Written by Geraldine Muteka


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30 Aug, 2021

Teaching refers to the act or practice of imparting knowledge, whilst learning refers to receiving knowledge. 

It is fair to expect that both actions will have to be evidenced or confirmed by a change in behaviour or actions, whether positive or negative, which lasts for a period.

Teaching seems to be the most preferred practice for most people. This is most probably due to the authority that comes with teaching. We all at some point want to tell others what to do and not be told what to do. What is your preference? What do you like most? Is it to teach others or to be taught? 

Most people I ask this question would say they don’t mind being taught, but that the method of teaching greatly contributes to their willingness to learn. It is weird that even though we seem to love teaching, we don’t pay much attention to how we teach or to whether the methods we use to teach truly lead to the imparting of knowledge that leads to sustained change. 

We assign the role of teaching to the most senior individual in the relationship. For example, in the parent child relationship, we will automatically view the parent as the teacher and the child as the learner. Similarly, in the workplace we will view the supervisor as the teacher. This has merits as the parent and the supervisor will often have more experience and/or expertise and is thus assumed in a position to impart more knowledge. 

However, when we are so rigid in our definition of the role of teacher in a relationship, we limit the learning that can take place for both parties. A living and growing relationship is characterised by an exchange of learning and teaching. This means both parties can learn and teach.  

When we embrace this concept, we enter our dialogues or engagements with an open mind and then our possibilities can be endless. When I in my capacity as a supervisor enter a critical conversation with my more junior employee with the intention to learn, to hear his/her perception and consider his/her ideas, I intentionally open myself up to a new world. The same is true when I take on this attitude as a junior employee – I can then learn about the world of the supervisor, and set myself up for a bigger position through this learned knowledge. 

Many times, we struggle to get to solutions because we are very focussed on presenting the solution and we are closed off to the possibility of our supervisor or junior employee also having a solution. We rob ourselves and our workplaces of great opportunities when we don’t see and appreciate the value of learning and teaching as a mutual exchange in work relationships. 

Have we ever considered that maybe our definition of teaching and learning is outdated? Madeline Hunter said it beautifully, “Teaching is not telling, and learning is not having been told”. Be that as it may, you get to decide daily whether you will be a teacher or learner in your work relationships. 

I hope you chose to embrace both roles and that you realize that one is no one thing is without the other. Putting it simply, if you want to teach you have to be willing to learn. In the words of John Cotton Dana, “who dares to teach must never cease to learn”.  

Till the next post…

Stay committed to your growth


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