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“If you find yourself to be the smartest person in the room, change rooms. You’re in the wrong one” – Jay Shetty

What I really enjoy about this quote is how connected it is to education, and how being the best and the smartest is overrated.
In fact, I’ve learned the most at two schools where I definitely felt like the least intelligent I have had in life  – my first year at biz school, and my year at grad school at Oxford.
That’s what I’m excited to write to you about today – my experience being and feeling the complete opposite of smart. When we feel less than intelligent, it may just be the Universe’s way of providing us with a learning opportunity. 

A Note on Intelligence

Sometimes, learning is more about who we learn from and not necessarily how great you are at learning it in the beginning. I realized a little too late at Oxford that collaborating was the greatest thing we could have done; study groups with people who had been in the British and/or Ivy League system for their undergrad could have helped a lot during the course itself.
I didn’t realize this until my thesis stage – so perhaps not too late, but late enough. In fact, I spent most of my first six months gawking at how so many people I knew could study, little party a lot and still seem to find the ins and outs of how to do well.  When we put ourselves in situations where we are no longer at the top, we have a long way to climb – but we grow a lot in the process, too. 

Where Being Smart In A Different Way Leads Us

If you caught last week’s post on finding your why, you’ll remember that I mentioned Jay Shetty’s Goalcast video as an awesome 3-4 minutes to share with your class.

How many people do you know who gave up corporate offers to…become a monk? Volunteer? Find themselves…and really follow through? Actually, that’s the best part of it for me. Jay Shetty shows us that being different and has its merits, and that there are many paths to success.

Few would have called him “smart” I’ll bet when he started his journey- but look where he is now!
Check out this inspiring video if you missed it in my post last week; here’s another awesome one of his if you’ve seen the first: 
It’s about a simple, but interesting experiment on behaviour – oh, and a shark and fish.  Of course, it’s a metaphor for our own behaviour and explains in a silly way how wet let ourselves see the barriers to our goals, even when they don’t really exist.




Teaching Multiple Intelligences

You’ve probably seen the “multiple intelligences” model Gardner created in many different forms –  from 7 to 9 intelligences, categorizing being “smart” into different types of accomplishments or talents.

In case you haven’t, this Edutopia article on “What The Research Says” is a great summary.
They include smarts like:
  • Visual-spatial
  • Kiniesthetic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Verbal-linguistic
  • Musical

Can you think of which intelligences you or your students have? I’ll be putting together a worksheet about it this month in my free printables library, so be sure you have access!

Free Printables Library


What I Learned In Biz School About “Smart People”

However, it is true that you may need a certain kind of “intelligence” to finish a task, complete your certification or fully commit to the project you’re working on. Maybe it doesn’t come naturally to you, and it’s not a natural “multiple intelligence” you have.

Well, let me tell you about my time in biz school – that is, completing a four year Bachelor of Commerce degree.  

When you go from an English major to a marketer, spreadsheets, formulas, case studies are really not what you were looking forward to. In fact, I was really only going into marketing because a) I thought I could get a job, and b) It seemed to be the most creative of the business fields.  So, the first year I ended up taking a ton of courses I knew nothing about.
(I did end up enjoying it, and I’m so excited to teach a university-level marketing course this term, actually!)
Q: How did I survive and graduate with a GPA good enough for me to get into a top grad school years later? 
A: I hung out with the smart kids for every group project where I had a choice. I worked hard, and I loved to write – so they were happy for me to handle that part, and to teach me the rest.
Actually, it wasn’t so different for me at Oxford – just a whole lot more intense, especially since culture shock was part of the deal.
If you’re in a room of people who are so incredibly smart you think you must have gotten in by a fluke or mistake in the universe, that’s the room to stay in.
At times, it’s the room where we feel so unintelligent it hurts. In my opinion, that’s the room where we learn the most.


3 Steps To Make The Most of The Intelligence Around You

Okay, what if you’re not in grad school, or surrounding yourself with a new group of people, or in cultural shock? I truly believe we can find those “intelligence rooms” wherever we are. 

Here’s how: 

1. Be Curious

Ask questions!  If you read my post on Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, you’ll know that this comes easier to some than others. Even if it’s difficult for you, find a way to ask about new perspectives.

Join a meetup, go to a conference, or just observe. For example, take a look at how someone approaches a problem at work differently to the way you do, and ask yourself why.

2.  Be Humble

Take that little ego, and shove it aside for a second. 

It’s tough, I know.   Especially when you think you’re an expert at something, or you thought you’d be great at something that’s really got you down.  Breathe.  Swallow your pride.  Let someone show you how it’s done.

Sidenote:  I just remembered that was a key piece of advice that they gave us in our Co-op/work experience seminars.  Even if you think you know how to do something, let someone else show you their way. You might learn something, and people love to be listened to. 


3. Ask For Help & Implement

That’s right – ask for help.  You’d be as surprised as I was that some of the students in my biz classes were eMotivational Monday 65 Ask for Helpager to create study groups and show me what they knew. 

People love to teach others what they know. All we have to do is listen.

Not quite as confident as I am now, I remember hesitating to ask the “smart kids” if they wanted to study together for the midterm, or be in a group project together. Obviously, I mean the ones who were strong at the subjects I once was not.

They said yes every time, and we all leveraged each others’ varying skill-sets.  Win-win!


“Smart” In The Classroom

For all you English teachers (or any teachers, really) out there – what can you do when you have different ability levels in the classroom? This definitely happens a lot in the ESL classroom!

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t taught an ESL class where I’ve had enough time and control over the syllabus to try this out.
My idea is:
  • First, I’d set up a themed activity based on a unit where we can use vocabulary they’ve been introduced to in real-life situations. For example, we did a branding unit when I taught English to advertisers and I think this would be a perfect fit. 
  • Then, to set up “stations” in the classroom for learning the vocabulary in different ways – creating a video, doing a role-play, putting together a musical jingle for the ad, brainstorming a strategy diagram, etc.
  • Finally, to wrap up, I’d have students self-assess how they did at each station and what their preferred learning method was. 


What do you think? It’s definitely a raw idea, but I feel like I could develop into a useful lesson plan. Stay tuned for more on that!

What are your favourite tips for being around “smart people”,  becoming “smarter” in a different area or field, or making the most of multiple intelligences in your class?   I’d love for you to share with us in the comments below 🙂

Have a lovely and productive week!


P.S. Photography lovers, the photo for today’s post (and poster!) is one I took on a day trip to Bristol, UK in 2014


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