I was a teacher for a very long time. But by the time I saw the TED Talk by Rita Pierson explaining why every kid needs a champion, I think I had it all figured out.
Before I flew solo in a classroom of my own, I watched an older teacher approach a difficult situation in the playground. Within minutes she had those tough kids knocking themselves out to do what she had asked.
I was mesmerised. Her explanation was simple:
You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
I never forgot those words, or their effect on that unruly bunch of students.
Over the ensuing years of my long teaching career, I figured out a lot of things – mostly out of necessity.
Like the year I inherited the group of students no other teacher wanted. There were only about six kids who were the problem – but they were pretty much considered the thugs of the school. And I got them all!
Luckily, a few years earlier, I’d had a much bigger challenge. A really difficult little guy who no teacher wanted. In fact, no school wanted him. Alternate arrangements were made for me to teach him in an off-campus setting.
On the first day I figured out that I had to find something to love about this kid. Okay – at first it came down to how well he breathed. I just loved the way he did that: in – out – in – out.
Eventually I discovered that this ten-year old had a lot going for him – but he’d been totally misunderstood. Together we worked hard on his skills and the following year he graduated into the school I was attached to.
Because every kid needs a champion
So when I got that tough group of kids – it wasn’t a problem. I just found something to love about each one of them. And it worked.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered the wisdom of Rita Pierson. Not only did it validate what I’d already learned, but it gave me the reason why. It made me realise that every kid needs a champion because they often have nobody else in their lives to stand up for them; to have their back; to not give up on them.
And at the end of that first year with those tough kids I went to the Principal’s office with a whole bunch of research to show why a teacher should move up with their class. He laughed.
“Are you kidding?”, he said. “Nobody else wants those kids. They’re all yours!”.
I stayed with that group for three years. And loved every minute of it.
After watching Rita’s TED Talk, I figured it out. I had become the champion for those kids. The one who believed in them. The one who had tears of pride in her eyes when my reluctant non-reader read his first book to the Principal. The one who secretly laughed inside when the class made their own classroom rules and insisted on much tougher penalties than I ever would have. And the same one who missed five minutes of break-time when I broke one of the rules. Those kids were tough disciplinarians! But it worked.
So whether you are a teacher or a parent, take seven minutes out of your busy life to watch Rita Pierson deliver this passionate (and humorous) TED Talk.
Tip: Watch for Sir Ken Robinson in the audience, as well as a few other notable faces.