"The smartest person in the room, is the room." -- David Weinberger
I am a fairly new listener to Don Wettrick's educational podcast, StartEdUp. On a recent episode, titled "Who Made YOU The Expert?" Don recounts two listener emails, questioning why he should be considered an educational expert?
If you have not heard it already, I would highly recommend listening to the episode (embedded below). After that, be sure to finish this post. Then, head over to the StartEdUp podcast website and check out some more episodes. If you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe.
As an instructional coach, teachers I have not coached are often confused as to what my job entails. Some believe I am a technician, as my previous title was educational technology coach. I know what you're thinking, that's still not a technician. It just seems that whenever you throw the word "technology" into a job title, teachers tend to reflexively think you're there to fix their printer or SMARTBoard.
I was having a conversation with one such teacher, who had innocently asked me about the number of requests I was receiving. Sensing she was referring to technology requests, I graciously and in my most non-confrontational manner, explained that I was simply doing some classroom visits and providing feedback, whenever feedback was requested.
Appearing bewildered, my colleague replied, "Uh... Doesn't that require some sort of administrative... you know... administrative background, or something?"
I paused, then responded, "Not exactly. If I were an administrator, my work could end up being, or at least appearing to be, evaluative. I find it's best for teachers to help one another improve, without the added fear of being evaluated. I feel most teachers would agree."
We ended up conversing for a little while longer. I got to hear about her coursework and how many credits she has left before she reaches another tier on the pay scale and she heard about some of my thoughts and philosophies on education.
When I got in the car, to go home, I began to listen to the "Who Made YOU The Expert?" episode and something clicked -- my colleague may well have been asking, "Who made YOU the expert?"
According to Google, an expert is "a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area." Comprehensive meaning, "complete; including all or nearly all elements or aspects of something." Authoritative being defined as, "able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable."
In other words, an expert is someone who reliably knows a lot about something.
Notably excluded from the definition of expert is any reference to credentialism, or a "belief in or reliance on academic or other formal qualifications as the best measure of a person's intelligence or ability to do a particular job." Occassionally, I believe credentialism leads people to falsly assume expertise, based purely on a set of letters preceding or following their name. Feel free to listen into the January 10th episode of "The Daily", for an example of this sort of false attribution. (Disclaimer: You may want to skip this recommendation, if you are particularly sensitive to politics.)
So, in conclusion, I deeply respect Don Wettrick's transparency in bringing this topic to light on his podcast and for conceding he is not an expert, but rather an experimenter (interestingly enough, both words come from the same root, meaning to try), despite fitting every qualification of the definition.
Personally, I will work to adopt some of this mentality, as well, conceding that I am not an expert but rather surrounded by experts who may just need a bit of guidance and support, from time to time. Because, sometimes, "The smartest person in the room, is the room."