We’ve all heard the saying, “Those who can’t, teach.” I suggest we challenge that unwarranted denigration of the teaching profession by altering one letter: “Those who want, teach.”
The fastest path for those who want to gain knowledge or a skill in an area is to teach another. Yet, it’s probably one of the most often overlooked avenues of learning. We’ll read books, attend classes, watch videos, even shadow others, but seldom do we ask ourselves, “Now, how would I teach this?”
It’s certainly not practical to suggest that we look for a formal teaching arrangement for everything we might be learning. If you’re like me, you have a few learning endeavors going at the same time.
However, we’re likely to acquire a skill or knowledge more quickly if we prepare as if we’re on the hook to teach it. Doing so strengthens us in two important disciplines:
The discipline of organized thinking. Preparing to teach another causes us to think critically about what we’ve learned. What are the most important elements of information? How do they interrelate? Are there dependences? Causes? Effects? Sequential steps? How does it affect me? How could it affect others? The list of questions we could ask ourselves about what we’ve learned is endless. And each potentially opens a new vista in our understanding of the subject we’re seeking to master.
The discipline of clear presentation. We’ve all be in classroom situations where we’ve been snowed under by material that was way over our heads. Unless the teacher brings us along the journey with a clear presentation, we’re likely to get discouraged, lose interest and check out. The discipline of clarity causes us to think critically about illustrations and associations that keep another engaged in learning. Metaphors and other forms of analogy are extremely powerful ways to bridge familiar concepts with new concepts. For instance, those who heard Jesus knew just what he meant when he compared the new kingdom to a mustard seed (Matthew 4:30-33). Finding ways to present our subject matter so that others more readily understand personalizes it for us. It moves it from abstract concept to useful knowledge.
These two disciplines can be used in nearly every learning endeavor:
- Do you want to be a more generous person? Take out a pad of paper and outline a short-course in generosity to tell your kids at bedtime. What stories would you use to make your point?
- Do you want to have more gratitude or less anger or more discipline to exercise? Imagine you’ll be giving a presentation to high-school students on that topic. What would you say and how would you say it?
- Do you want to learn to bake pastries? Write a short course on French pastries, even if just to have as way to organize all the things you’ll learn along the way.
Now it’s your turn. What will you teach? Those who want, teach.
What short course will you create?