Through the Education Lens

No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship

CJ Westerberg, May 7, 2013 2:53 PM


"But one of the things that we never discuss or we rarely discuss
is the value and importance
of human connection . . . relationships.
-educator Rita Pierson

Every child deserves a champion
"We know why kids don't learn"

by C.J. Westerberg

Since TED talks have become so ubiquitous, I'm far more selective as to which ones will appear in The Daily Riff.  This one, featuring 40-year long-time educator Rita Pierson, zeroes
in on a topic near and dear to my heart and mind: the value and importance of human connection and relationships in education. It is brilliant, simply.

When people ask me what makes for a great learning experience, "a positive student relationship with a teacher or other caring adult" is always at the top of my list.
"Being known" is another way to interpret this - one that was advocated powerfully by the late great educator, Ted Sizer.

When we talk about technology and learning, we know that technology can enhance and yes, even replace some aspects of human "teaching" to allow room and time for the more personal, hands-on, meaningful interactions between students and teachers, advisors, counselors and mentors.  Human relationships are the driver for student learning - the intrinsic motivator that students need in an increasingly self-motivated-learning world.

"You know, kids don't learn from people they don't like."

Pierson caught me at the get-go with her introduction  " . . .  over those years I've had a chance to look at education reform from a lot of perspectives. Some of those reforms have been good. Some of them have been not so good. And we know why kids drop out. We know why kids don't learn. It's either poverty, low attendance, negative peer influences. We know why."

Check out the video below for her poignant anecdotes and take-no-prisoners insight.
A few glimpses:

But one of the things that we never discuss or we rarely discuss is the value and importance of human connection . . . relationships.

James Comer says that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.

George Washington Carver says all learning is understanding relationships.

Everyone in this room has been affected by a teacher or an adult.


A colleague said to me one time, "They don't pay me to like the kids. They pay me to teach a lesson. The kids should learn it. I should teach it. They should learn it. Case closed."

Well, I said to her, "You know, kids don't learn from people they don't like."

She said, "That's just a bunch of hooey."

And I said to her, "Well, your year is going to be long and arduous, dear."

Needless to say it was.


Some people think that you can either have it in you to build a relationship or you don't.
 I think Stephen Covey had the right idea.
He said you ought to just throw in a few simple things, like seeking first to understand as opposed to being understood, simple things like apologizing.

You ever thought about that? Tell a kid you're sorry, they're in shock.


Can we stand to have more relationships? Absolutely. Will you like all your children?
Of course not.

You won't like them all, and the tough ones show up for a reason.
It's the connection. It's the relationships.

And while you won't like them all, the key is, they can never, ever know it. So teachers
become great actors and great actresses, and we come to work when we don't feel like it,
and we're listening to policy that doesn't make sense, and we teach anyway. We teach anyway, because that's what we do.


Teaching and learning should bring joy.
How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion?

Every child deserves a champion,
an adult who will never give up on them,
who understands the power of connection,
and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.


Is this job tough? You betcha. Oh God, you betcha.
But it is not impossible. We can do this.
We're educators. We're born to make a difference.

Let us know what you think of the TED talk below --

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