Staying Connected To The Cause

How does an elderly black woman change the entire city of Atlanta? Here’s how - with a glass of Kool-Aid and an open door.

 

In the TED Talk by former Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, he shared his attempt to win the mayoral election by venturing out to knock on the doors of his potential constituents.

With a dry scripted pitch and a 3 minute window, he entered into Ms. Davis’ house and quickly told her of his innovative plans of supporting 500 Fortune companies, revitalizing Atlanta’s social night life, and enhancing the experience at Atlanta’s International airport.

She just looked at him. “I would have to take the bus to these restaurants and that’s too dangerous at night and well, I don’t fly,” she responded.

Shaking her head, she took him to her kitchen window. Pulling back the curtains, she showed him the world she lives in; a view of young boys playing craps in an empty pool to the right and, to the left, stood a graffiti-stained gazebo with unproductive teens playing music way too loud. This was the view she had of Atlanta.

It was this view that changed his whole political campaign.

 

A CLASSROOM PERSPECTIVE

During my third year of teaching third grade, we were asked to do home visits for three students who were below grade level. When I arrived, my students grabbed my hand to take me to their doll collection and then showed where they did their homework. On another visit, I played ‘Guitar Hero’ with two brothers. These are memories that will be with me for a lifetime. In fact, I couldn’t stop at three students, I ended up doing home visits for my entire class.

I sat with the parents, looked at endless photo albums and, in broken Spanish, connected with the entire family on a deeper level; deeper than our regular interactions during our rushed parent-teacher meetings.

 

Most of all, I just listened.

 

Even though I view my students as my kids, I also see them as my ‘clients’ and I am in the business of serving them so they thrive. When they come into my classroom, they bring all of their home and family experiences with them; good and bad. Just like an entrepreneur who identifies and studies their niche market, as an educator, I feel we need to do the same. We need to know who it is we are serving and investigate those hidden connection points into their lives, their psyche and their heart. I even watch the Disney-Pixar movies that my students watch so I can make better academic connections in my classroom! I need to increase the opportunities of seeing life through their eyes. My students are willing to pull back the curtains, but it is I who still need to peer through their kitchen window.

 

A CORPORATE CONNECTION

Charles Best, the CEO of Donorschoose.org, took it one step further, which he explains in his thought provoking blog post challenging organizations to consider adding power users of their product to their board of directors. Donorschoose.org, a crowd-funding platform that assists teachers in acquiring resources for their students, has done an excellent job with interviewing educators to gain an authentic perspective but, as Charles concludes, “At minimum, you should make sure that your board members use your product. The real value, though, comes from giving a power user a seat at the table.”

 

Life is about connection. We are to harness the power of our network and not only be aware of the information flowing in and out of the network but also be aware of the voices that are given a platform and weight within the network; especially voices we are giving an influential seat at the table. This is for every field and at every level; from an elementary music classroom to the board of directors of multi-million dollar organizations.

 

STAYING CONNECTED

As Mayor Reed claims in his TED Talk, “Until you see a city in that way the people who are most in need of help see it, you’re never going to reach them.” He ended up winning his campaign, but only because he was willing to reconnect to the people whom he sought to lead.

 

It does not matter what position I might receive in the future, whether it is to remain a classroom teacher, become a principal, or even acquire the position of US Secretary of Education, I know I must always stay connected to my students. Through my mentorship group of Alumni360 or some other means, this fact is non-negotiable. Those connections are the lifelines to my purpose and to my cause. So join me and let's start connecting with the very ones we are attempting to help.