The earliest known version of the proverb that serves as the title for this post is attributed to Julius Caesar. You might have noticed that I tweaked it a little bit by replacing “is” with “can” to prove a point in a little bit. While knowledge is undoubtedly essential, the act of using it effectively to implement shared and individual goals is what truly matters. Through experience, we hone our craft and grow. At least, this is what the end goal should be if we are to learn from it to continually get better.
I vividly remember an experience a few years back that radically changed my trajectory as a facilitator of learning. During a breakout session at a large national conference, I had a packed room, which is something most presenters yearn for, and I was no different. Since I was relatively new in this space, I reverted to what I was comfortable with and talked at them for seventy minutes. Quite frankly, my thinking was that this is what they actually wanted at a conference. In my mind, I was doing exceptionally well as only a few people left during the session. When it was all over, I felt pretty good.
Later that evening, I pulled up Twitter to see if there was any chatter about my session. At the time, I wish I hadn’t, as I got skewered by numerous attendees. In a nutshell, I was told that I talked at them the entire time, provided no opportunities for discourse, and didn’t allow for needed reflection on the concepts presented. As much as the critical feedback stung, it became a catalyst for my growth in the professional learning space. I had veered away from the strategies that I had championed as a principal with my staff and needed to make concerted efforts to increase agency across any type of session I facilitated. In this case, experience was the best teacher, but only because I acted on feedback in order to grow.
Experience can be the best teacher when it leads to:
- Construction of new knowledge
- Reflection to improve
- Openness to and acting on feedback
- Seeking out different perspectives
- Regularly engaging in opportunities to improve
- Knowing that growth is a never-ending journey
As the saying goes, experience is the best teacher. This isn’t necessarily true, although it can be if the outcomes listed above are embraced. It is critical that we reflect on our experience and continually grow. Doing something the same way for twenty years doesn’t mean someone is effective. If our practice doesn’t change or improve, then experience doesn’t mean very much.