The Power Of Experience

by: Steven Shaprio, Leader of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement

What was the most profound learning experience of your youth? Conjure up that single essential lesson that has stayed with you for a lifetime. Maybe it happened in a classroom. Maybe it was school-related but in a non-classroom setting. Maybe it was outside of school altogether.

What if we collected stories of folk’s most profound learning experiences and then reflected on how we can make those kinds of experiences more present in our classrooms? Well that is what happens in each episode of my podcast Experience Matters with Steve Shapiro.

Each 20-35 minute episode begins with a guest describing the learning experience that impacted them for life. By the end, we are discussing how schools can generate similar kinds of opportunities for our students. You will leave each episode feeling inspired and armed with concrete ideas to implement.

Best-selling author Daniel Pink’s head nearly explodes when he tells me about the first time he wrote a story for his high school newspaper. The immense power of authentic work and self-directed learning rewired his brain and probably set the course for what would become his most widely read book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (159 weeks on the NY Times Bestsellers list!). I promise you that this episode will challenge you to completely reexamine your assumptions about teaching and learning.

My conversation with college student Emmy Huefner haunted me for weeks after we recorded it. She recounted the enormous toll that achievement culture took on her mental health. The wisdom she gained during her gap year produced advice that all kids and parents need to hear. This is an episode you will share with friends, and you might feel so moved that you’ll share it with your entire school community.

My conversation with Duncan Johnson, a current high school student, is as inspiring as Emmy’s episode is haunting. It’s as if he’s taken all of Emmy’s advice and bent high school to his deepest passions.

Two other young people share secrets of how they emerged as powerful leaders by the age of 20. Olivia Weinstock turned a childhood business into a venture capital funded startup where she employs more than a dozen people, some more than twice her age! Kaia Woodford reveals how giving students the opportunity to make social change can transform them into committed activists and community leaders.

Eric Acton was a teenage custodian at COSI when an educator asked him a single question that began his transformational journey to becoming one of the most beloved teachers and coaches in Bexley City Schools’ history. Two ingenious early-grades teachers used a similar crafty tactic to help transform Chad Hemmelgarn from a rowdy young troublemaker to an innovative and much-loved high school English teacher. These two episodes give teachers tools to completely transform their students’ lives.

If you have a sense that cross-cultural learning is important, the episodes featuring Gavin Levine and Zach Shapiro will hammer home the enormous power of experiences with people from other cultures. Although both of them traveled abroad, the conversations reveal how cross-cultural learning can happen right in your own city or even within your own school.

My conversation with Bryan Drewry will convince you that, Don’t talk to strangers, is actually terrible advice! Suzanne Goldsmith-Hirsch’s episode will show you the surprising outcome of an experiment with letting 8th graders design their own education! Elementary grades teacher Stacy Bell reveals how a single lesson on owl pellets in her college methods class transformed her approach to teaching.

My goal is for each episode of Experience Matters to be a memorable conversation with a stranger who reveals a clue to an exciting mystery. Whether you are an educator, a parent, or a lifelong learner, I hope the podcast will inspire you, challenge your assumptions, and advance your learning journey.


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