Ongoing learning

I’m writing this just after New Year’s, which is a time when a lot of people start to think about improving themselves or learning something new (along with wanting to pick up new habits). So for today, I want to talk about how I structure ongoing learning, and some things that help.

Skills and tools : Glasses and pen resting on sheets of printed music

Professional development

A lot of my approach to this is shaped by my professional education. I’m a librarian, and I’ve worked both in K-12 schools and in a university (as well as my current place). In both those environments (as well as librarianship in general), it’s expected that part of your job is to continue learning – it’s often an expected part of the discussion at your annual reviews!

There are different ways to do this. They can include:

  • Membership in professional organizations.
  • Attending conferences, workshops, or other educational events (often organised by those professional organizations).
  • Reading blogs or other informal writing from others in the field.
  • Reading formal articles or research from others in the field.
  • Finding spaces to talk to others in the field, both formally and informally. (Sometimes at conferences, sometimes online.)

As a librarian, I currently have a membership in the appropriate professional organisation (at my current job, that’s the Special Libraries Association). I read the email digests as they come in, and an email list for people in an associated field. (Historical information in that field is relevant to me, and sometime I can sometimes help with, but 90% of the content isn’t relevant to what I do.)

I hang out in an internet space with other librarians (from all kinds of libraries) and often pick up really cool resources there. I keep an eye out for useful articles (both formal and informal) and I read a bunch of librarian blogs (and newsletters.)

I don’t go to as many conferences as I used to, because they’re less relevant for my current job but I do get to see people in our specific (very specific) field occasionally and I’ve collaborated on some projects in the past.

Witchy things

So how does that transfer into my witchy life? Right now, I…

Take in a variety of sources

Specifically blogs and newsletters (and listen to a few podcasts) by people with a variety of backgrounds and interests.

One part of this is exploring my own interests – for example, right now, I’m reading a range of astrology blogs because one of the things I’m focusing on learning is astrology, and it’s useful to see how different people approach the same basic information.

But I also make a point of including a range of resources for other reasons – I want to be aware of current issues, conversations, and general trends in the community around me. I don’t think that’s essential for a solitary practitioner, but I think some sense of broader awareness is important for anyone who’s teaching or presenting material to a larger audience. (And I do both: I have current students working toward possible initiation and I write for Seeking, as well as my own forum posts.)

Read books.

This is, of course, a classic option – and these days there are more and more books about specific topics within Paganism, witchcraft, magic, and ritual coming out every day. (My book budget – both time and money -can’t keep up with all the things I want to read!)

Think about what you’ve got time for in your life

And how you learn best. Some topics you really do need to have material in front of you. (For example, it’s hard to keep an entire astrology chart in your head. Some parts of astrology lend themselves to podcasts, but others, like chart interpretation, you probably want a book or online site.) When do you have time for learning? If you have young kids at home, podcasts or videos may be hard to get time for – but if you’ve got a long commute, a podcast might be just the thing.

Take advantage of online workshops and courses.

Of course, you have to find ones that have worthwhile material, but they’re out there. Ask around among people you know, or look for detailed reviews or comments. A lot of the more reputable options will give you some good ways to understand the material and how they teach (such as a sample intro lesson, an active blog with a fair bit of content, and/or detailed descriptions and examples of what’s in the course material.)

Courses can run from a week or so, to a month or six weeks, to a year. Obviously, longer courses tend to cost more. (Shorter courses or online workshops can be a good way to check out a teacher you’re interested in taking something longer from, though! And a lot of reputable teachers will make it easy for you to figure out if there’s a decent fit.)

My usual plan with courses (or anything more than the cost of a regular book) is to think carefully in advance about what I’m hoping to get out of it. What is being offered? How does that fit in with my goals? That’s even more true if there’s a significant commitment of time and/or money.

Build networks of people with related interests.

You don’t have to share all the same interests – just have some overlap. If you’re looking for a new resource, or checking out a possible course, or trying to figure out what material would help with a particular question, that network can be really powerful and helpful. It doesn’t need to be a big thing. Finding community spaces (online or offline, as works for you), sharing a little bit about yourself that’s relevant to that place, and offering other people ideas all help a lot.

Use the other tools at your disposal.

If your physical world options aren’t getting you traction, try asking your divination tools, focusing on what you need in meditation, or doing a ritual around finding the next step.

I have a meditation I do and have shared with people in person that is about visiting the Great Library on the astral, and wandering around looking for sources that will help with a particular need. It’s been really good for breaking through a logjam in research or in figuring out what my next step in a project is.

Other options

These are just a few of the possibilities. Don’t feel you need to try all of them – pick one or two to explore, or make a commitment to spending a little more time with the ones that you’re already enjoying. Even a little more time every week will add up over the course of the year.