Some Thoughts on Experts

Right now in education, we are very focused on what the experts say, relying heavily on research-based programs that must be taught to fidelity for our instruction.  If it isn’t research-based, many would say that it isn’t valid. 

But what about the action research we as educators do continually in our classrooms on a daily basis?  When did we become more reliant on what programs say than on what the students in front of us are saying and doing? And what if the kids we are teaching, or the circumstances we are teaching in, are different from the subjects and environments on which the research is based?

Research is important, and understanding current and past practices and their effects on students is very valuable.  In my opinion, however, we have become overly reliant on research.  At times, it seems that we, as trained and experienced educators, are almost afraid to think for ourselves or trust our experience and our instincts.  If something doesn’t work and it is our idea, we can’t point to research to explain our thinking, and we might have to admit that we thought we were smart enough to come up with a good instructional strategy on our own.  And while swallowing that might be hard, the opinions that others will develop about us, and how that might affect our evaluations, is terrifying.

To me, experts are people who have had vast professional experiences, pursued higher levels of education and development, tried a lot of things, had their share of failures and triumphs, and come up with some really great, effective strategies as a result.  And to me, that sounds like a lot of educators I know.

So when did we become so afraid to trust ourselves, or one another?  When did a title, like Specialist or Coach (both of which I have held), make us suddenly more intelligent than everyone around us?  And when, for goodness’ sake, did knowing a lot about a topic mean more than moving students forward in their learning?

As teachers, we absolutely need to understand what we are doing and why.  But most of all, we need to deeply understand what our students need from us.  And if we are too focused on following a specific lesson plan or teaching skills exactly as the experts say, we might just miss what our learners are trying to tell us.