Trust the Real Experts

“An expert is a person who can take something you knew already and make it sound confusing.”  – H. Prochnow

The terms ‘educational guru’, ‘lead learner’ or ‘thought leader’ are questionable. They imply that certain people have a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in education. That a select minority hold the key to education reform.

While experts definitely play a role in our world, in education, they are unnecessary because of the fluid and unpredictable nature of learning. They are too removed from the daily life of schools to have a real impact. Seeking solutions from experts on how to fix education is problematic because there is no simple answer. There are too many factors at play in teaching for us to rely on the expertise of academics, politicians and researchers to dictate what works best for our profession. They can offer suggestions, of course, but their words must be taken with a grain of salt. And beware of their edubabble that obscures the common sense truths about learning.

Blindly accepting change just because it comes from the voice of an expert is troublesome. It creates a disconnect, as teachers are the ones who have to implement this change, often without ever having been given a say in the matter. Jia Lee voices this frustration that teachers often feel in this video on education testing and accountability.

The longer I teach, the more I realize how vast learning is, how broad the umbrella of education is. Teaching is complex. How can anyone claim to know what works for your students? Those looking in from the outside don’t know the students or the environment and they lack the necessary details of a teacher’s situation. At best, they can suggest and recommend. The real experts of education are the teachers, not the consultants, policy makers or educational celebrities. We know what works best for our students, what motivates them and helps them to succeed.

Teachers are often required to attend professional development training led by instructional leaders. A typical session involves being advised by these experts on what constitutes best practices. The problem is, there tends to be a lot of talking to and at teachers, and not much actual input from the teachers themselves. Kind of sounds like school. The teacher assumes the role of student, passively taking in what is taught to them, with little opportunity to direct their own learning. It’s no surprise that the majority view it as a waste of time.

Anyone who stands before a group of educational professionals claiming that, “This works or do this!” is not being realistic. They’re not respecting what teachers face every day. Instead, the ‘try this or adapt this’ approach is more effective, honoring the teacher and framing it in a much less authoritative manner. This feels like less of a mandate and more of a voice at the table. Teachers’ voices have been absent from the decision-making process for too long. The experts have drowned them out. That needs to change.

There are many variables in a classroom that change from moment to moment. What works with one group of students might not work with another. The same lesson that was a success in period one might fall apart in period two. The teacher who approaches their classroom as a laboratory, experimenting with their lessons and figuring out what is most beneficial for their students, is one who is always seeking to improve their craft. But just because they approach their teaching with this creative spirit doesn’t mean that learning can function under laboratory conditions. Teaching is not an exact science. Any education expert who claims they can assess educational practices with mathematical-like accuracy should be treated with caution.

The role of the education expert is not one of sharing answers and distributing truths, but of asking questions. As Francis Bacon once said, “A prudent question is onehalf of wisdom.” A good leader has the ability to pose the right question, getting at the heart of the matter and making us look at education in a new light. They are the catalysts for positive change. They ask the questions that get us to rethink the way we do things, and in the process, offer a better way.

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