Lifelong Learning Part 2: We’re All Lifelong Learners 

March 25, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

Adults have a wealth of experience to draw on and they like to do so as part of their learning. Adults are not used to taking direction in education; they choose what they want to learn. When my friend (in Part 1 of this series) lost his active interest in seeking out dental education, he had made a choice to learn other things he hoped to know.  

One of my heroes, Doctor Parker Mahan, told me once that one of the harshest lessons of mortality for him was the realization that he could never live long enough to learn everything he wanted to know. 

Adults need to create specific opportunities to self-reflect and internalize what they are learning in order to integrate it with what they already know. Adults have preconceived notions about education, learning style, and subject matter that interfere with their learning. Adults are often afraid to fail so they frequently guard their learning process by telling themselves why what they are hearing is wrong. 

Where children are sponges when it comes to learning, as adults our brains adapt to experiences and interactions that occur “on purpose.” We acknowledge a reason to remember that experience…to have that new knowledge. 

Here’s an example. 

Our eldest child, Patricia, entered a world in which those charged with her immediate care had barely learned to care for themselves–a world to which she adapted very quickly. In no time she had taken control of the lives of two sentient beings who proudly professed their independence and right to make decisions about their own lives but nonetheless jumped through the hoops of her creation as soon as they were offered. 

After the grandmothers had departed and Cheryl and I were now totally responsible for this baby FOR REAL, her training of us began in earnest. Turns out Cheryl and I CAN be taught, proven by our immediate response to Patricia’s guidance in managing her universe. A visit by Uncle Toby and Aunt Patsy presented us with an opportunity to learn from another source. 

Following a hearty meal, a very sleepy baby was laid in her crib for some sleep. Almost immediately upon our return to the living room Patricia realized she was no longer being held, and realized she was no longer where the “party” was happening. Being WITH the party is very high on Patricia’s list. When she “called out” in response to that situation, two very well-trained parents immediately stood to head for the emergency that was happening for the helpless baby. Uncle Toby looked at us as we simultaneously rose and said, “What are you thinking?” 

That might sound like a question, but it was really a statement that meant “stop.” So, when Uncle Toby asked his “question,” Cheryl and I stopped as we were instructed. Uncle Toby then asked, “What are you teaching that baby if you go in there and pick her up every time she cries?” 

As brand-new, first-time parents, this thought was alien to us. Being so well trained, we thought our only mission in life was to keep the baby from crying. With some angst in our stomachs that tightened each time Patricia’s wailing reached a new crescendo, we sat in the living room and pretended to ignore what we were hearing.  

Suffice it to say that when our second child Dale came along, he learned, and reasonably quickly, that we were not necessarily coming every time he rang the bell.  

Every day, we hear and see a lot of information that never makes the transition to “learning” because it does not produce change.
Change can only occur for adults when we enter into an agreement with ourselves that there is something we want to learn in what is being said or shown to us. We ACT on it. 

The truth is EVERY interaction we have with any other person or situation is a potential learning experience if we reflect upon it and internalize its meaning for us and act on it. It’s impossible not to learn. We do it all the time. Lifelong learning is thus a forgone conclusion.  

One of the greatest joys in dental practice is creating learning moments for patients by providing intentional opportunities for them to experience their oral health and interact with us in a way that provokes their curiosity, internal reflection, and acknowledgement of needs. Just as we are lifelong learners, we can trust that they are lifelong learners, too. 

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Gary DeWood, DDS

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Touchstones? Which do you choose?

March 25, 2022 Sheri Kay RDH

It seems we all have things I call “touchstones” that we keep around to help us feel grounded and to remind us of who we are. We also have items around us simply because they make us smile.

A good friend of mine used to talk about having a garage sale for her thoughts and behaviors, and I love that idea! My own experience has taught me that the people, belongings, and structures I surround myself with have an enormous impact on my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

A few years back, I downsized to an 800 square foot mountain home in Black Mountain, North Carolina that I lovingly call the “Tiny Mansion.” When I made this move, I got rid of so much stuff! I literally touched everything I owned and made a thoughtful decision on what would stay and what would go.

I found that I kept things that connected me in a concrete way to different people, places, and experiences that had special meaning. I let go of lots and lots of things that were not essential tools as well as things that were related to people, memories, or parts of my life I was ready to release. I’ve learned that growth is not only about adding to our lives, but maybe even more importantly, it’s about letting go of that which no longer serves us.

Now what I do is intentionally surround myself with what encourages me to be the person I want to be, and to feel the way I want to feel when I’m in the world. All the books I have on my shelf are purposefully there. I scan through them on a regular basis to make sure they are still books that have special meaning. Another habit I’ve created is to get rid of something every time I make a purchase. Buy shoes…get rid of shoes. Buy a shirt…get rid of 2 shirts. It’s a deliberate choice designed to keep me from becoming overwhelmed by a whole bunch of stuff that I no longer want or need.

To live that intentionally was new to me when I decided to make my move to the Tiny Mansion. Necessity drove me to become highly selective about what I would see and touch in my day-to- day world. This idea became part of my updated philosophy…my living, thinking approach to curating positive things, people, actions, and experiences in my life. I am in a dynamic process of becoming my best self (almost) every day.

What inspired me to share this is the realization that I was smiling when I poured a smoothie in one of my Pankey cups. This particular piece of my “Pankey merch” collection was a gift from Dr. Lee Brady, and I love (on many levels) what it means to me.

I feel absolutely uplifted by being surrounded by things I love. The ability to see and touch these “stones” is a positive force in my life. I wonder what you might surround yourself with that is intentional and has meaning for you. I also wonder what you might be ready to let go of. Which things do you choose to be visible touchstones in your life?

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Sheri Kay RDH

Sheri Kay started her career in dentistry as a dental assistant for an “under one roof” practice in 1980. The years quickly flew by as Sheri worked her way from one position to the next learning everything possible about the different opportunities and roles available in an office. As much as she loved dentistry … something was always missing. In 1994, after Sheri graduated from hygiene school, her entire world changed when she was introduced to the Pankey Philosophy of Care. What came next for Sheri was an intense desire to help other dental professionals learn how they could positively influence the health and profitability of their own practices. By 2012, Sheri was working full time as a Dental Practice Coach and has since worked with over 300 practices across the country. Owning SKY Dental Practice Dental Coaching is more of a lifestyle than a job, as Sheri thrives on the strong relationships that she develops with her clients. She enjoys speaking at state meetings, facilitating with Study Clubs and of course, coaching with her practices.

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