It Doesn’t Take An Expert – 5 Reasons To Share Your Best Practices
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a bit of a national park nut and spend any chance I get visiting our nation's 400+ parks and historic sites. I think they are amazing places for experiential learning and provide huge amounts of inspiration for teachers looking for ideas. They’ve actually inspired one of my current projects, but more on that later.
This summer I had the opportunity to visit Dayton, Ohio, the hometown of aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Parts of the city they lived in have been incorporated into a National Historic Park, including the site of their home, the airfield where they perfected their plane design, and a bicycle shop they once owned and operated.
I discovered something that surprised me while visiting. Despite their monumental achievements, neither Wilbur nor Orville had any formal education or training in aviation or engineering. In fact the only person in their entire family to earn an advanced degree was their little sister. They were just two brothers who were fascinated with the idea of human flight and loved to tinker. According to the interpretive displays at the site they were self-taught, schooling themselves in aerodynamics and propulsion, and used the experience they’d gathered while working in their bike shop to come up with their ideas.
Many of their designs flew in the face of what other, more experienced and educated inventors were doing at the time. The U.S. Army had been trying to crack the puzzle of flight for years before the Wrights built their first airplane, which used wing torsion as a steering mechanism and was a big departure from previous designs. Even the testing site for their plane of Kitty Hawk, NC was far from where most other aviators were testing designs. They did everything different from what the certified experts were advocating.
And yet, despite all these radical differences and disadvantages, they were still the first to crack the puzzle of controlled, man-powered flight. It’s a story whose modern-day equivalent would be a high school student building a space ship in a garage, and it says something about dismissing someone’s potential and ideas just because they aren’t an “expert” in their field.
This brought me back to a question I’ve had regarding schools with a silo culture. I sometimes wonder if teachers who are reluctant to share don’t do so more often because they don’t feel like they are expert enough to do so. But there are a few things to remember about the value of “non-expert” ideas;
1) Passion is equally important as expertise - Anyone who has ever sat through bad professional development knows that just because you have a masters degree or work for a renowned consulting company doesn’t automatically make you capable of delivering brilliant and engaging PD. Expert presenters and consultants also need to be excited about their ideas and methods if they want them to get across to their audience. We know this to be true of teaching in a classroom as well. In short, if the passion isn’t there, why should we care?
2) Consulting with others is an important part of your own growth – The Wright Brothers did a lot of learning on their own, but much of this knowledge came from experts that they consulted. They wrote letters to the Smithsonian and other air pioneers to ask questions and get guidance. Without these conversations, they wouldn’t have been successful, so make sure that you are also having conversations people outside your immediate circle so you can continue to learn and refine your own ideas.
3) Experience is the best of all credentials – When a presenter or professional says they have experience doing what they are talking about and that the ideas and processes they are advocating didn’t just come to them while sitting at a desk or a cubicle I always sit up and more pay attention. To me, there is no substitute for actual, authentic classroom experience. I don’t teach people how to rock climb despite knowing enough about the subject to probably get by presenting on it. Why not? Because I haven’t been climbing in 15+ years and then I only did it a few times. It would be irresponsible of me to pose as an expert due to my lack of authentic experience. Remember that the next time some “expert” tries to make you feel inadequate because you’re “just a classroom teacher”
4) Ideas have merit and should be shared – Even if the idea you want to share is unperfected, you should still share it. Starting a dialogue can help perfect a roughly cut idea and turn it into something amazing. If your ideas are still in their infancy, be up front with that and be receptive to feedback so you can improve them.
5) Tinkering and experimentation is an important part of the process – Playing around with different ideas and trying them over and over until you get the results you want is essential. There is no such thing as “one and done” in a truly 21st century classroom space, so don’t stop refining and revising your lessons and processes.
Just like the Wright Brothers.