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Empowering Relationships Are the Point!

05/05/2013 11:14 am ET | Updated Jul 05, 2013
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Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

"In educational seminars across the globe the focus is generally on curriculum, pedagogy, and technology; what is consistently missing are seminars on the relationship between student and teacher. However our profession as educators, by its very nature, involves at least two individuals -- student/child and teacher/parent -- and thus, being able to do our jobs well rests on the health of the (relationship). Ultimately the educational journey hinges on that, and especially on the quality and health of that "ship," which carries it all. I think many of us know this intuitively, (yet we forget to take care of the relationship, as we are so consumed by steering it)", wrote Miriam Mason Martineau, in Igniting Brilliance.

Rita Pierson's commitment to caring for her students is as profound as her ability to empower them with positive messages. She told them, "I am somebody. I was somebody when I came I will be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful. I am strong. I deserve the education I get here. I have things to do, people to impress and places to go."

This kind of unshakeable belief in the goodness of children, and their potential is rarely highlighted in educational forums, and is an essential element of creating a healthy culture in a classroom. Khalil Gibran so famously said, "Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy."

While the word "love" is ever so rare in public arenas, perhaps it's one of the missing elements in our global discourse on education. Why do we set it aside, as if it 'isn't important', or doesn't matter, when we know deeply that it's the very stuff of life itself.

The other operative phrase in Gibran's quote is to work with joy. Pierson is brilliant in her distinction that while you won't like all of your students, yet she maintains that "They can never ever know it." This allows the student to feel safe, and to benefit from the relationship without the undue stress of knowing he or she is disliked. She knew that "Kids don't learn from people they don't like," nor in a class where they don't feel cared about. This is key.

On that note, I'd like to see explicit support for teachers to decompress and take responsibility for owning their unconscious projections; so that students don't have to bear the brunt of teachers' emotional duress. Could be as simple as a "decompression buddy," a colleague who actively listens, and reflects the projection so that the teacher can simply take a look at their part of the dynamic. Wouldn't that shift the relationships between teachers and students?

She engaged our imaginations with creative projects, saw the goodness in us and told us so, and provided us with the support and challenge to master an understanding of the language. I still think of her when I learn a new word. -- Willow Dea

Consider the teachers that inspired you most, your favorite teachers. When you reflect on the quality of the relationship between yourself and your teacher, isn't it fundamentally because you were trusted? Because you felt safe? Because you sensed that they believed in you?

One of my favorite teachers was my Latin teacher, Mrs. Murray. She brought Latin to life eons after the language was dead, and we loved her for it. She engaged our imaginations with creative projects, saw the goodness in us and told us so, and provided us with the support and challenge to master an understanding of the language. I still think of her when I learn a new word. She invested in her relationships with us by being vulnerable and human, yet maintaining high expectations of us. She showed us what was possible, and we reached beyond that to impress her. We all worked really hard for her, were aware of her exceptional presence in our lives, even as teens. Thank you, Mrs. Murray for challenging us to stretch, and smiling so broadly when we excelled.

Rita Pierson is a powerful voice, evoking the kind of change we need in every teacher's heart -- to turn inward and ask, "How can I bring joy? How can I point out their goodness, and challenge them to fulfill their dreams?"

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