My educational journey has been long and winding. A story called “Whispering to the world” which was written for my speaker page at the Business Innovation Factory perhaps says it best:
In preschools and kindergartens across the country, one classroom job is coveted above all others. It is a position of immense responsibility that requires a significant public contribution.
Three-and-a-half-foot individuals embark on a journey down to a cooler somewhere in the far recesses of the school. They carefully count the milks (regular and chocolate) and make their return, straining through the hallways with trays of icy cold containers. The honor is huge. The peer pressure is enormous.
Angela Maiers, founder and president of Maiers Education Services, offers this image to remind us that at the early stages of our education system, we are doing something right. From the start, we expect children in our schools to contribute in a way that is meaningful to everyone.
Carrying milk, she points out, is the most elite job.
“That was the job away from the teacher, and the teacher trusted you,” Maiers says. “There was not one kid who screwed up on that job. You have the milk of the entire classroom. If you miscount, and one kid doesn’t get his chocolate milk, you’re in big trouble.”
At some point, though, we stop expecting this contribution from our students. And that, according to Maiers, is the moment they stop giving it.
They cease to dream audaciously. They believe that things are going fine without their effort, that somebody else can do better. Instead of standing up, they sit back.
“Somewhere, the world starts whispering to you, No you’re not good enough,” she says.
As a teacher and educational consultant for over 20 years, Maiers has been using her scintillating energy to shake people out of this general malaise. She harnesses every medium at her disposal—speaking, writing, blogging, tweeting—to rally others to see what she sees. That is, we can do amazing things—all of us, from the littlest milk carriers to the highest placed CEOs.
But we need to expect it of each other. In fact, Maiers insists, we need to demand it of each other.
She says that a failure to have faith in ourselves and others has particularly negative consequences in schools, where a passive mindset becomes systemic, affecting teachers and administrators as well as students.
“Every single teacher came into this profession not for the money or the notoriety but to change kids’ lives,” Maiers says. But then curriculum burdens and administrative politics wheedle their way into the classroom. Pedagogical focus shifts or fades. “Teachers become run over by the system. They give up and start to live up to their limitations and not their potential.”
The game-changer in this equation, Maiers suggests, is technology. She sees social media as a liberating force that offers novel solutions to age-old educational problems. It used to be that the teacher with the biggest file cabinet—chock full of lesson plans, unit exercises, projects and worksheets— wielded the most power.
“When the web came along, that was no longer a commodity,” she says. Now, teachers can reach beyond their districts and even their states for fresh curriculum content and delivery methods. They can pose questions to the e-sphere of their choice, and be inundated with feedback and support. They are no longer confined by the mentality of the teachers’ lounge. “There is a world of teachers on the web, a network of people who will not let you fail,” she says.
Through social media, Maiers captures thoughts, moments and ideas and sends them out with the anticipation that someone –somewhere—will find her input worthwhile. It is a mindset, she says, a belief that her habit of giving will create serendipitous results. It is her positive whisper to the world.
“Social media gives us a chance to make public what we see,” she says. “Technology is an amplifier of who we are at the core.”
The social media connection, according to Maiers, satisfies one of our basic biological drives as human beings—to feel necessary in the world: “It’s part of our DNA. We need to know that somebody notices us and values us. It is the deepest level of validation.”
Even five-year olds know this, as they venture out into the hallways to secure cold milk, knowing with cool assurance that the entire class depends on them.