This is the superpower teachers need to flex
It takes a special person with a special set of skills to reach students on an emotional level.
Kwame Alexander is the Innovator-in-Residence at the American School of London, and the New York Times Bestselling author of 34 books, including Caldecott-Medal and Newbery-Honor winning picture book The Undefeated, How to Read a Book, Swing, Rebound, which was shortlisted for prestigious Carnegie Medal, and, his Newbery medal-winning middle grade novel, The Crossover. As the founding editor of Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, he aims to change the world one word at a time.
KWAME ALEXANDER: I believe that if we feel a certain type of way, if we are inspired in a really profound way that connects with us emotionally then pretty much anything that comes after that is doable. So if I'll go into a school and speak to some high school students I'm not going to read from my book. Maybe if it's a 45 minute presentation I'm going to spend 30 minutes sharing stories about my writerly life, about saying yes to what's possible. I'm going to spend time interacting with them and then maybe the last five minutes I'll share a piece from one of my books. But the idea is that if you're going to learn something I think first you're going to have to know the importance and feel the importance of why that thing you need to learn matters. And I think that can only come from being inspired.
My mother would come into my room as a kid and share an African folktale with me and I'd be on the edge of my bed trying to find out why do mosquitoes buzz in people's ears. And why didn't the little girl brush her teeth. I'd be wanting to hear these stories and she'd sing me songs and share a poem. And then afterwards she'd say now go make up your own. Go clean up your bed. Go cut the grass and I'd be like okay because I had been inspired in that moment to really find a connection with who I am as a human being. And that's what it all comes down to. So my number one ingredient is inspiration. The capacity to get people to feel something. To be able to move people.
Teachers have a responsibility to help build and mold and shape beautiful human beings because the alternative is you can destroy them. And so if I'm going to be talking about these heavy weighty topics then at first I've got to let you know that we are a family. That you can trust me. That this is a safe space because this is going to be challenging but we're all going to grow from it. I think the capacity to be able to get you to emotionally open yourself up for these challenging conversations is a huge superpower. And I learned that, I mean I think I have it which is why I'm talking about it. And I think I learned that from my mother. How do you get people on your side. How do you allow people to feel safe as you for lack of a better word scold them or scold us because we've all got to do better. I think that's a huge human superpower to get people to be able to commit to acknowledging that we are all in the same boat. We're all human beings and yeah, I'm about to call you on some stuff but it's coming from a space of love.
- Teachers have arguably the most important job on Earth. It's their responsibility to help shape who young people will become by inspiring them and connecting with them as human beings.
- Trust has to be earned before any meaningful learning can happen.
- The superpower that poet and children's fiction author Kwame Alexander learned from his mother is the ability to connect emotionally with his audience first so that they are open and interested in tackling heavier subjects and having challenging conversations.
This video is part of Z 17 Collective's Future of Learning series, which asks education thought leaders what learning can and should look like in the midst and wake of the coronavirus pandemic.