You’ve probably heard that old proverb that the smartest person in the room isn’t a person at all, but rather the collective wisdom of the group. Sage advice to be sure, but I believe there’s more to a classroom than collected knowledge. I submit that it’s not the assembled wisdom that is most important, but rather the network which joins these ideas together and connects one person’s thoughts to another. After all, stagnant knowledge never helped anyone. True growth involves sharing, collaborating, and communicating – essentially transferring knowledge from one person to another.

Learning to level Up

We spend a lot of time aggregating information, adding more facts and quotes to our storehouse of knowledge. As a result, we expect students to operate the same way; soaking in our lessons like some kind of adolescent sponge. But what about making sure your students are connected to one-another? Are you ensuring they’re adept at using their relationships to share, accept, and piece-together new data? This is how you exponentially increase the intelligence and potential of an entire classroom.

If collaboration skills are not explicitly taught and honed in your classroom, then you might as well have a computer lab without internet. Students who have knowledge but don’t know how to build on it via a human-to-human network have missed a crucial point in their development. If you want your classroom to be the smartest person in the room, you must build a collaborative culture and encourage students to network with one another.

Building Bridges 

Here are some collaboration tips to get things started:

  • Have each student fill out an inventory consisting of topics they are interested in. Display this so that everyone knows who is an expert in what, and have them tap into this collective knowledge throughout the week.
  • Don’t let them submit a paper until they’ve gotten (and implemented) feedback from 2 of their peers.
  • Insist they ask others for help before they ask you. They don’t get an answer from you until they share what they’ve learned from someone else.
Smartest Person vs. Successful Classroom

Never feel like you need to be the smartest person in the room, and never allow the collective wisdom of the group to go untapped, unexplored, or unchallenged. Consider the moon landing, the building of railways, or the formation of governments. Humanities greatest achievements were only possible because we worked together to accomplish something great. Only when you understand this will you truly bridge the gap between your students and their full potential.

What about you? What do you believe creates the smartest person in the classroom?