Rita Pierson believes one of the most significant things we can do as teachers is build relationships.
“Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”
– Rita Pierson
She shares remarkable stories of student failure-turned-success and the endurance of classroom lessons, thanks to teacher-student relationships that she has witnessed.
Pierson doesn’t pretend like this is an easy thing to do. She points out, however, to roaring applause on the TED stage, that this non-cognitive, not-testable action is what really is at the heart of the longest lasting lessons.
Not long ago, an Assistant Principal at one of Minneapolis’ public schools told me that the #1 thing he observes that teachers need more of is “connections” with students. When asked why he thinks that is so difficult to come by he pointed to patterns of “teaching the curriculum” or “teaching to the test” as opposed to getting to know the audience and teaching them. Could it be that “connections” are really what we are sacrificing when we push standardization and high-stakes testing too far?
This is all fine to theorize about, but, in practice, how do we make connections? Especially when teachers at large schools see over a hundred students each day, each with a unique story, family background (just to name a few factors)? Pierson shared a few successful examples she has witnessed:
- Care for their basic needs (food, hygiene, etc.)
- Get to know their background and family (home visits)
- Get to know them (listen to them)
- Lift them up (even if you don’t like them)
(For a few more suggestions, see this letter on building connections by professor H. Richard Milner IV of the Peabody College at Vanderbilt University)
If the human connection is as powerful as they suggest, then could it be that our biggest, best, education tool is hiding right beneath our nose: a smile? Be the champion of others and you give them the power to give and do better for you, the community and the world.