If you love everything about learning, whether formal or informal, and you haven’t already seen it, you really need to take 7 minutes and 48 seconds right now and watch Rita Pierson’s TED Talks Education talk called “Every kid needs a champion” (recently broadcast on PBS 7 May 2013).
I learned about this video only a few days ago on NPR’s TED Radio Hour – this is a curated, thematic one-hour programme that mashes up a number of TED talks, compares and contrasts their messages and goes a bit further with their authors.
This particular episode was called Unstoppable Learning, and Dr. Pierson’s NPR conversation explored what role relationships play in learning. As you can imagine I pricked up my ears at this. How people learn best is one of my enduring sources of deep curiosity. And developing good relationships and “being nice” are values that our Bright Green Learning team hold dearly. And of course you can’t just appear to be nice, you have to really be nice, caring and interested in the people who are doing the learning (because after all, we are learning too). I was just trying to explain this to a potential new collaborator a week ago. Dr. Pierson put her finger on it in one of the most memorable quotes of her talk, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” This is a profound observation from a career educator (and in my experience it also holds true for adult learners).
Rita Pierson also argued for teachers to take a more positive and appreciative approach with their students, even those – or in particular those – who are not excelling in their work. She gave an example of a time that she gave a student a +2 and a smiley face, instead of minus -18 on his test. She said that’s because -18 “sucks all the life out of you” and +2 says “I ain’t all bad”.
I love this reframing, which is so motivating and still somehow such a rare approach for educators and learning practitioners to take. There is a reflex in many educational contexts to focus on what learners missed or need to improve, rather than on what they are doing right (and as they say in Appreciative Inquiry, in every organization or situation, something is working, even if it is only +2 out of 20).
Rita’s short talk brought tears to my eyes. I also grew up the daughter of two educators and see how students were touched by their work. Her words sounded absolutely right to me and I realised that she had articulately described my values around learning and education and those I would hope all teachers would take (including those teaching my own children).
I wanted to write this blog post to remind myself of where I could go for inspiration in my own learning work, and to connect to Rita’s talk so I could listen to it again. I didn’t know when I started this research that I would also be writing it in memorium, as Dr. Rita F. Pierson died unexpectedly last Thursday, on the day I discovered her on the NPR TED Radio Hour. Her death has left a gaping hole in the progressive educational community. She was a real thinker, shaper and feeler in the field of education and someone that everyone working in learning should listen to…have YOU listened to her amazing 7 minute 48 second TEDTalk yet?
You can read more about this remarkable woman and her impact in Remembering Educator Rita F. Pierson on the TEDBlog.