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Thomas J. West Music

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Did You Know That You Are Already An Expert?

Posted on August 23, 2010 at 10:02 AM

Did you know that you are already an expert?

Every one of us has had experiences that are worth sharing with others. Everyone has tips and tricks that they've "learned the hard way" through raw experience, and everyone can teach those tips to others. There is not a mother in the world who doesn't have a story of what it was like for them through their pregnancy and their first year of being a mother. There is not one single military man or woman who does not have a host of experiences that they could share. And certainly, there is not one single teacher out there who, despite how little time they may have been on the job, does not have experiences to relate that could potentially be helpful to other teachers.

Building a Wall

Back in my days as a direct marketer, someone on my team told me this story:

Imagine you were hired to work as a contractor on a construction site. You have absolutely no experience with construction and don't know which end of a hammer to hold. The foreman of  the building team takes an hour to teach you how to use cement, bricks, a trowel, and other tools to make a brick wall. You build your wall, which turns out to be a bit sloppy around the edges, but functional. The foreman checks in and makes suggestions. You build another wall, which turns out as structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing as the original wall your teacher taught you with.

Now, the foreman introduces you to 6 new employees - these folks were hired just now, only four hours after you were hired. He charges you with teaching each of them how to build the very same brick wall that you just learned how to build. And just like that, you are now a "wall building expert"!! You may not have all the answers, and are certainly not capable of taking your new students on to any other kind of project, but you have enough knowledge and experience to help others improve.

Don't Be A "Stuart Smalley"

Back in the 80's, Al Franken had a recurring character on Saturday Night Live called Stuart Smalley. He was the host of a parody self-help talk show called "Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley". In trying to help others, Smalley only amplified his own self-loathing and broken self-esteem with his famous catch phrase (usually uttered by the end of the sketch through pathetic tears) "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

Most teachers share their "war stories" in the faculty lounge of how their students are driving them nuts. Imagine what would happen instead of feeling sorry for themselves (and sharing it with people who agree with them and commiserate), teachers shared things that they are doing in the classroom that actually DO work! The best professional development available is the self-directed kind where you collaborate and share with other teachers. Even if this fall will be your first time in a classroom, you will undoubtedly have a fresh perspective on some common challenges on teaching, and even the most grizzled veteran could benefit from your experience.

A Great Example of Sharing What You Know

Earlier today, middle school band director Keith Ozsvath blogged about his practices for the first day of school in The First Day: Setting the Stage for (Non) Musical Success. It is a perfect example of a teacher sharing valuable tips from their own experience. Many of the things he suggests are things I do myself, and having validation that what I do works for someone else is always gratifying. These are simple concepts that Keith most likely has discovered simply by being "on the job" and "learning the hard way". Imagine how many headaches he could save a new music teacher at the beginning of their career by sharing this information! Imagine how his ideas could revitalize a veteran teacher who is stuck in a routine that just doesn't work anymore!

Ways You Can Share Your Expertise in the 21st Century

Today's technology makes it easier than ever to share what you know. Here is a list of ways you can help out your fellow teachers:

  1. Talk shop with other teachers in your school: Instead of complaining about the students, the parents, and the administration over lunch, engage colleagues in conversations about what you are doing that works. You will soon find that the teachers who want to have a "bitch session" will move to a different table, and the ones who have great classrooms will start talking to you.
  2. Start a blog: One of the easiest ways to share tips is to occasionally write a few paragraphs in a blog. It's searchable online, and with very little time and effort you can get it seen by teachers from all over the world. A great way to share your blog with a lot of people is to submit your tips to blog carnivals that share the same topic. Music Education has its own blog carnival that is currently taking articles for the September issue.
  3. Join Facebook and LinkedIn: If you're already on Facebook, there are great places to talk shop. For example, there is new daily content on the Facebook Band Directors group, the Online Music Education group, and the #EdChat group. Most Facebook groups are not very active at all, but when you do find a vibrant community, the things you can learn and share there can be great.
  4. Open a Twitter account: When my geeky tech friends introduced me to Twitter way back before it caught on big, my first reaction was "what a phenominal waste of time!" I joined Twitter a year ago, and quite literally Twitter has put my professional development, my ability to connect with other music teachers, and my personal website on overdrive! All you have to do is open an accoun and start talking about your own teacher tips, and you will very quickly be followed by people who are interested in the same thing. Twitter also is the host of a rather long and impressive list of #hashtag chats. See Jerry Blumengarten's list of hashtag chats for details. 
  5. Talk it up in some forums: There are great forums for posting topics in teaching. The ones I frequent are MENC and MakeMusic. There are tons of others.
  6. Join a Professional Learning Network (PLN): The granddaddy of them all is The Educator's PLN. There is an incredibly vibrant PLN for music teachers that just opened this summer.
  7. Write an article: Your state's music education association is always looking for good articles. MENC takes submissions. In-Tune Monthly and SoundTree are currently looking for people to submit lesson plans. Remember, you're already an expert!
  8. Present at a conference: If you really want to become an expert, create a presentation for the next in-service day at your school, your county-wide in-service, or your state educator's conference. When you present even a simple topic at a conference, people listen.

Stop Being So Greedy!

You have valubale experiences that can really help out your fellow teachers. You already know how to "build a brick wall" - now go out and teach others how to do the same.

This article (c) 2010 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

Categories: Blog Carnivals, Recommendations, Teacher Tips

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Reply Keith Ozsvath
10:40 PM on August 24, 2010 
Thanks for the mention! Teaching would improve so much if we all shared what we do A LOT more often. You hit the nail on the head!
Reply ★ Owner
10:51 PM on August 24, 2010 
Thanks, Keith. As Mark Burke commented earlier today, "As teachers, we are taught to be islands, stand on our own, fend for ourselves." We need to make a paradigm shift and get professional educators to support one another the way supervisors and employees do in other industries.