In Pursuit of Mastery

picjumbo.com_IMG_9577So much of formal learning is focused on very specific ends: tests, papers, projects.

So much of informal and, I would argue, interesting professional learning is, in contrast, focused on ongoing understanding or mastery, as defined by Sara Lewis, in her book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery (p. 7):

Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don’t use often, is not the equivalent of what we might consider its cognate – perfectionism – an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Mastery is also not the same as success – an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit.

While life and work often center on specific deliverables, it’s often recognized that these deliverables are never really done. We “complete” them, but we know we’ll need to revisit them whenever we gain new information, acquire new technologies or add new people or other resources to the project.

Similarly with out-of-work passions or hobbies that we love. Part of why we love them is because we can never really master them.

Purpose, the reason why we want to keep on doing something, is built in to pursuits we may never master: learning a language, playing an instrument, painting, coding, running, cooking, baking, and on and on and on.

How can we get school learning to map to real-world, passion-filled, lifelong mastery learning?


  1. mrdardy on April 7, 2014 at 10:29 am

    The biggest challenge as I see it is that these life passions of music, dance, baseball, etc are all examples of our choice in pursuit. Not many students choose to take Algebra II or Biology. Passions are harder to stoke when you are engaged in an activity that feels like it is forced on you. Wish I was smart enough to think of an end around for this problem.

  2. Gayle on April 7, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Why can’t school be a place for passion and the pursuit of mastery in its purest sense through more than just extracurriculars? Shouldn’t student choice impact student learning? That’s what I’m grappling with. The gap between the two environments and approaches is stark. I’m wondering how it’s going to anything other than keep on growing. How can the subjects we teach be more relevant for students, more about deeper learning, real engagement, etc.?