Lately I've been reading Vogotsky's theories of developmentally based learning. I like the conception of the child's competency that spans "things I can do" to "things I need help or prompts to do" to "things you'll have to teach me and help me do." He follows Piaget a lot more than I expected; I think the biggest difference between the two might be that Piaget sees children as progressing in a certain order in relation to certain sets of skills/knowledge. While Vogotsky seems to think that it's a little more complicated than that.
Vogotstky is at once a little more hands-on and hands-off regarding learning: adults help kids learn new tricks, but then their roll is to stand back and let kids explore the new behavior within their abilities.
The Vogotskian concept of scaffolding then, means the physical and intangible supports kids get in the process: whether it's crayons and clay, or rules to a game or story time, everything works toward the same goal, bringing children a step forward, or up. As parents we need scaffolding too, whether it's from other, more experienced parents, a good book, a program or a therapist, it's easier to learn when we have supports around us in the process. And we learn best when we use the optimal supports for the optimal period.
In the same way that you can teach a child to climb up and down the monkey bars, you teach people new skills. Maybe you have to guide their feet the first few times, till they learn the movements, then you spot them while they practice it without your guiding touch. Eventually, they master the skills, and you'll have to hunt to find them on the playground, much less keep up with them. The teacher's job is to make himself irrelevant. When you're working with adults, though, you can't always let them know you're behind them, protecting them from a fall.
As with children, so adults: we aren't superior to those we teach, we are just providing the means to their becoming better themselves.