Mentoring to Learn

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Author William Zinsner wrote a book in the late 80s entitled Writing to Learn. The gist of the book was that when we don’t know a subject, we learn about it by writing about it. We write, we read, we write, we research, and we write again. And that’s how we learn about it.

As an adjunct professor at Mount Mercy, I’ve learned that much the same thing happens when I teach. In order to teach something, I have to learn it. I teach my students, my students teach me, and I learn how to teach. I learn, in effect, what I do not know by teaching.

I would say much the same thing happens when we try to mentor younger writers or those that show an interest in professional communication, such as technical writing. We find out what we don’t know, those holes in our knowledge, when we spend time with those who want to know what we do for a living.

So not only is this time spent good for them, it’s also good for us. It shows that for all these years we have spent working in an office, tethered to a computer, going through a dizzying array of software programs and countless versions of software, we still have something to learn. The younger people are teaching us, much as we were taught by our elders.

And it’s not always pleasant, knowing that there’s a new way of doing things, that we’re never going to be the experts in a subject for very long. But at least we know that we do not know, which, for Socrates, was the beginning of wisdom.

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