Repost - When one teaches two learn

2020-07-13 This post is over 2 years old

As the next step in the guided path, let’s talk about a Tiny Next Step you can take to improve your ‘Know-state’ skills. Last week, I breifly explained the ‘Do-Know-Grow’ model for career development. While exploring the concept, I found myself asking how someone could begin to develop the skills, and the knowledge for really living into the ‘Know’ stage. Here, the idea of teach repeatedly came to mind.

When you teach, you force yourself to learn more deeply. So the practice of the teacher is in a sense that of a deeper student. I discovered this under the mentor-ship of a fantastic student. (Yes, you read that correctly). Here’s what I learned:

Claudio and I gave a talk on WebUI testing last TechFest (link pending). While reflecting on it, I uncovered another valuable lesson I learned.
At the time, We had reached a point where only UI work remained. So Claudio and I paired up.

At the time, I was going to be extending one of our existing Thunks. Thankfully we inconsistent in testing our Thunks. Claudio’s sense of good practice tingled. So he insisted we write tests for the existing thunk before we enhance it. At the time, I didn’t know the best practices for testing javascript. Thus he and I set out to learn.

We started by sculpting GWT cases for the code. This provided an opportunity for me to explain the functions of the existing Thunk. While teaching Claudio about some of the ‘how’ the framework worked, I learned more about it myself. For example, I gained a new respect for the synchronous nature of dispatch(), in particular, the impact of long running Thunks.

During this same time Claudio taught me better test practices. We worked together to refine our techniques. Since then, we have continued to refine our technique. We’re now producing snippets for javascript testing to improve the ease and speed of test writing!

As I reflected on this experience, one phrase repeated itself in my mind: ‘When One teaches Two learn’. As I mentioned, my own understanding of Redux improved. By explaining its operations and how affected the Thunk to Claudio, I learned the framework at a deeper level.

When I discussed this observation with him, he shared a practice he had developed. He looks for someone to teach a concept to as soon as he learns it. For one thing, being so close to having learned it he remembers what it is like to not know. Moreover, he gains a deeper understanding through teaching it than he started with.

Having now experienced this phenomena, teaching-after-learning is a most excellent practice! I plan to look for ways to share my knowledge with others. And I hope that this brief dialog encourages you likewise. ‘Let us share the light of knowledge, as it will kindle our own flame to even greater incandescence!’

Now, I want to point out something I didn’t see the first time. When Claudio explained how he would teach immediately after learning, he said more than I understood at the time. The obvious piece was that he taught to re-reinforce learning. Further, he valued teaching close to learning because it improved his ability to teach, see remembering what it was like not to know. That was where I originally stopped digging.

Coming back to this topic now, I see a third practice or perspective I had missed before. Claudio does not wait to be a master to teach. For him, the step of teaching is just another step in learning. I recognize my own mental block on this now. It takes a profound humility and curiosity to be willing to choose to show someone what you have, even when you know it is not all. I will often hold back when I do not confidently know a given system, as well as the system a step or two behind it! But that is a mistake!

When one teaches, two learn. If only you’ll have the humility to share what you know, and then learn together with those you are teaching. Don’t wait to be an expert before you share! Don’t be afraid to start small! Share what you have for the benefit of all, yourself included! The ‘Know’ stage is about what knowledge, and guidance you can provide to others. If you can learn to teach right after learning, imagine how far you can go!