How May I Serve You? Revelations in Education
by Lori Desautels, Ph.D.
Who was your favorite teacher? What did he look like? What did she wear? How did she smell? What look on his face bothered you? How did she walk? Who was your least favorite teacher? Did you promise yourself you would someday return to that teacher allowing them to see just who you became?
To build or to destroy? Sound dramatic? But teachers have the power to change the course of a life. Research shares that by the time a student graduates from high school they have spent over 10,000 hours in a school environment. And yet, there appears to be a lack of fundamental courses in schools of education and an overall misunderstanding from many political and educational reformers addressing the power and magnitude of teaching from the heart. Why? If we understand the significance of positive relationships within the context of educational practices, the process must be explored and discussed. I believe that the esoteric skills that are critical in connecting and inspiring our students are difficult to quantify and measure. We are eager for quick and concrete solutions and results, yet the results of student and school performance are static if not deteriorating in many schools and systems today. We create and develop new teacher programs and degrees for leadership effectiveness; however, it feels we are ignoring the power of relationship and service to another. Maybe we have transitioned into an information and digital technology age where matters of the heart have been placed aside as we acquire and frantically teach to and for the tests, meet annual yearly progress, and worry incessantly about our so-called failing schools, where teacher and student often times congregate in time and subject restricted environments. We can measure heart connections and service to another, but these relational skills take time to unfold, observe and record. The irony is that the national government is asking the states to race to the top in meeting national mandates; therefore states become the receptacle of monetary rewards. In doing so, it feels we are creating a collective mass consciousness of competitive, information driven politicians and administrators who are indirectly or inadvertently asking students and teachers to leave their feelings and hearts out of the equation.
There is no question that teachers and schools need to be held accountable for effectiveness in mastery of curriculum and delivery, closing the gaps of student potential and achievement. But the attitude is once again, antiquated at best, leaving the imagination and creative visions of both teacher and student in the dust. How do we incorporate our state standards into creative innovations so that educator and student are learning within the context of the classroom? It is a thought to seriously ponder… When we demand higher test scores, lessened achievement gaps, increased funding, and improvement in our science and math content, actively competing with other nations- we have left out the key ingredient, a holistic perspective. This ingredient jumpstarts and invigorates all learning and teaching- affirming and holding a perspective that sees the good and giftedness in each and every student. Getting to know the “whole” child, assisting her in contributing her own thoughts and ideas inside the academic equation could be the root of social, emotional and academic success in and out of school.
Not only do we need to focus on the whole student, differentiating to discover his strengths and passion, but author and motivational speaker Daniel Pink affirmed this premise of teaching from the heart as well as inside our overall economy, from his book, “A Whole New Mind.” He describes the magnificent shift inside education and the business world as it moves from an Information Age of linear, logical and computerlike approaches where number two pencils, standardized assessment, and MBA’s crunched numbers, and cracked codes driving learning, business, and careers of yesterday to what is now evolving into a Conceptual Age.  Daniel Pink states, “The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind -creators, empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, and big picture –thinkers-will now reap society’s richest reward sand share in its greatest joys.”  For over a hundred years the western world of education and work force have been grounded in notions of analytical thought and manipulation of information, providing singular mechanistic solutions for most presented challenges. This type of thought and approach worked well in its time, but we have moved to an empathic, relational and meaning driven epoch that is demanding compassion and differentiation in education and inside the world of business if we are to survive and thrive in this new global economy.
The college professor encourages the young freshman to keep going. “You can do this; I have seen the determination in your eyes and in your work. Let me know how I can help you.” The second grade teacher looks down, “Kyle, I am sick of this behavior. What are you going to do when no one talks to you or wants to be around you anymore? What is the world going to do with you? ” The seventh grade teacher looks into the eyes of a young man that was just bullied in the halls of a large middle school. “We will work this out. You made a great decision to come to me.”
There is one memory most of us share as we grow into our lives whether we are 13, 20, 40, or 80 years of age. We remember our favorite and /or least favorite teacher, coach or individual in or out of the school environment. When we look back into our years spent inside classrooms or other significant environments, we hold these remembrances with negative or positive emotion or maybe just indifference. Were they deemed favorites because of the math, science, and social studies drilled into our heads or was it because we felt respected, cared for and connected to that teacher or individual? Most often, we will feel gratitude when thinking of a favorite teacher or coach because he or she took the time and energy to form a connection, building a relationship that inspired us to forge ahead and try….we felt affirmed in our personhood.