It’s a +2! The Importance of Connection to Learning

By: Martin Grunburg

Rita Pierson had been an educator for more than 40 years leading up to her TED Talk (May 2013, 5 million-plus views). Tragically, less than two months later she passed away.

In this powerful presentation (below) she touches on a few formative ideas not just about the education of our children, but more importantly, about connection – the importance of human relationships – and the significance of having a champion in our lives (someone who believes in us likely far more than we do in ourselves).

In fact, Rita is adamant that learning really begins when there is a connection – a relationship in place with someone who believes in us, a champion. Most likely all of us are the beneficiaries of a teacher, parent, role model, or mentor who cared. And, it was that caring that was the basis of our learning and self-improvement.

That’s a powerful observation because if it’s true – and I suspect it is – it adds even more value and credence to the importance of mentoring programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Around minute 1:35, Rita talks about a “colleague” who says, “They don’t pay me to like the kids; they pay me to teach a lesson the kids should learn. I teach it, they learn it – case closed!” Rita replies, “Well, you know kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

She then addresses the idea – the fallacy really – that some people think they just cannot connect to others very well. She cites that all connection begins with simple things such as Dr. Stephen Covey’s Habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (From The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)

A bit later Rita shares the story of an academically deficient class whom she tells were “chosen” to be with her because they are the best students and she is the best teacher. One student replies in total disbelief, “Really?”

But, my favorite part is when Rita shares that, after giving a 20-question quiz, one student had missed 18 questions.

She says, “I put a +2 on his paper and a big smiley face.”

Confused, the boy says to her, “Ms. Pierson, is this an F?” She says, “Yes.” The boy then says, “Then why did you put a smiley face?” And she replies, “Because you’re on a roll! You got two right! You didn’t miss them all.” She asks, “When we review this (later), won’t you do better?” He replies, “Yes ma’am, I can do better!”

“You see,” Rita explains, “-18 sucks all the life out of you and plus +2 says I ain’t all bad.”

I think the challenge/opportunity is to create more champions. Can you find ways to connect better with others? Particularly young people – to make them believe and expect more from themselves.

I love Rita’s message because it really says that no matter how sh*tty your day or week might be, if you’re above ground, it’s a plus 2. Give it a PLUS two and add a BIG smiley face.

You’re on a roll!

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