.
And it’s a beautiful thing to be involved in both.
So, which is more important? Process or progress?
I suppose, the answer is yes. Both are equally important in the long run. Though, in many ways, I would say that process is primary for, without the process, there is no progress.
And, sometimes, even with the process, there is little progress, at least for a time. And it is in these moments that we must find joy and purpose in the process alone, without any need for the progress to validate us. If we focus solely on progress, our work will seem futile at times. Discouraged and disillusioned, we may give up before we should. If, however, we allow the process to have its own purpose then we will always have a reason to keep moving. I see this as the difference between students who love school and those who hate school. Those who look only for progress are easily discouraged when they fail to make any for a time. Those who find joy in the process of learning itself are rarely discouraged, relishing each opportunity to sharpen their skills.
And this isn’t just about school. If we can find a joy and a purpose in the process of everything we do (like those New Year’s Resolutions, maybe?) we might just find that life is a much more exciting thing to do. After all, isn’t life a process?
A few updates!
The new year is opening with quite a few changes. For the last two months I’ve been teaching three students math and English – three students, with three different learning styles, at three different grade levels, with three different curricula. And that, in itself, has been quite the process!
But, as so often happens, just when I get comfortable with something, everything changes again! Hailey, my co-mentor, has left the Ranch to go back to college and I am left, for the time being, without a partner to work with. This means that, among other things, we’ve had to shift around some of the teaching assignments, leaving me with the majority responsibility (not just math and English) of two different students, one of which is completely new to the Ranch. This is certainly going to be a time of adjusting for all involved! As January opens, I pray that I will continue to be flexible, finding joy and purpose in the process and not only search for the results which may seem nonexistent for awhile. I will miss teaching the students I am passing on to others but my hope is that I will be able to connect well with these new students without too much of a struggle. I also pray that a new co-mentor will answer the call and join me here soon! I covet your prayers as I, once again, enter a time of transition.
Grace and Peace,