When I entered public school for the first time in 4th grade after attending private school since Kindergarten, I was almost immediately placed in a “TAG” (Talented and Gifted) program. From that time forward I was always told that I was ‘smart.’ I took accelerated classes, and even attended an alternative school my senior year because school didn’t seem challenging enough for me. Now, I was not THE smartest student in my school by far. In fact, I was at the bottom of the ‘smart pool,’ but I knew I was smart nonetheless.
I started my freshman year at Oberlin College and was completely humbled. I had never been surrounded by so many intelligent, forward thinking and inquisitive people my own age. Suddenly I wasn’t part of a ‘smart pool’ because everyone was smart. In fact, I was exposed to ideas and points of view I had never considered in high school. I was pushed to explore these new ideas and ponder how these new points of view played into my own beliefs at the time.
This is the same experience I have had in building my PLN as an educator. While once I was the only one I knew who read ASCD books for fun, now I am humbled and amazed by the intelligence and diversity on Twitter that pushes me to rethink my own ideals and beliefs and exposes me to new ideas.
I don’t purposefully surround myself with smarter people, I find that I gravitate toward them. Here are 6 reasons why:
1) Face it, I’m not a genius.
Sometimes I need someone who’s smarter than me to explain a complicated concept.
2) If no one ever challenges my ideas, how will I know what I truly believe?
Through conversation with a diverse group of intelligent people I learn more about myself.
3) Smart people give smart feedback.
When I need real feedback it helps to have smart people around.
4) When I realize that I have no idea what someone is talking about, it motivates me to learn something new.
I don’t like being left out of the conversation!
5) I don’t have to know everything because, chances are, someone else knows the answer.
With the diverse, intelligent and eager to help PLN I have on Twitter I’m guaranteed to find an answer.
6) It’s important to feel humbled from time to time.
If we aren’t ever forced to learn something new or never realize that we’re not the smarty pants we thought we were we will never have the chance to grow.
There are implications for education in all of this. As teachers, we often group students into homogeneous groups by ability. Schools often track students by ability. If my experience has any value, this is the worst thing we can do for our students. Not to say that working with small groups who share an academic need is out of the question, but students can learn from being surrounded by students who think differently than they do or have different strengths.
Teachers also need to have the opportunity to be surrounded by colleagues who challenge their ideas and expose them to new ones.
What do you think?