I’d heard about Rita Pierson’s TED Talk, but I had never listened to it. I decided to watch it this morning and I am so glad I did. Rita reminds you in such a beautiful way that we all need relationships, and you may never know just how much that kid in your class needs you. Be their champion, they may not have another one.
I once taught a memorable class with a wonderful colleague and friend. The kids were hand picked for us (they hadn’t chosen to study music) and we were to teach them. We thought of a whole course for them, worked on it, sat them down, explained what we aimed to do, thought we were off to a promising start, asked if anyone had any questions and one student asked, “How am I here?” It was a good question, one we had not anticipated! Telling them they hadn’t been welcome anywhere else was not the answer, and so we stumbled around and came up with a few reasons. I don’t remember exactly, but I know it wasn’t as inspiring as Rita Pierson’s response to her class!
I told all my students, “You were chosen to be in my class because I am the best teacher and you are the best students, they put us all together so we could show everybody else how to do it.” One of the students said, “Really?” I said, “Really. We have to show the other classes how to do it, so when we walk down the hall people will notice us, so you can’t make noise. You just have to strut.” And I gave them a saying to say:
I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful. I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go.
And they said, “Yeah!”
You say it long enough, it starts to be a part of you.
Well I am a better person and educator (can they be separated?!) because of that class. That class was tough. On one particular occasion the bell rang, they left, and I was broken. I could not have got through that year without my colleague, the strong relationship we had and those around us too. Relationships with those you work beside are as important as those you grow with the kids.
What also kept us going was the belief that those kids were worth it. That year some of the kids in that class went on to perform on stage! It was our Christmas Concert and we told the kids that they could perform in it. I’m pretty sure they hadn’t expected this, and the simple act of telling them that they could was a big encouragement to them. They upped their game and wanted to do their best. As you can imagine, performing in front of an audience was a massive achievement for them. We believed in them, we knew they could do it, they began to believe they could do it, and they did it. For us and those in the audience that knew what was going on it was a moment we would never forget.
It’s all about relationships. Make yours the relationships that sparks their curiosity. I once lamented to my headteacher that none of the parents I wanted to talk to came to parents’ evening. His response was perfect – “would you want to come and hear bad news about your child all evening?” From that moment on I understood the importance of a +2 compared to a -18. (You have to watch the video to understand that one! You’ll be glad you did.)
Click here to read the touching TED post on Remembering Rita Pierson.