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Guiding vs. Teaching

Imagine that you are headed out on an expedition. You have an idea of where you would like to go, but you have no clue how to go about getting there. You know there will be challenging obstacles in your way, as this expedition is taking you into an unknown and potentially rugged wilderness. To help prepare you for this quest, you have a choice of whom to hire: a guide, or a teacher. 

The teacher will tell you the route, and highlight some of the dangers to avoid. They will tell you how to pack your pack, how to filter water, how to start a fire. As this person is sharing their knowledge with you, you diligently take notes, keeping in a notebook all of this newfound information that this person has given you. Your plan is to take the notes with you, and hope that all that you need to know is included in it. 

The guide, on the other hand, will take the journey with you. They will show you how to pack your pack, they will show you how to filter water, and they will show you how to start a fire. They will be alongside you throughout this process, and they will be alongside you as they show you these skills. This guide will share the experience of the expedition with you. 

Herein lies the difference between teaching and guiding. A teacher tells, while a guide shows. A teacher points you towards a learning experience, while a guide participates in the learning experience. As a learner embarks on their “expedition” of education, a guide remains alongside them, allowing them to learn from each new experience that comes their way.

A guide learns alongside their students, and is thus in a position to role model the unending joy of learning and progressing. Furthermore, coming along on the journey of learning allows the guide to adjust their approach as needed, and continually employ what we call “formative assessments” in the education business. This level of flexibility and responsiveness is simply not possible in a situation in which you are telling someone about a topic, especially when you are telling 20-30 people at the same time. 

I know because I have been there. I have taught in classrooms of 30 students, I have taught in the outdoors, and I have taught online. I have guided on rivers, in backcountry wilderness areas, and on bike trails. Based on my own experiences, the comparison isn’t even fair. I would hire a guide for my expedition every time.

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