Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lessons of a Broken Window

The other day, my 11 year-old son, who was home for Spring Break, called me at school and said "Mom, I was playing outside, practicing my throwing, and I broke one of the garage door windows." I've been down this road before with my son. We had a broken insulated, double pane window on the front of the house last spring, and we still have a broken window on the back side of the garage from the fall. You might wonder about my son's ability to throw a baseball, but believe me, if I ever wanted to learn how to throw a curveball or a slider, he'd be my man. In spite of his 11 years and his occasional misses, I consider him an expert in many respects when it comes to throwing a baseball. I think his team from last year, who referred to him as "The Closer", would agree. Is he an expert because he never misses? Of course not, and frankly, to call an 11 year old an expert probably seems pretty strange. But compared to me, he is an expert. He would be my go-to guy when and if I wanted to learn. He already knows a tremendous amount about the form and techniques of being a pitcher. More importantly, he is always working on his skills. In spite of the occasional broken window, he has a strong, accurate throw.

Similarly, the other day, I was part of a discussion about the word "expert". Is it okay to refer to someone as an expert even if he or she doesn't know everything there is to know about a given topic or tool? For example, one of my colleagues, likes to use the word to describe teachers in our community who have a special expertise or knowledge, and by this I mean beyond their content area (for example, someone who has learned to use a cool, new tool or technology that might be of interest to others in the community). But what if that teacher "expert" doesn't know all the ins and outs of that cool, new tool? Is it still okay to call her an "expert"? Is it okay for an expert to still be learning and making mistakes? Can an expert and a newbie learn alongside one another? I like to think the answer to these questions is yes. I like to think that by saying yes, you demonstrate that it's okay to not always have the answers, while at the same time feel confident about what you do know. And it's okay to share what you know even if you are still learning. In fact, I would say it is vital to the survival of your expert status to be an expert who is continually learning.