Usually, school puts the teacher in the position of “expert” whose job is to teach students what they do not yet have expertise in. But what if we flipped that scenario? What if we asked students to teach us about themselves and their experiences?

Recently, I had a conversation with a student who asked me to write his college recommendation. I asked him what he wanted me to emphasize in my letter. Should I focus on his leadership skills and teamwork ability? His community service and compassion for others? His academic achievements? For the next twenty minutes he filled me in on his life story, explaining his path from Mexico to America and how he developed higher and higher goals for himself throughout his school years. He explained to me that he spends very little time outside of school with his friends – “For me, it’s school, then work, then helping with the family. There isn’t time for much else.” – which is why he is overly social at school. “You might see me talking or laughing in my group in class but that is how I keep up with my friends.” He also shared great insights into the immigrant experience in America and offered an original perspective on American customs and norms.

I thought to myself, “I should do this more often.”

Think about what you might learn by asking students about themselves and about topics they are “experts” on. You may see them, your classroom, and content in a new light.