Beware Of The Expert

Would you consider yourself an expert?

There are a fair few educational heavyweights that command respect but you won’t hear them confessing to being an expert. People might be in awe of them and they might have a few thousand followers but who are the real experts?

If you had to name one educational expert, who would that be?

Perhaps Sir Ken Robinson?

Maybe Dylan Wiliam?

What about Robin Alexander?

Surely Daisy Christodoulou?

Surely we can make room for Mr Parker in Year 6? He oozes intuitive competence.

It would be a brave soul to say they are an expert in anything. It makes it sound like you know all there is to know which is pretty ludicrous. It’s also an ugly and misleading label to carry on your luggage of experiences.

There are some very knowledgeable people in education, kung-fu types and so-called crème de la crème ‘influential figures’ chosen by an ‘expert’ panel. They manage to combine intellectual power, creativity and and laser sharp interpretation skills but you won’t hear themselves say they are ‘experts’. They don’t like to because they will say the real McCoy and inspirations are in the classroom picking up the pieces and fighting the proper battles.

Look At Me

However, there are plenty of people who are self-appointed and self-annointed education experts and they can normally be found saying so in their LinkedIn profiles and Twitter bios. They are their own ‘brand’.

Edu-Twitter is full of people who seem to dominate the narrative and have built an illusion of expertise around them. If anyone has another opinion or dares say something that opposes their world view they are easily batted away because they have a core of followers who will back them regardless.

It’s true, there are some really great Edu-Tweeters with the background, experience and minerals to back-up their Tweets but they can get carried away with their own guru celebrity status. They might well be knowledgeable in one or two areas but their egos take over and they start over-claiming or have ‘expert’ opinions on areas where they are out of their depth. If you challenge their thinking then they get tetchy and ‘Unfollow’ you. Honestly, it’s like being in a playground.

We need to be cautious against the quote-bombers. You know the ones I mean. They love leaving gems of wisdom or educational nuggets of insight for their followers to ‘Like’. Thing is, they are annoying.

We need to be careful around the generalist problem-busters who seem to have a solution for everything. They are the ones who can somehow manage to answer all education’s dilemmas. There is an air of certainty about what they say and that’s a large part down to Follower bias and their supporters applauding them with gushing Tweets.

The Villains

Hywel Roberts (2012) in Oops! Helping Children Learn Accidentally advises that we need to give the ‘experts’ a credibility litmus test. Quite often we might encounter a so-called expert on the TV or radio. They are often being consulted over something they have limited knowledge and experience of. Yet, with a confident enough voice and the body language to match, they pull it off.

Roberts gives us 5 examples of experts that we need to be wary of and treat what they have to say with a pinch of salt:

  1. Greying academics
  2. Failed teachers
  3. Politicians
  4. Grown-ups
  5. Parents

Give these people a wide berth because they will have something to say and they will know better than you and more than you. Of course, we need to add Edu-Tweeters to the list because they are always sharing their expertise and have a need for doing so.

Then we can add Edu-journalists. These are people who visit classrooms and schools but have never taught children or they are failed teachers spat out by the system because they were, as Roberts describes, “taken to the cleaners by the children”.

We could also add to this list experts with PhDs. They might fall into the ‘Greying academics’ population but there are more and more teachers with credentials that make them ‘look’ like they know what they are talking about. Many don’t. They are closely related to ‘Researchers’, people who make a living out of being ‘expert’ but have a narrow focus and know quite a bit something and not much else. They can be related to the ‘Failed teachers’ and spent less a couple of years in a ‘tough’ school that actually was a nice middle class one.

Real Experts

The real ‘experts’ to watch out for are Education ‘Consultants’ who strut about the country and beyond ‘doing CPD’. Some of these are genuine and know their stuff but there are some in the “Can we have our money back?” category who let schools down with faulty inset and dodgy messages.

Worst still, is the fact that many movers, shakers and experts are in positions of influence with fancy job titles as pointed out by Joe Nutt in the Tes. He draws our attention to the argument that “the powerful in a whole range of important institutions in our society are nothing more than blaggers and chancers, people whose knowledge is a “mile wide but an inch deep” made me think hard about how this might have manifested itself in schools.”

Well, there are plenty of blaggers and self-appointed experts in schools that’s for sure. These tend to be people that believe in learning styles and colour-coded differentiation along with VAK and the learning pyramid.

Cracked It

Are there any good eggs? Well, there are certainly some cracking teachers who know their craft who can rightly be called Platinum Pedagogues. Some are still teaching and some have left but they won’t dare say they are experts even though they are ‘really good’. They know that calling themselves an expert isn’t good for their wellbeing because it piles the pressure on and leads to ridiculously high expectations to be ‘outstanding’ all of the time.

We are living in the age of the expert yet there isn’t actually one expert about.

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