Recently I watched a Ted talk, viewed by over 5.7 MILLION people. It lasted for only seven minutes and forty-four seconds. Something about those stats caught my attention. As I watched Rita Pierson, who gave a talk titled “Every kid Needs a Champion,” I found myself laughing, empathizing, relating and even feeling challenged by the words she spoke when it comes to the responsibility of educators.
In this talk (included below), Rita Pierson mentions that she comes from a long line of educators and that for over 40 years, she has been in the very same field. She stated,
We know why kids drop out. We know why kids don’t learn. It’s either poverty, low attendance, negative peer influences…we know why. But one of the things that we never discuss or we rarely discuss is the value and importance of human connection. Relationships. (TED Talks Education, May 2013)
In my education role, I too, have seen the power of relationship. Students can enter a class seeming to care more about engaging with social media on mobile devices rather than participating in the social interaction with REAL people. They, perhaps, can even seem to carry the belief, “I already know this information. What more is there to learn here?” If time is taken to understand the students and where they are on the journey of knowledge– to express interest in their experiences and stories– then students see that you care and they seem to lean in a bit more to experiences and knowledge you offer.
By asking questions and getting to know the people in the room, we are building relationship… we are showing the students, the people, that we value them and all they have to offer.
Rita goes on to quote George Washington Carver, who said,
All learning is understanding relationships
She also momentarily draws our attention to Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (FreePress, New York, 2004), who writes about the importance of Habit no. 5, “Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood.”
Understanding someone, understanding relationships, takes time, humility and patience; all abstract elements that we as educators can sometimes sacrifice for the sake of delivering content and getting through our lesson plan.
TIME: Imagine if you deviated from the well crafted, stunningly charming, 2-hour lesson plan that you developed to explore the knowledge, experience and treasure buried within the room. Time could then be of so much more value because you would be able to link content to the memories, understanding and context of the students; caring more about the people in the room than the number of PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi slides you make your way through.
HUMILITY: Rita challenges the audience, encouraging them to just do the simple things, like apologizing. She asks, “Have you ever thought about that (apologizing)? Tell a kid you’re sorry, they’re in shock.” If you’re in higher-level education, consider the relational connection that’s established when you apologize to an adult. “I’m sorry” makes a way to people’s hearts and if genuine, can take the teacher-student relationship to life changing depths.
Perhaps you communicated an incorrect way to achieve competence on an assessment. Instead of allowing pride to push you to challenge students on their inability to read the instructions, try instead, to allow humility to illuminate a new path. One that would allow you to say, “I’m sorry about yesterday. I communicated the wrong information. Please give me a chance to correct that.” What kind of rapport might student have towards you for displaying humility and owning up to a mistake. Guess what. Teachers are REAL…not PERFECT.
PATIENCE: Every relationship requires patience. 1 Corinthians 13 speaks about the greatest quality in relationships…love. It goes on to say that “love is patient.” Sometimes, as a person responsible for passing on knowledge and skill, we desire that our students would ‘just get it.’ We yearn for this so deeply, that we would sacrifice someone’s right to a journey of discovery, wrestle and cultivation of knowledge just so that we can tell them how or why rather than teach them HOW to find it out.
Don’t get me wrong, we teach 2 + 2 = 4. But do we stop there, or do we help students understand and see WHY 2 + 2 = 4? It is with helping others to grasp the why that we often lack the most patience.
James Corner said, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship,” and I say that no relationship can exist without our willingness to pass the test of time, humility and patience. Relationship will truly give us the greatest reach.
I conclude with Rita Pierson’s closing statement from this 2004 TED talk, “Is this job tough? You betcha. Oh God, you betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this. We’re educators. We’re born to make a difference.”